Nell McCafferty


Life
1944- ; b. and raised on Beechwood St., Bogside, Derry; ed. QUB 1961 (grad. in Arts); met heaney, Phil Coulter, Michael Farrell, Eamon McCann (‘fearless, informed, young - just twenty-two, and breathtakingly beautiful’), and others; participated in Civil Rights Movement, 1968; while teaching French at Strabane Grammar School [‘smell of the riots of the night before in my hair’]; contrib. to Hot Press, Magill, and Sunday Tribune; journalist most effectively networked in republican Derry during Battle of the Bogside and closely associated with Bernadette Devlin; moved to Dublin, 1970; taken on by Donal Foley and contrib. an The Irish Times column, “Eyes of the Law” (1970-77), frequently dealing with discrimination against women; participated in the Dublin-Belfast Contraceptive Train demonstration, with Mary Kenny, June Levine, and others, 1971;
 
supported Joanna Hayes in “Kerry Babies” scandal; met Nuala O’Faolain, c.1980, embarking on 15-year long lesbian partnership with her; worked with Doireann Ní Bhriain and O’Faolain on Women Today (RTÉ); issued The Best of Nell (1984), including such pieces as “Golden Balls”; issued A Woman to Blame: The Kerry Baby Story (1985); banned from Irish broadcasting when her admission of support for the IRA coincided with the Enniskillen bombing, Nov. 1987; wrote Sheep, Shite and Desolation (1994), a one-act, one-woman play for Passion Machine; also A Really Big Bed, performed at Old Museum Arts Centre (Belfast), March 1995;
 
awarded hon. D.Litt. from Staffordshire University, July 1998; confronted Masters of Irish maternity hospitals conference with question about treatment of unviable pregnancies, 2002; was made the subject of acrimonious revelations in Nuala O’Faolain’s best-selling autobiography Are You Somebody?, and issued own autobiography as Nell (2004), revealing her life-long experience as a lesbian; honesty of her stance and record widely supported by press and public; lives at Rugby Road, Ranelagh (Dublin), and spends several days each week caring for her elderly mother and stroke victim, at home in Derry; an autobiography at press in 2005; she was the subject of a nude painting by Daniel Mark Duffy, exhibited at Annual RHA, Nov. 2008. DIW

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Works
  • The Armagh Women [Focus Ireland Ser.] (Dublin: Co-op Books 1981), 95pp.;
  • In the Eyes of the Law (Dublin: Ward River 1981; rep. Poolbeg 1987), 185pp.;
  • A Woman to Blame: the Kerry Babies Case (Dublin: Attic Press [1985]), 176pp., ill, map & ports.;
  • with Pat Murphy, Women in Focus: Contemporary Irish Women’s Lives (Dublin: Attic Press 1987), 131pp.;
  • The Best of Nell: A Selection of Writings over Fourteen Years (Dublin: Attic Press 1984), 157pp.;
  • Goodnight Sisters: Selected Writings [Vol. 2] (Dublin: Attic Press 1987 ; rep. 1994), 185pp.;
  • Nell (Penguin Ireland 2004), 320pp. [autobiography];
  • Elgie Gillespie, ed., Vintage Nell: The McCafferty Reader (Dublin: Lilliput 2005), 320pp. [50 pieces].

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Criticism
Kathy Sheridan, ‘The lonely passion of Nell McCafferty’ [interview article], in The Irish Times, Weekend (2 Nov. 2004) [infra]; [Shirley Kelly,] interview with Nell McCafferty, in Books Ireland (Dec. 2004) [infra]; Ivana Bacik, review of Nell, in The Irish Times (27 Nov. 2004); Maureen Boyle, review of Nell, in Fortnight [Belfast] (Fefb. 2005), p.22-23 [infra]; Bryan Fanning & Tom Garvin, ‘Nell McCafferty, A Woman To Blame: The Kerry Babies Case (1985)’, in Books That Define Ireland (Sallins: Merrion 2014), Chap. 26.

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Commentary
Kathy Sheridan, ‘The lonely passion of Nell McCafferty’ [interview article], in The Irish Times (2 Nov. 2004), Weekend: ‘Like so many of her stances and relationships, sexual and non-sexual, she is a mass of contradictions. But she is never less than achingly honest.’

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[Shirley Kelly,] interview with Nell McCafferty, in Books Ireland (Dec. 2004), pp.287-88: discloses that it was Nuala O’Faolain’s assrtin in interview with American magazine that she never say Nell as a woman and would ‘walk across fifty-nine women to get to one man if [she] was attracted to him’ that persuaded her to write her story. Quotes: ‘From around the age of my First Holy Communion, when I first became conscious of myself, I knew I was an outlaw and I knew they were wrong. Being an outlaw gave me an empathy with anyone else that was excluded, by the Church or society or the law or whatever. I’m no Mother Teresa or Wolfe Tone. If I hadn’t been born an outlaw I don’t think I would have been able to engage with people and causes in the way I have done. I suppose you could say I’ve been driven by a righteous anger.’ (p.287.)

Maureen Boyle, review of Nell, in Fortnight [Belfast] (Feb. 2005), pp.22-23 - remarks on McCafferty’s appearance on BBC Northern Ireland’s Questions and Answers, which she deems to have been almost ’unwatchable’: ‘It’s soul-destroying to watch such a brilliant woman become gratuitous and offensive ... She so disgusted everyone that it had the effect of making the smug Tim Collins the more sympathetic figure; Kate Hoey could hardly bear to look at her and younger members of the audience must have wondered what qualities this woman had that warranted her being invited there in the first place’. Boyle goes on to commend the autobiography highly, with some emphasis on McCafferty’s relationship with her mother Lily and her admission to her at Christmas 1980 that she was lesbian, when she received her mother’s assurances that she wasn’t at all a “freak”. Quotes at length a passage concerning her guilty realise that she was lesbian at thirteen (‘I was, according to Hall [of Well of Loneliness], an “invert”, who would lead a life of shame, secrecy, and persecution’ ...). McCafferty recalls her annoyance at Eamon McCann’s refusing leadership of Citizens’ Action Committee, effectively handing pwer to John Hume ‘on a plate’. Of Nuala O’Faolain, McCafferty writes: ‘I fell completely in love with [her] on the basis of an incandescently brilliant speech she made to the annual showcase meeting of the Women’s Political Association. It was simple and instant as that: I love brains.’ Prompted to write Nell by betrayal when O’Faolain said of her in an interview given in the States: ‘It was much more healthy an life-giving than any relationship with a man. But I would still walk across fifty-nine women to get to one man if I was attracted to him.’ McCafferty reveals that the sexual relationship ceased in 1982, after which differences in life-style obtruded increasingly until the door slammed eleven years later.

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Notes
Sheep, Shite and Desolation (1994): An exploration of the Irish Countrywoman's Association, based upon the author's experiences living in a remote area of Co. Cork. Having found fault with the ICA in the past, particularly the conservative attitude to feminist sexual politics within the organisation, as a member McCafferty experienced ‘womanly consolation’ and revised her views. Cast: 1 woman. (See Irishplayography details - online [.asp]; accessed 12.11.2012].)

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A Really Big Bed (1995) was produced at Old Museum Arts Centre, Belfast, during 21-25th March 1995 as part of Point Fields’ 2nd studio session of monologues by writers established in other fields, with Trudy Kelly in the title-bed. [Styled a first play.]

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Road work: Nell McCafferty was fined £200 yesterday in connection with an accident in Finglas on 2 Feb 1999 when she allegedly overtook a lorry (The Irish Times, 12 July 2000) and subsequently incurred damages and costs of £41,000 damages in a civil suit with the driver of the other vehicle (The Irish Times, 13 Oct. 2001).

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Deadline: Nell McCafferty signed with Penguin in 2002 for an autobiography, due in autumn 2004 (Sadbh [Caroline Walsh], Irish Times, 8 March 2002).

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Hon. Doc.: Staffordshire University conferred an donorary degree (D.Litt.) on Nell McCafferty for her contribution to journalism, feminism and Irish studies, and particularly her work on the lives of contemporary Irish women, all areas of research interest to the university.

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The portrait: Nell McCafferty is the subject of a nude painting by Daniel Mark Duffy, exhibited at Annual RHA, Nov. 2008. In interview with The Irish Times, she said: ‘I thought it was absolutely lovely. For some people the dream lives on - for me, the illusion lives on. I think I’m gorgeous. There is a delusion among the young that your body matters. / Most young people are shy about their bodies. It is harder for a young person, male or female. When your get to my age, you realise you’re not in the market any more.’ Speaking of the invitation to sit - or, rather, stand - for the portrait, she said: ‘I got a letter from him full of pious platitudes aboug the beauty of the older woman's body and I wrote back and said, “Enough of your platitudes, I don’t deal in platitudes’”, and, further ‘He was persuasive. I did it for him because I like him so much, he’s my kind of guy [...] I like the idea of a tribe of women elders doing it. We’re not calendar girls, there’s no coyness about it. We’re naked as nature intended.’ The singer Honor Heffernan declined. (See Ronan McGreevy [reporter,] in The Irish Times, 8 Nov. 2008; for a copy of the portrait, see infra.)

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