Remembering Máire Drumm

And now for a different Máire.  Máire Drumm was born into a staunchly Republican family. She was lucky enough to have had a mother who was active in the War for Independence and the Irish Civil War, so the concept of strong women who could fight and lead was instilled in her from birth. Perhaps it was also the reason she knew she could grow up to be a commander in Cumann Na mBan and the Vice President of Sinn Fein.  She settled in Belfast in 1942 and began fighting on behalf of Republican prisoners, which she did for many years to come. It was in this role that she met Jimmy Drumm, a Republican prisoner who would later become her husband.

Máire was one of the first people who recognized that the British “peacekeeping” soldiers were going to quickly become an occupying force. She had a gift for powerful public speaking and was imprisoned on more than one occasion for her seditious speeches. As her profile grew, she was targeted regularly by authorities and opposing forces, taking a toll on her health and her family. At one point, the Crown had arrested both her husband and her son at the same time but she refused to be intimidated by the authorities or the sectarian violence that erupted in the North of Ireland during the 1960s and 1970s. She continued to lobby for Catholic families who were displaced by the early Troubles and she was key in finding and placing them in their new homes. In 1970 during the Falls Road Curfew, she was one of the organizers of the “Women with Prams” strike. These women went out carrying supplies in prams ignoring the orders and daring the soldiers to stop them. They were effectively the end of the curfew.

She was denied a visa to come to the United States for an operation on her eye so she was admitted into a hospital in Belfast. While there, this inspiring and capable woman was assassinated in her hospital bed by guerrillas disguised as doctors. Her murder, 38 years ago yesterday, was a joint operation carried out by paramilitaries from both the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA). The British media celebrated her death by calling her things like the ‘Granny of Hate’ and ‘Grandma Venom’ but to those who knew her, she was a kind and fiercely protective woman. Today her words, memorials and murals can be found all over the North. One of her more famous quotes was “The only people worthy of freedom are those who are prepared to go out and fight for it every day, and die if necessary.” She definitely did both in her 56 years and would likely have kept on fighting for many years to come if not for the gunmen who were cowardly enough to shoot a woman in hospital.

Thousands and thousands of people lined the streets of Belfast for her funeral on Halloween in 1976. Some surrounded nearby police and rained stones down on them, in order to try to break the cordon they had along the whole procession. Máire Drumm was given full military honors by the Provisionals due to her lifelong fight and strength. Her final resting place is with her husband in the Drumm family grave and they are buried near the Republican plot in Milltown Cemetery.

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