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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 15. August 4, 1971


"You let too many women into your movement who only want equality with their professional male counter? but who do not object at all to the class nature of society, The fiery young British MP comments on Women's Liberation, socialism, and Irish-Americans.

Bernadette Devlin, twenty-two, independent member of the British House of Commons from Northern Ireland, arrived in the United States for the first time on a sweltering day in late August 1969. Stepping off her Pan Am plane, clad in a pair of dungarees and a white sweater, tired, weary, Miss Devlin explained to the assembled New York pressmen that she had come to America to raise money for her beleaguered people and to explain to the world exactly what was going on in embattled Ulster. The situation she left behind was grim; for nearly two weeks previous to her visit. Catholics in the cities of Derry, Dungannon, and Belfast had barricaded their ghetttos against the all-Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary; Bernadette herself had fought on the Derry barricades. CS tear gas had reigned intermittently on the Catholic Bogside district of Derry for two days and two nights; and the British Army had been called to Ulster, ostensibly to protect the Catholics from what was abo 't to become a massacre. In kelly-green pubs in Dublin and Bayridge, Brooklyn shamrocked Irishmen were singing The Rising of the Moon" and preparing themselves for a rerun of Bloody Easter Sunday, 1917.

I found Bernadette that first night stirring up a hastily assembled gathering of Irish Americans crowded into a small fraternal club in the Inwood section of Manhattan. On everyone's lips were cheers and tributes to the new Saint Joan. The Irish of in wood expressed an almost hysterical love for the girl. It was as if Connolly had sent them a daughter.

Later that night, Miss Devlin was charming herself through a friendly interview on an all-night radio talk show. Between questions on the political situation in Ulster, the interviewer asked, "And what does the well dressed revolutionary wear to the barricades?" The MP rolled her eyes to the ceiling at the inanity of the question, and answered as politely as possible; "Dungarees, that's all I brought. My drycleaners, you see, burnt down."

For me, an enterprising reporter covering the story for New York's underground East Village Other, the sartorial remark was an opportunity. "You'll need some clothes for your tour. Dungarees won't do for 'Meet the Press'. Why don't you borrow some things from me?'

Several hours later, as Devlin rumaged through my closet in search of three dresses small enough for her, we talked about the situation in Ireland. There seemed something magnificent about Bernadette. She was young, but she lacked all the revolutionary jargon about "correct ideas, revolutionary struggle and people's wars. "She was a genuine human being fighting a revolution while still maintaining her humanity. I liked her, not because she was Saint Joan, nor because she was a romantic figure - a woman who defied the might of the British Empire - but because she was a mensch - open, frank, human, frail.

I continued covering much of Bernadette's American tour, which ended up becoming a full-scale disaster. The Irish-Americans, filled with much bravado when they sing of Bloody Easter Sunday, quickly abandoned their 1970s Constance Markievicz as soon as they found out what she was about Revolution is all right for folk songs, but real, live, flesh-andblood revolutions are too terrible a challenge for one's fantasies. So Bernadette left America in panic, not having collected much support. As for me, I developed an obsessive interest in the Irish Question. Three weeks after Devlin's departure with tape recorder and press credentials from New York's WBAI in hand, I touched down in Belfast.

Belfast was a horror I was the house guest of Frank Gogarty, a quiet spoken dentist and the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. Being Gogarty guest meant that I had to sit up every night and guard Frank's house from possible attack by followers of the Protestant Rev Ian Paisley. It meant that I would pick up a telephone and hear vile, obscene threats on the lives of Gogarty's six children. It meant being followed everywhere by plain clothes police, with my life in constant danger. Certain nightmare memories of Belfast persist in my mind police Stoner rifle bullet holes in the bedrooms of Catholic children, Bombay Street, a block of small working-class Catholic flats, whose residents had been burnt out by Protestant extremists and fired on by the Royal Ulster Constabulary as they fled their burning homes, the rogance of a middle-class Protestant woman who told me that "all of Ulster's troubles are being caused by outside agitators." The sense of constant siege that hung over Belfast was something akin to what my grandmother talks about when she speaks of Berlin, 1938. It was Krystallnacht every night.

In the midst of all this Bernadette Devlin had disappeared. Rumours were that she was either in Belgium Italy or Donegal in a desperate search for peace, quiet, and anonymity. She wanted to recover from America and to be alone.

I left Ulster a month later, now a seasoned war correspondent totally horrified by what I had experienced. Somehow, I was certain I'd never see Bernadette Devlin alive again that Ireland, with its national habit of destroying its best leaders, would get to her too. It was morbid, but I expected that the next time I'd hear of her would be in glowing New York Times obituary: "Bernadette Devlin, Irish Revolutionary, Parliamentarian, Dead of Sniper's Bullet."

Fortunately, things didn't work out quite as grimly. A year and a half after her first visit, Bernadette returned to the States, quite alive and quite healthy. She had come this time not as Saint Joan of the Bogside, but as an Irish Socialist in search of some speaker's fees to finance an Irish Socialist Center in Belfast. Her shedule was grueling; two cities a day two campuses a day for thirty days. Catching up with her involved days of telephoning to faraway places on her tour: Tampa, Toronto, Washington. I finally found Devlin in the Hartford, Connecticut airport where, with luggage and hair dryer under arm, she looked at me mock seriously and said: "My God, Claudia, I've forgotten your dresses!"