Pioneer of prison education in Northern Ireland during the Troubles

Margaret Gray: Born March 1st 1935; Died May 28th 2013

Margaret Gray was a mainstay of Ballycastle Church Action and was widely respected in the Co Antrim town.

Margaret Gray was a mainstay of Ballycastle Church Action and was widely respected in the Co Antrim town.


Margaret Gray, who has died in a road-traffic incident, played a major part in the community life of her adopted home of Ballycastle, Co Antrim, and in the life of the Presbyterian Church. She was also a pioneer of prison education in the North.

Until her tragic death, she was a mainstay of Ballycastle Church Action. As such, she was part of Good Morning Ballycastle, a phone befriending service for the vulnerable. A woman who recognised no religious boundaries to friendship, she was respected across the town.

In the 1970s, Gray had become one of the first teachers in the North’s prisons, commencing in Hydebank institution for young offenders.

From there she progressed to being Open University liaison teacher in Long Kesh and Maghaberry prisons through much of Troubles. Her role was not always easy, as some prisoners perceived her as part of the prison regime. But during her time many prisoners obtained degrees.

Gray was aware that many needed non-academic education. She had a passion for cooking and helped organise cookery courses for prisoners to prepare them for release.

She was born Margaret Evelyn Allen in March 1935, the eldest of three daughters, to Charles Allen, an electrical engineer and prominent Methodist layman, and his wife, Noel (née King). At the time, the family were living in Broughshane, near Ballymena. When she was young, they moved to Lisburn, where she lived for most of her life.

There, she received primary education at the Wallace High School Preparatory Department, and secondary schooling at Ashleigh House grammar school in Belfast.

On finishing school, she undertook a combined degree at Queen’s University Belfast. Early in her studies there she met Gordon Gray. They married soon after his ordination as a Presbyterian minister.

Creative flair
On graduation she taught in Lisburn, and then worked in the home while her children were small before becoming a prison educator.

Gray was a voracious reader with a passion for history and English literature. She had a creative flair, writing the pageant performed for the 350th anniversary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

Gray was a woman of great determination. In 2010 she had two strokes, one serious. She fought back and resumed active life.

Gray is survived by her husband Gordon; her sons Philip, Timothy and Jeremy; and her sisters Christine McCafferty and Rosemary Lloyd.