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Obituary: Deirdre McCartin 1946-2009

Allan Armstrong

19 January 2009

Deirdre McCartin died in St. Katherine’s Hospice, in Scarborough, on the 15th January. Born in 1946, Deirdre was brought up in an Irish-Scottish family in Glasgow. Visiting the Antrim Glens every summer, she considered Ireland her spiritual home.

Deirdre lived several lives.  As a young woman she emigrated to New Zealand, where, in the early 1970s, she was a pioneer of feminist film-making. Deirdre’s path-breaking role was recognised in Deborah Shephard’s book, Reframing Women – A history of New Zealand film.  Deirdre also became heavily involved in New Zealand’s vibrant anti-Vietnam War movement.

After leaving New Zealand in 1978, Deirdre moved to Dublin, and made films for RTE - Irish national television.  She also added university lecturing to her skills.   Deirdre was in Ireland in the tumultuous time leading up to the 1981 Hunger Strikes.  Characteristically, Deirdre also committed herself wholeheartedly to that struggle.  In the Fourth International (FI) and Peoples Democracy (PD), she found the politics, which connected republican opposition to the British state with the wider social movement that could develop the struggle for socialism.  Although, Deirdre later joined other political organisations, the political training she received in the FI and PD always remained with her.

Deirdre became exhausted by her professional work and disappointed over the eventual political outcome of the Hunger Strike.  When the politics of a more narrow political republicanism slowly began to displace the politics of socialist republicanism, she moved to Portugal for year, with an FI comrade, who had played his part in the 1975 Revolution there. When this relationship ended she returned to Ireland in 1988, and hoping for a bit more tranquillity in her life, moved to Allihies, a former copper mining village, in the far west of County Cork. 

Here, Deirdre met Charlie Rees, a former shop steward and committed socialist from Oxfordshire, who became her partner for the rest of her life.  They founded The Allihies Folklore Group Co-operative, which provided local employment and published local history and mythology.  The co-op’s new premises were opened by President Mary Robinson.

However, Deirdre and Charlie could not just drop out of the wider social and political struggles.  They moved to Dunure in 1996 and soon became involved in the Ayr branch of the new Scottish Socialist Alliance. At that time the Republican Communist Network was campaigning for the SSA to take the issues of Ireland and republicanism seriously.  Deirdre recognised us as fellow socialist republicans and, along with Charlie, became a platform member.

One of Deirdre’s important contributions to SSA and SSP activity was to create lively and imaginative campaign materials and stalls. She was able to make use of her own considerable artistic skills.   Deirdre was a very committed SSP activist, who eagerly took part in branch and national party life.

When the lease on their Dunure cottage came up, Deirdre and Charlie were forced to make the decision to move to Scarborough. They moved into a house that Charlie had inherited.  They had only been away for a year, when the split occurred in the SSP.  Deirdre was very much torn between the friendship she had made with Rosemary Byrne in Ayr, and the political advice she was given by the RCN and others to continue supporting the SSP.  However, now living in England, it was the debate inside the FI-supporting International Socialist Group, which eventually persuaded her that the SSP had taken the correct course of action. 

This was fortunate, because Deirdre was soon faced with another split, this time in Respect, the organisation which then involved the largest section of socialists in England.  Deirdre and Charlie played a major part in keeping socialists in Scarborough united despite the national split.   Scarborough socialists produced their own magazine, the Scally Rag. Deirdre and Charlie were very much at the centre of this. They had encouraged the involvement of school and college students in the local antiwar movement, and the campaign to prevent the BNP gaining a foothold in the town.

When, in November, Deirdre knew she did not have very much longer to live, armed with a laptop, telephone, envelopes and stamps, she began contacting and meeting her long-time comrades.   She was enthused by the idea of the SSP’s Republican Socialist Convention in Leith, and donated money to help finance it. 

Despite Deirdre’s circumstances at this time, it would be hard to find somebody more cheerful. Deirdre had no need for the idea of an afterlife, either in heaven or in hell.  She knew that humankind’s future is determined by our own actions. This view poses a more earthly alternative – socialism or barbarism. She fought to ensure that our future would be socialist.  She could be ‘Deirdre of the Sorrows’, weeping at the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza, or Deirdre the fiery and passionate Celtic woman, who defied convention and pursued her own chosen path.  She will be missed, but lives on in her art, films and her influence over those who knew her.  We will continue her struggle for human emancipation and liberation.


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