Inclusiveness remains key challenge, Special Olympics chief says

Mary Davis pays tribute to influence of women at Washington Nollaig na mBan event

Mary Davis said women in her mother’s generation tore apart “that matrix of discrimination that hemmed in women for such a long time”. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill

Mary Davis said women in her mother’s generation tore apart “that matrix of discrimination that hemmed in women for such a long time”. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Building a more inclusive world remains a key challenge for today’s society despite the progress made in recent years, the head of Special Olympics Mary Davis has said.

Speaking at a gathering in Washington, DC, on Friday to mark Nollaig na mBan, Ms Davis, who is the chief executive of Special Olympics International, paid tribute to the women who laid the groundwork for today’s generation.

“Today as we celebrate our own lives and own achievements, we stand on the shoulders of our mothers, our grandmothers, our great-grandmothers who, day by day and step by step, carried us forward and created the opportunities and choice we continue to enjoy in our lifetime,” she told the breakfast gathering at the University Club in Washington organised by the Irish American Partnership.

Speaking about the influence of her own mother on her life, she recalled how her mother used to gather with other women in the locality in Mayo every January to mark Nollaig na mBan, traditionally an opportunity for women to take a break after the busy Christmas period.

Matrix of discrimination

“Times were not easy for them. Sometimes in small acts and sometimes through great gestures they really did tear apart that matrix of discrimination that hemmed in women for such a long time,” she said.

Ms Davis, who is based in Washington following her appointment as Special Olympics chief executive in 2016, also cited the influence of Patricia Farrell, the founder of St Michael’s House, who established the centre for people with intellectual disabilities after placing an ad in The Irish Times in 1955.

Other influences included Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the sister of former US president John F Kennedy and founder of the Special Olympics, who she said had “created choice and opportunity for people who were marginalised, and for their families as well”. She grew up in a large family of “many famous men but in her own right made a lasting contribution to the world around her,” Ms Davis said.

Ireland’s Ambassador to the United States, Dan Mulhall, said it was fitting that the Nollaig na mBan event was taking place in 2018, 100 years after Irish women won the right to vote and the first Irish woman was democratically elected to parliament.

The Irish American Partnership is an organisation that supports cultural and educational initiatives across the island of Ireland, and yesterday announced a $10,000 donation to Special Olympics Ireland.

Ms Davis, who contested the 2011 presidential election, was the head of Special Olympics Ireland before being appointed as the first non-American chief executive of the global organisation in 2016.