James Joseph Magennis VC Frances Elizabeth Clarke Stewart Parker Samuel Beckett Sam Hanna Bell William Carleton John Hewitt Rosamond Praegar Bernard (Barney) Hughes

Brigid Wilkinson (1922 - 2010):
Human rights campaigner


Brigid Wilkinson was at or near the forefront of various civil liberties, human rights and cultural organisations in the Republic of Ireland. Many of these activities included keenly promoting cross-border contacts with her native Ulster at the time of the Troubles there. 

She was born Brigid Wilson in Belfast; her parents lived and worked in Singapore, so that she and her siblings were raised in Ireland by their grandparents. Brigid went to school at Roedean, the celebrated girls’ school on the south coast of England and in Germany, where she once watched a Nazi rally. She attended the University of Dublin, where she read social sciences, but during the Second World war joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service (the “Wrens”). She was though discharged on medical grounds (tuberculosis). She married, in 1948, a farmer with she settled in Leinster.

The Ulster Troubles which flared up at the end of the 1960s prompted her to get involved in cross-border contacts. In 1972, the worst year of Troubles according to just about every criterion, she, as a Protestant from Belfast living in the Republic of Ireland, was one of several private citizens who published a letter explaining that Protestants in the Republic suffered no discrimination – a contentious point, as there were still several legal provisions specifically following Catholic doctrine. One of these was the legal impossibility of obtaining a divorce, and, while there was no great demand for this, it was seen as highly significant, not just amongst Protestants in Ulster, but as far back as the inter-war years when no less a personage as the poet WB Yeats, a senator in the Irish Free State (as it then was), denounced this legal provision as being amongst other things, an effective expression of the state as what was usually described as “confessional”. In 1936 the Free State adopted a new Constitution (which came into force the following year) which contained clear linkages between Irish separatism, Catholic teaching in certain spheres (some more specific than others), and Irish unity. These were highly contentious areas particularly for the Protestants of Ulster in 1972. 

She was later general secretary of the Irish Association (for Cultural, Social and Economic Relations to give its full title), an organisation set up with aim of “the promotion of communication, understanding and co-operation between all the people of Ireland both North and South”. In 1988 this body, to mark its sesquicentenary and with Wilkinson as one of its directors, organised some cultural activities, held in Dublin, under the rubric “Celebration of Ulster”. She was a founder member of Amnesty International in Ireland, and was involved in the Irish Council for Civil Liberties. She was a keen fan of rugby, and attended frequently international matches in Dublin, though not always as a spectator, as another of her activities was her involvement in the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement, and when in 1970 the Springboks, the national team of South Africa, visited Dublin she went along as a picket, not something without some risk. There was substantial opposition to this match, which took place on Saturday, 10 January: some 6000 pickets marched from central Dublin to the stadium, whereas 30,000 rugby fans attended the match itself. Those protesting at the South African team included many notable politicians and other figures of the day. There were some violent demonstrations afterwards, dealt with by a resolute police detachment (the match had ended in a draw). She also worked for the Samaritans, a helpline for the depressed, anxious or suicidal.



Born: 17 June 1922
Died: 12 January 2010
Richard Froggatt
Bibliography:

Obituary: The Irish Times; news report, Irish Independent, 3.2.2010; www.irish-association.org; http://hr-learning.ouk.edu.tw/database/engnews