What do Mary Robinson and our mams have in common? They’re some of our favourite women, writes Claire Murrihy
It all started the day before International Women’s Day 2023. I put a question box on Instagram asking people which Irish woman they find most inspirational. A flood of responses ensued that made my heart swell with pride at the number of incredible women this small island has produced.
There were actresses; Aisling Bea, Sharon Horgan and Katie McGrath, and writers; Lady Gregory, Maeve Binchy, Maureen Gaffney and Victoria White. Also in there was architect and designer Eileen Gray and activist and campaigner Nell McCafferty.
Unsurprisingly, Vicky Phelan’s name appeared several times. Despite her missed diagnosis during the CervicalCheck controversy and terminal diagnosis, the mother-of-two continued to campaign for women’s health rights. Following her untimely death in November 2022, it has become even more apparent how inspiring she truly was and continues to be for Irish women.
The second most-mentioned woman was Ireland’s first female president Mary Robinson. But of course, she’s so much more than that. Directly after her presidency, Robinson took on the role of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002 and has since become a global campaigner for civil rights and environmental action.
In 2018, her book Climate Justice was released to rave reviews and in the same year, she began co-hosting the Mothers of Invention podcast with Irish comic, writer and actress Maeve Higgins.
Today, at the age of 78, Mary Robinson continues to be an uplifting and positive force for good. This quote says it all really:
“I was elected by the women of Ireland, who instead of rocking the cradle, rocked the system.”
However, above everyone else listed, including Mary Robinson, the most consistent answer received in my impromptu survey was “My Mammy”. (There was an honorary mention of a Granny in there too.)
I couldn’t help but agree wholeheartedly. Obviously, everyone’s relationship with their mother is different. It can become complicated as you grow older and have a family of your own or make life choices that they may disagree with. However, it was lovely to see that, for lots of people, our mammies are still the most inspirational women in our lives.
Often, it’s only when we reach our 30s or 40s that we realise just how incredible they were and how they paved the way for the lives we have today. Yes, there is still a lot of work to be done but if we’re still dancing the same dance, they did it backwards and in heels.
Like Mary Robinson, many of our mothers have lived through some of the biggest changes this state has ever seen – the lifting of the Marriage Ban, the legalisation of contraception, divorce and same sex marriage, and repeal of the 8th amendment. And while Mary was fighting for our rights from her elevated public platform, our mams were leading the grass roots movement on the ground.
It amazes me to think that my mam saw all this, yet still had time to console me when my biggest problems were that my sister wouldn’t let me borrow her clothes or that the video had run out of space when I was trying to record the latest episode of Ally McBeal.
My mother never let me out of the house with wet hair, put the fear of God into me about leaving the immersion on and made sure I always took off my coat when I entered the house or “it’d be no good to me when I went outside”.
She dished out tough love when it was necessary but was always there with a hug and scones straight from the oven when I came home from college at the weekend (with a bag of washing).
If you’re lucky enough to have a mam like that beside you this weekend, tell her how much she means to you. Or better yet, play her a tune on the instrument that she spent a fortune getting you lessons on which you swiftly abandoned after Grade 5.
Wish her a Happy Mother’s Day and remind her that among all the Irish women you can think of (including Mary Robinson), she is the GOAT.*
(*This is an acronym for Greatest Of All Time and will need to be explained to some Irish Mammies to ensure offence is not taken)