Belfast Telegraph

I can’t understand why women would turn to terrorism, says IRA victim’s sister as new book assesses female role in conflict

By Leona O'Neill

The sister of an IRA murder victim has said she "cannot understand" why women would want to join a paramilitary organisation whose aim was to take life.

Ann Travers was speaking after the launch of a book looking at the role of women in conflict and peacemaking in Ireland over the last century.

Her sister Mary (22) was shot dead by the IRA in south Belfast in 1984 as she walked home from Mass with her father, Thomas.

By Their Valour: A History of Women in Conflict in Ireland, is written by Emmet Doyle and Joanne McQuaid. It focuses on the impact women had on Northern Irish society and details those who made the ultimate sacrifice - female prison officers, UDR and RUC women killed here - as well as paramilitaries and peacemakers who played a part in history.

Speaking about the book, Ann said the role of women in society here was vastly underplayed.

"I think in general women are normally not given enough credit for their role in society," she said.

"Within the Troubles, you had the women trying to hold the home together. They were the strength of the home, the centre of the home.

"Women who lost their husbands, they had to manage and cope with their children after losing their best friends, their lover, their co-parent, their financial provider. They had to become all of this stuff as well as being a mother. I think that that has very much been forgotten about.

"Women weren't given the chance to grieve because they had to get on with it. They had to raise the children as best they could and provide for them."

Ms Travers also pointed to the Stormont Assembly, where just 30% of MLAs are women.

She added: "When women go into politics they get criticised for how they look instead of being praised for their ideas, their thoughts, their intelligence; people comment on what they are wearing.

"In society they have to work hard to be recognised and to be equal."

Mary McArdle was part of an IRA gang involved in the murder of Mary Travers and served 14 years in prison.

Ann Travers struggles to understand why any woman would join a paramilitary group.

"I don't understand any woman who joined a terrorist organisation with a view of taking human life," she added.

"I couldn't imagine it. As a mother I want to nurture life and I couldn't imagine this.

"There was a woman involved in the murder of my sister. That woman is still alive today and she could easily tell my family who was involved in my sister's murder and who my sister's murderer was. She refuses to.

"I don't understand that she justifies, still, going out to attempt to murder my father. I don't understand as a woman, how she can do that."

Emmet Doyle, the Londonderry-based author of By Their Valour, said women's contribution had largely been forgotten.

"We can't seek to fully understand the story of the Troubles without acknowledging and understanding the role of women," he said. "Women as paramilitaries, the armed forces, in peacemaking and in politics. Not only have we forgotten women's contribution to our history, we have also allowed individual women to be forgotten about.

"When we think of women in republicanism we think of Markiewicz and Farrell, when we think about loyalist women, who do we think of and who do we visualise when we think of women in the armed forces?"

Ms Travers, who campaigns for victims' rights at the South East Fermanagh Foundation's (SEFF) advocacy service, added: "The women I have met - former UDR and RUC women, and also civilians - are extremely strong, amazing women who have come through terrible trauma."

  • By Their Valour is available from Amazon.

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