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Ex-Ulster Unionist Dorothy Dunlop on a stirring story of love forged amid the turbulence of the Great War and the Easter Rising

By Stephanie Bell

Inspired by a treasure trove of old letters she inherited, penned by relatives caught up in the Easter Rising or serving on the front line, ex Ulster Unionist Dorothy Dunlop's debut book tracks the lives of two people destined to meet and marry - her parents.

Unique first-hand accounts of what it was like for ordinary people in Dublin during the Easter Rising has been penned by a former Ulster Unionist party member whose parents lived in the city through the terrifying days of the revolt.

Dorothy Dunlop, who served as Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast in the late 1970s, has spent a year painstakingly working through a huge archive of family letters to share their historic contents and has recently launched her new book, titled 1916 And Beyond The Pale.

The book also gives a fascinating insight into the First World War as told by her relatives who fought on the front line.

From the last train out of Germany in 1914 to the Easter Rising in 1916 and culminating in the inspection of the surrendered German fleet, the story tracks a turbulent period in the lives of two young people destined to meet and marry - her parents Professor Gilbert Waterhouse and Mary Elizabeth "Molly" Woods.

As a young couple they were both Cambridge-educated. Her father was English while her mother was from Dublin.

Her father, who was the son of a railway clerk in Lancashire, won a scholarship to Manchester Grammar School, and eventually graduated with distinction in languages from St John's College, Cambridge. In 1914, he was appointed Professor of German in Trinity College, Dublin.

The same year Dorothy's mother Mary went to Newnham College, Cambridge, as a fresher in English and Anglo-Saxon Studies.

Her father, Sir Robert Woods, had made the jump from an obscure rural background in Co Offaly to becoming a well-known ENT surgeon in Dublin. His consulting rooms and family home were at 39 Merrion Square, with a country retreat in Killiney, Co Dublin.

The book tells the story of what happened to their two families from the outbreak of war, told entirely in the letters and accounts which survive, set in the background of dark and dire days in Dublin and the trenches of France.

Dorothy, now 86, was born in Dublin in 1929 but has lived most of her life in Belfast. Her parents moved to the city when she was four in 1933 after her father accepted the position of professor of German at Queen's University.

She is a graduate of Queen's University where she met her late husband Samuel Hillis Dunlop, who was a house master in Campbell College and later headmaster of Belfast High School.

A mother of four and grandmother of seven, Dorothy is well known for her involvement in local politics in the '70s and '80s when she says she was "kicked out" of the Ulster Unionist Party over her objections at members resigning their seats in protest at the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

She later joined the Conservative Party and is still involved today as regional chairman for the Conservative Women's Organisation.

Now a published author at 86 she still lives in Belfast and enjoys an active life and has a passion for gardening.

She has two sons and two daughters, three of whom live in England after securing jobs there following university. Her only daughter to study locally at Queen's University is now serving as a missionary in Africa.

Dorothy is the only surviving member of her own family and as such she inherited a wealth of family documents which she says she felt compelled to share for their historic value.

Her book has been written from this family archive of detailed letters from her parents and other family members which give graphic accounts of the First World War and the Easter Rising.

She says: "I had two older sisters who both died a few years ago and I was the last one left with a great mass of family documents.

"I just realised that something had to be done with them as they were such a great historic archive.

"I hope it will be interesting to other people. I've tried to make it a story with a beginning, middle and end and it was hard to get a happy ending in that story but my parents met after the war even though they lived only half-a-mile apart during the war."

Dorothy adds: "There are many different accounts of the Easter Rising and they don't all necessarily tally and I can only stand by mine as eyewitness accounts."

The book has also been compiled using letters from the front written by her two great uncles who fought in France and also from relatives in New Zealand who had two sons who also fought in France.

It has been a painstaking and time-consuming task, but one which she is now delighted has culminated in a permanent record of those historic times.

She says: "The letters from my uncles are very detailed and they were well educated fellas so they were very well written letters.

"I had to edit a lot of them as there were some jokes and funny things that weren't relevant."

Through her relatives' high-spirited correspondence from the trenches in France, the book tells of the reality of war - the mud, deprivation and death.

"The Pale" referred to in the title of the book is the invisible perimeter of Dublin marking the historical boundary between ancient Norman colonisation and the wilder reaches of Ireland.

The book allows the reader to follow the correspondence between residents of the Pale and relatives abroad putting their lives on the line to defend a life and a time that is now distant - but which Dorothy has brought to life between the covers of her book.

Dorothy has fond childhood memories of spending her summers visiting her grandparents in Dublin and playing on the beach with her sisters.

She grew up in Belfast and, after graduating from Queen's, she worked at the Arts Council in London and then for the BBC in Northern Ireland.

After her marriage she started teaching English literature and language part-time in a number of schools and also for the Prison Service to inmates in Crumlin Road jail.

She was elected to Belfast City Council in 1975 as an Ulster Unionist and served for 18 years, becoming Deputy Lord Mayor from 1978-79. She also served in the Northern Ireland Assembly from 1982-86, representing East Belfast and was chairman of the health and social services committee.

After leaving the city council in 1992 she joined the Conservative Party and became area chairman from 1995-97. She has attended and spoken at a number of party conferences.

Her time in local politics was a turbulent one through the height of the Troubles and also during a time when there were few women in public office.

She recalls what motivated her to get involved. "I'd always been a Conservative Unionist and I've always felt that the best way to use your rights as voter is to join a political party, and that's what I did," she says. "I was persuaded to stand for election in 1973, although I didn't get elected, and two years later when one of the councillors died I was elected in a by-election.

"I never found any problems because I was a woman and always had great support from other members of the party and the council.

"It was a tough time in Northern Ireland and Myles Humphreys was a great Lord Mayor during the Troubles. His motto was 'Smile for Belfast'.

"The council was a very different place then as we all shared the same common room and mixed all the time."

Taking a brave stance against her party over its reaction to the Anglo-Irish Agreement meant she failed to be selected by members to stand again, although to this day, she feels she was kicked out.

The Agreement was rejected by unionists because it gave Ireland a role in the governance of Northern Ireland for the first time, and because they had been excluded from the agreement negotiations.

The Ulster Unionist Party and the DUP led a campaign against the agreement, including mass rallies and strikes.

Dorothy clearly recalls: "A few of us decided that the protests against the Anglo-Irish Agreement were harming the city.

"There were no meetings and we felt because the party members wouldn't take their seats it was damaging Belfast, but we were basically kicked out because of our objections."

It was interesting times at Stormont too - and also frustrating, as she recalls. "I was the chairman of the health and social services committee but we didn't have a lot of powers, it was just a talking shop.

"We tried and tried to get the SDLP into the Assembly but John Hume wouldn't budge. And it just ended up a unionist gathering with Alliance so we couldn't make any great progress as not all the representatives were there.

"I always thought if the SDLP had got involved then there wouldn't have been quite such a large support for Sinn Fein."

She feels the current Assembly isn't much better and that the peace process hasn't produced "a proper democracy" at Stormont.

Writing her book has been a time-consuming project and she was thrilled to finally get the chance to share actual eyewitness accounts of two such influential times in our history.

She adds: "It was a very big job transcribing the documents and I'm glad now for the chance to share them. And I just hope people will want to read it."

  • 1916 and Beyond the Pale, by Dorothy Dunlop, costs £14.95 from the Linenhall Library, No Alibis Bookshop, Botanic Avenue, Belfast and

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