Socialist, republican and poet with a big heart

MARY REID: The throng of mourners assembled around the grave of Mary Reid in the tiny Lettercrann churchyard near Pettigo, Co…

MARY REID: The throng of mourners assembled around the grave of Mary Reid in the tiny Lettercrann churchyard near Pettigo, Co. Donegal, had come from all arts and parts of Ireland, and from Britain, France, the US and New Zealand.

Reid (49) had in her life involved herself in places far from her homeplace. But she'd set it down she was to be buried in the cemetery close to Lough Derg. In her heart, she'd never strayed far.

The revolutionary, internationalist, poet and community activist died on January 29th after going for a walk with her two dogs on remote Lacacurry beach at the Isle of Doagh, near Clonmany. Her body was discovered hours later by another walker, washed onto rocks. Gardai called to the scene found one of her dogs wandering alone. It is speculated that she went into the water after the smaller of the dogs had gotten into difficulties. Officers ruled out foul play. Weather conditions at the time were very poor, with high winds and a swirling sea ripping across what is a particularly exposed shoreline.

At the time of her death, Reid had been working as a lecturer in women's studies at Derry's North West Institute of Further and Higher Education, as well as playing prominent roles in community development and publishing projects in the north west. She lived in Derry with her partner of 14 years, Dr Terry Robson. She leaves a son, Cathal, 29.


Born in Monaghan, one of six children, Reid attended St. Louis' in Monaghan before moving on to university in Dublin. She came first in Ireland in her Leaving Cert. year. She graduated from UCD in history and politics and then studied law at Trinity.

She held an MA in rural development from University College, Galway and an MA in creative writing from the University of Lancaster. She was fluent in English, French, Spanish and Irish and could converse in a number of other European languages. She had published poetry in English and Irish, and at the time of her death was compiling another Irish collection with her great friend and mentor, the Donegal poet, Cathal O'Searcaigh.

At UCD, Ms. Reid joined the Official Republican Movement but was to transfer to the Irish Republican Socialist Party after its 1974 split from the Officials. From 1976 to 1979, she was editor of the IRSP paper, the Starry Plough. She resigned from the party in 1979, and moved to Paris. She was never again to align herself formally with any group. She brought fierce commitment to all the causes she believed in. She was widely known as generous to a fault. She never had anything she wasn't ready to give away.

Reid was married for a time to Cathal Og Goulding, the son of Cathal Goulding, the last chief of staff of the IRA before the 1969 Provo split later chief of staff of the Official IRA.

In France, she became a leading campaigner for the rights of politicial refugees. In the summer of 1982, along with Michael Plunkett, a former general secretary of the IRSP, and another man, Stephen King, she was arrested in the Parisian suburb of Vincennes and charged with possession of weapons and explosives. The arrests followed the bombing of a delicatessen in the Jewish quarter of the city.

The police claimed the three were part of an Irish-Palestinian guerrilla cell. The Irish group indignantly denied the charges and insisted that they'd been framed by security authorities anxious for a high-profile anti-terrorist success. They were each sentenced to five years imprisonment.

Cathal, then nine, was taken into care by the French authorities. The three were released after nine months in sensational circumstances when investigators showed that the guns and explosives had been planted by police. Charges were brought against a number of officers. Reid became embroiled in a legal battle with the French government which has still not finally been disposed of.

Reid returned to Ireland with Cathal in 1987, and quickly became active in a variety of community, cultural and literary initiatives. She had a particular interest in the interpenetrations of pagan and Christian, Celtic and Francish traditions, and was an authoritative commentator on the history and folklore of St Patrick's Purgatory on Lough Derg.

She described herself as a socialist, a republican and a feminist, but in the end her poetic sensibility couldn't be contained neatly within any ideology. She was a mass of enthusiasms, infuriating to some in her occasional forays into mysticism, but always entrancing. She saw transient things transfigured, found magnificence in the mundane, had a huge heart and a wild imagination. The great distress of her many circles of friends is a measure of the respect and affection in which she was widely held.

She leaves a son, Cathal, her partner Terry, former huisband Cathal, sisters Detsy, Tricia and Anne and brothers Joe and John.

Mary Reid: born April 25th 1953; died January 29th, 2003.