Pioneer who embraced social activism in her Dublin community

Obituary: Madge (Margaret) Fagan

Madge (Margaret) Fagan, who has died aged 94, was one of the first working-class women to embrace social activism on behalf of her community and, in later life, a series of wider causes.

From Pimlico in Dublin, Fagan advocated for the rights of local authority tenants for over 50 years. She was a founding member of the Marrowbone Lane Tenants Association in 1966, which in turn played a key role in the formation of the National Association of Tenants' Organisations (Nato – or "the other Nato" as it was referred to at her funeral).

Alongside Matt Larkin and other Nato leaders, Fagan 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.

Fearless

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. Tiny, determined and utterly fearless, Fagan took on the drug dealers who were increasingly a scourge in working-class neighbourhoods from the late 1970s on.

On one occasion she hauled a dealer twice her size off his motorbike, stopping only to say: “Who’s the rat now?”

Fagan's problem-solving technique was direct; on more than one occasion she marched into the offices of senior Dublin City Council officials to demand action when an issue arose. Once, she arrived unannounced into the office of Dublin City manager John Fitzgerald but had to ask his help to leave the building when she was unable to find her way out.

Over many years, she organised regular outings for her tenants’ committee, a twice-yearly seniors’ dinner dance and the yearly summer camps for local children. At the age of 92, she could still be seen on Henry Street buying presents for the local senior citizens’ dinner dance.

Childhood

Fagan left Marymount School at the age of 13 to train as a tailor, and she turned her hand to many things over a long working career. Pre-deceased by her husband Anthony by 30 years, she cleaned offices and homes to make ends meet, the years of labour leaving her hands arthritic and bent.

She loved dancing, fashion and animals. Over the years her flat in the Liberties became a home to a succession of dogs, many of them strays. With the help of daughters Rita and Maire, she made scarce resources go a long way, travelling as far as Thailand and the American west in later life.

At the age of 93, she made the headlines again, though not in a way she would have wished, after spending 20 hours on a trolley waiting for treatment in St James’s Hospital. The board of the hospital apologised for the treatment she received.