Planned Freedom of Cork recipient ‘stunned’ at award

Mary Crilly to be honoured for 40 years helping survivors of sexual and domestic abuse

Long-time campaigner against sexual violence, Mary Crilly says she is "humbled" and "stunned" by the decision to award her the Freedom of Cork next month.

Lord Mayor of Cork, Councillor Colm Kelleher has confirmed that he is to bestow the Freedom of Cork on Ms Crilly, CEO of the Sexual Violence Centre Cork (SVCC), "in recognition of her tireless work in the areas of sexual violence, domestic violence, sex trafficking, female genital mutilation and stalking".

Mr Kelleher said that the ceremony will take place at Cork City Hall on June 9th at 2pm when he and the elected members of the Council will celebrate Ms Crilly’s work in “changing the response to male violence against women over the last four decades”.

A Dubliner, Ms Crilly was one of the founding members of the Cork Rape Crisis Centre in 1983, which has since evolved into the Sexual Violence Centre Cork.


She told The Irish Times she was “still kind of stunned by the news” of the award.

"I feel honoured and privileged because there are others like Caitriona Twomey of Penny Dinners who could have got it – it would have never even entered my head about getting the Freedom of Cork because it's such a huge honour," she said.

"I'm kind of humbled by it but I am also so appreciative of Cork City Council that they are not shunning from sexual violence – they are acknowledging the issue, saying this is who she is and this is what she is involved in which I think is phenomenal for people who are victims and survivors.

“This is for everybody as far as I’m concerned and everybody who helped me live my life in Cork over the past 40 odd years through all the different times and difficulties,” added Ms Crilly, who began assisting sexual abuse victims in Cork with the setting up of a helpline in March, 1983.

Since then, Ms Crilly said she estimated that the SVCC has assisted at least 10,000 people in person in terms of those who called into the centre to avail of counselling and support while they also have assisted many others over the phone in the early years and remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Kelleher said: “As a feminist activist, Mary has played a role in changing the response to male violence against women over the last four decades – working tirelessly to eliminate sexual violence and to change attitudes and victim blaming in society,” said Mr Kelleher.

“Mary’s work varies from supporting victims in court, or at the Sexual Assault Treatment Unit, to visiting schools and colleges, to working with government, statutory and voluntary agencies to change and influence social policy,” he added

Ms Crilly will join some notable figures when she receives the Freedom of Cork including US president John F Kennedy as well as several major figures in Irish politics including Presidents Sean T O'Kelly, Eamon de Valera, Mary Robinson, Mary McAleese and Michael D Higgins.

Cork born Taoiseach, Jack Lynch also received the honour as did Tánaiste, Peter Barry while former Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds and former British prime minister John Major were also honoured as were John Hume and US Senators Tipp O'Neill and George Mitchel for their work on the peace process.

Others to receive the award in recent years include sports stars, Roy Keane, Sonia O'Sullivan, Ronan O'Gara and Seán Óg Ó hAilpín as well as actor, Niall Tóibín, dancer Michael Flatley, comedians Frank Duggan, Michael Twomey and Billa O'Connell and Chernobyl campaigner, Adi Roche.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times