Learn about Northern Ireland’s only Liberal MP – event tomorrow in Belfast

A book has just been published by the Ulster Historical Federation telling the story of Sheelagh Murnaghan, Ireland’s only Liberal MP.

‘In Northern Ireland politics, I don’t know which is the greatest obstacle: to be a WOMAN, a CATHOLIC or a LIBERAL. I am all three.’

Sheelagh Murnaghan was a remarkable person. She was the first female barrister to practise in Northern Ireland; a talented sportswoman who played hockey for Ulster and Ireland; the only Liberal Party MP 1961-9) in the 50-year history of the Northern Ireland Parliament.

In a country riven by sectarianism, she was consistently a voice of reason and humanity, endlessly challenging the widely-held assumption that it was normal and right to ‘look after one’s own people’ and ‘do down the other side’. A patriot in the most genuine meaning of the word she tried to save her country from its demons. Her efforts were spurned and Northern Ireland paid a terrible price for that rejection.

However, time would prove Sheelagh to be right, as a torchbearer for human rights, non-violence and respect for the dignity of others, she proved herself to be decades ahead of other politicians and political parties, as many of her original ideas have come to be enshrined in law in Northern Ireland.

I know that this is very late notice, but if any of you find yourselves in Belfast at a loose end tomorrow, there will be a talk on Sheelagh’s life between 1 and 2 pm. The details are here.

In the meantime, I have just ordered my copy.  I just hope that I get round to reading it so that I can review it on here.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • nigel hunter 6th Oct '19 - 3:53pm

    I hope that the meeting can encourage others to follow her into the Alliance Party to unite all factions of NI

  • The wider Murnaghan family has produced many distinguished figures. Sheelagh’s grandfather, George Murnaghan, was Nationalist MP for Mid Tyrone from 1895 to 1910 – he had returned to Ireland after living in the U.S. for 30 years and making his fortune there. An uncle of Sheelagh, Francis Dominic Murnaghan, was one of Ireland’s most distinguished mathematicians. Although born and raised in Ireland, he followed in his father’s footsteps in moving to the US in 1914 but, unlike his father, stayed there and his son, Francis Dominic Murnaghan Jr., was appointed a US Federal Circuit judge by Jimmy Carter. Another uncle of Sheelagh, James Murnaghan, was an Irish Supreme Court judge for over 25 years, and a cousin, George Murnaghan served as an Irish High Court judge for almost as long.

  • Mick Taylor 6th Oct '19 - 4:57pm

    As a young student at the then New University of Ulster, I met Sheelagh on a number of occasions in the late 60s, mainly at Liberal meetings and also on the campaign trail. A remarkable woman and a great Liberal!

  • Richard Underhill. 6th Oct '19 - 5:13pm

    The only Liberal Democrat MEP was Catherine Bearder. She now has company
    “we got an amazing result! 16 MEPs, plus 1 Alliance MEP from Northern Ireland now sit with the renamed ALDE group Renew Europe in the European Parliament. (You may have heard that we made a real statement by all wearing those T-shirts as we entered the vast plenary chamber in Strasbourg)
    What a difference that’s making to my life. No longer the lonely single MEP, but leader of a strong, active, skilled and very keen delegation who have hit the road running.”

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