FOUR GREAT LIBERTIES WOMEN
The Liberties in Dublin is one of the oldest communities in the city. Many who live there can trace their families back generations. It is an area that has had its problems over the years, like many communities in the city. But the Liberties has never been a community that gives up and that is thanks in part to the amazing women who live there. Like the area they love, they are strong, resilient, have a bit of an attitude but above all else they are proud and they love their community. There are so many wonderful women to choose from, but the four women who have been chosen to represent the Liberties capture the essence of the Liberties and what that community means to those who live there from political revolutionaries to social revolutionaries, these women are formidable. They are Anne Devlin, loyal comrade of Robert Emmet, who sacrificed so much for the freedom of Ireland. Madge and Rita Fagan who have over 80 years of community activism between them, fighting for tenant’s rights, worker’s rights and women’s rights. And Liz O’Connor from Oliver Bond who, for over the last twenty years and more has dedicated herself to improving the lives of the children of the local community. All of these women are heroes. They do not do this work for the recognition, they do it because they love their community and for them to be a part of this festival is just a small way for the community to say ‘Thank You’.
Written by local herstorian Liz Gillis
MADGE AND RITA FAGAN
Madge (Margaret) Fagan was a pioneer of working-class women to become involved in social activism to better the lives of those who lived in her community, the Liberties.
For over fifty years Madge fought for the rights of local authority tenants. She was a founding member of the Marrowbone Lane Tenants Association in 1966, whose work helped lead to the formation of the National Association of Tenants’ Organisations (Nato).
Together with other Nato members, Masge campaigned for differential rents, so that no tenant would have to pay more than 10 per cent of income in rent. In 1972, Nato organised a rent strike over the government’s proposal to put four pence on each local authority room. More than 100,000 tenants took part in the strike, which continued for 18 months. Fagan and other women leaders were prominent at the barricades protesting against evictions.
Following the success of this, she campaigned for a better maintenance service for tenants as well as tackling the scourge of anti-social behaviour in her own neighbourhood.
Madge Fagan was a force of nature who loved her community and would and did everything she possibly could to improve the lives of all of those in the area. Madge died on 11 February 2017 aged 94. She is greatly missed by all who knew her.
Rita Fagan is a proud Liberties woman and is the daughter of Madge Fagan, so community activism runs through her veins. She went to the sewing factory at 14. Through the 14 years there she became active in the Trade Union Movement. She spent 11 years voluntary and 1 fulltime in the Dublin Simon Community. From here she was sponsored by good people to partake in the Community & Youth work course in NUI Maynooth. On a placement from this course, Rita came to St. Michaels Estate. 25 years later she is still in this struggle with this grassroots community and is the director of the Family Resource Centre, Women’s Community Development Project. She has travelled widely and has been involved politically in the issues effecting Central America and Cuba. For 9 years she led a protest outside of the U.S. Embassy challenging U.S. foreign policy in the said region. She is also committed to the struggle of women at grassroots level who are very much on the margins and who’s struggle on a daily basis is to survive structural poverty, last but by no means least she believes, that the struggle for justice and freedom not only embodies pain but also joy through celebrating our lives and the outcome of the struggle. Like her mother Madge, Rita has fought and campaigned to make the lives of those in her community and other working-class areas better.
Liz O’Connor is from Oliver Bond and works in the Liberties where for the last forty years she has dedicated her life to community activism, especially in relation to the local children. Over the last twenty years Liz has run a Breakfast Club and an after school club and runs a summer camp every year. Liz O’Connor’s generosity knows no bounds. She is truly a remarkable woman who is the first to lend a hand, or help somebody with a problem. She is a force of nature and her dedication to her community is amazing. That dedication has rightly been recognised. In 2016 Liz received the Lord Mayor’s Award for her work with children and in 2017 she was awarded Person of the Year at the Liberties Awards. Liz best sums up her reasons for doing what she does: “There’s a great sense of community here in the Liberties and I just love working with the kids, I suppose you could say it’s my calling.”
ANNE DEVLIN (1780-1851)
Anne Devlin was Robert Emmet’s assistant as he planned his abortive rising of 1803. Arrested in it’s aftermath, she was held in Dublin Castle and Kilmainham Gaol in an attempt to get her to reveal the identities of Emmet’s co-conspirators and financial backers, to no avail. Despite three years of mental and physical torture, Anne refused to break until eventually released, broken in body but not in spirit.
For the remainder of her life the police followed her. Anyone seen speaking with her was a potential enemy of the State and taken for questioning. This ensured Anne was, in effect, in solitary confinement in an open prison for the 45 years she lived outside jail, as all who had known her now shunned her, fearful of the policeman dogging her steps.
She died in a miserable garret in the Liberties of Dublin on September 18, 1851, starving, ill, and in agony … but unbowed, proud to the last that she had remained faithful to Robert Emmet and his ideals, proud that she had stood alone and successfully against the mightiest empire the world had known.
Patrick Pearse wrote:
“Wherever Emmet is commemorated let Anne Devlin not be forgotten … The fathers and mothers of Ireland should tell their children (the) story of Anne Devlin. When at night you kiss your children and in your hearts call down a benediction, you could wish for … no greater gift from God than such fidelity as Anne Devlin's”.