One woman’s freedom fighter is another woman’s mother

20 Feb


These days, Bernadette Devlin McAliskey spends her time doing, in effect, what she has been doing for her whole life. She talks, so people will listen. McAliskey’s efforts today can only pale in comparison to the energy she exuded during the early 1970s, as she waved high the banner of Irish republicanism.


Bernadette Devlin McAliskey is currently 65 years old.

Long gone from her early days of serving in the British Parliament and banned from visiting America, (her beliefs considered too radical and liable to incite riots) McAliskey remains a polarizing figure.

Less than a decade after she fought in Derry’s Battle of the Bogside and witnessed the horrific events of Bloody Sunday, she and her husband Michael fell victim to a failed assassination attempt by members of the Ulster Freedom Fighters. McAliskey was shot several times in the chest, arm and thigh, in full view of the couple’s three children.

 One of those children, whom Bernadette had borne out of wedlock, was Roisin. Roisin McAliskey, likely spurred by her mother’s strong pro-nationalist views, has become just as imposing a figure as Bernadette in her day.


This mural, in the heart of Derry, is hailed as a living memory to the actions of those in the fight for a unified Ireland

Long suspected of having once been a member of the Provisional IRA, Roisin was once arrested by German officials, who thought she was connected with a mortar attack at a British army compound. She was four months pregnant at the time and would eventually give birth to a daughter, under heavy armed guard, in England.


Roisin McAliskey is suspected of being a one-time Provisional IRA member

“The conditions of Roisin’s imprisonment were horrendous and provoked an international outcry,” writes Stuart Ross, of Solidarity Magazine. “She suffered some of the worst conditions endured by Irish political prisoners in Britain.”

Bernadette has never said that her daughter engaged in any illegal activity, but has continued to heap pressure on the British government by her speaking engagements and newspaper columns. Mere hours after the results of the Saville inquiry was released two years ago and Prime Minister David Cameron issued a formal apology to the 14 deceased victims of Bloody Sunday, McAliskey argued that the entire British government, not the individual soldiers who created the massacre, should be put on the dock.

“Bloody Sunday isn’t just about the families or how the 13 individuals lost their lives that day; the 14th dying later of his wounds,” she argues in a column published in the Guardian. “It is about whether the British government committed a war crime in 1972 and in so doing started a war.”

As recently as last August, McAliskey raised eyebrows with her comments on the role of women in the household; another example of the rebel force indelibly kept alive through a large wall mural in Northern Ireland.

“It is difficult for somebody… to balance a personal life and that includes children, you will have no choice but to do two jobs for the price of one,” she said.


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