Margaret McCoubrey (1880-1955)

 

Scottish-born Margaret McCoubrey’s interests spanned socialism and feminism. Marriage to an Irish trade unionist brought her to Belfast in 1905, where she joined the militant Irish Women’s Suffrage Society which was absorbed into the Pankhursts’ Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1914.

An active suffragette, McCoubrey was under police surveillance by 1914. She believed militancy continued a long Irish tradition of protest. Her commitment to suffrage led her to reject the WSPU truce called on the outbreak of the first World War.

Also a pacifist, she ran a lone month-long peace and suffrage campaign in Belfast in August 1917, believing that “a woman looking down on a battlefield would not see dead Germans or dead Englishmen but so many mothers’ sons”. Post-war socialism and feminism combined in her work as general secretary to the Co-operative Guild and secretary to its women’s wing.

A contributor to socialist press, and a member of the Independent Labour Party, she was elected to Belfast Corporation as a labour councillor for Dock Ward in 1920. She was defeated by six votes in March 1929. The Irish Times depicted her as “a notable Belfast woman” and “one of the most energetic and best-informed public women in the city . . . prominent in all social and political reform movements”. However, she brought a successful petition for unionist personation and in May was declared elected by one vote. From 1933 she ran a non-profit-making holiday home for Belfast working girls in Carnlough, Co Antrim.