Beatrice De Courcy Ireland:

Radical political and social campaigner

Irish Times January 8, 2000

Beatrice de Courcy Ireland, who died on December 24th, 1999 aged 88, was one of those many women whose contribution to Irish political and social life could have been overshadowed by that of her spouse. The immeasurable role played by her husband, Dr John de Courcy Ireland, is well-known. Yet throughout his public life, the internationally respected maritime historian and political activist constantly reminded those who met him that he was one half of a team.

Born in 1911 to parents with roots in Dublin, Northern Ireland and Yorkshire, Beatrice Haigh was working in the Irish cafe in Oxford in the early 1930s when she met the young history student with whom she was to spend the rest of her life. John de Courcy Ireland had just been on a canoeing trip through the canal system linking Oxford and Bath to the Thames, and called in to wash off some of the soot that he had collected from the tunnel walls en route. It was his first of many visits to the cafe, which was a popular haunt of rising socialists in Oxford. They married when she was 21, although neither of them had steady employment. Moving to Manchester - the heart of industrial Britain - they developed their political interests with membership of various socialist organisations.

On the outbreak of the Spanish civil war in July 1936, Beatrice de Courcy Ireland volunteered to go to Barcelona with a medical team in support of the International Brigade, and she spoke at many rallies on her return home. Her paramedical training, mainly with the Red Cross and St John's Ambulance, had stood her in good stead in Spain.

In 1938, she stood as a Labour candidate in the Manchester city council elections, but the game plan was to return to Ireland as her husband had been commissioned to write a book on the Border. Though the commission was cancelled on the outbreak of the second World War, the pair had already moved - first to Muff in Co Donegal, and then to Dublin after her husband was appointed a teacher at St Patrick's Cathedral Grammar School.

By this time, they had had their first child, a boy named Hughie. The couple were to have two more children, daughters Moneen and Rosamund, when they settled in a small bungalow in Grosvenor Terrace, off Dalkey's Sorrento Road.

She maintained her political interests while rearing her family. She was a founder member of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament after she participated in the first two marches in Aldermaston, England. The couple weathered many difficult periods, both economically and socially, due to their left-wing leanings.

Beatrice de Courcy Ireland is survived by her husband and three children.

Beatrice de Courcy Ireland: born 1911; died December, 1999