“DESMOND Tutu loves Mary Robinson. He told RTÉ he did. And RTÉ told Ireland … if not quite the world.”
Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s opening words at the launch of Mary Robinson’s memoir, ‘Everybody Matters’ in the Ballina Arts Centre last week may have been playful but the warm tenor of his thoughtful speech did not detract from the gravitas of his many observations about her memoir.
He also extolled her obvious pride in her home place by holding the Irish launch of the book in her native Ballina. For the Iar-Uachtarán may have lit that symbolic candle in the window of Áras an Uachtaráin to reach out to the millions of Irish diaspora, or travelled the world as the High Commissioner for Human Rights but she came home to Mayo to launch her book.
Mr Kenny observed: “Home in so many ways is what makes us who we are and it’s wonderful for the people here to have Mary, Nick and the family home.”
To a packed theatre in the state-of-the-art Ballina Arts Centre, Enda Kenny spoke about the personal and public love that is revealed by this ambassador and citizen of the ‘Republic of Conscience’. The private and public person merges in the memoir to reveal her characteristic convictions about justice, truth, freedom, dignity, respect, human and civil rights.
Addressing the iconic term, Mná na hÉireann, which she used in her inaugural speech as president, he said: “I know a woman who came home from London by coach and boat so she could say to her own children, in time, that she voted for Ireland’s first woman President, Mary Robinson.”
“This book shows clearly Mary’s belief that everybody does indeed matter and that what we do now, the decisions we take now, may well decide not just the quality of life for future generations but whether those generations will even exist in the future on this planet at all,” he remarked.
Earlier, the proceedings were opened by the Director of the Ballina Arts Centre, Seán Walsh. He said Mary Robinson had dedicated her life to social justice and was ‘fearless’ in her fight for human rights throughout the world.
A QUOTATION by Eleanor Roosevelt, in the opening chapter of her memoir, encapsulates what Mary Robinson is essentially about. “Where, after all, do universal rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination.”
Eleanor Roosevelt may have been born in New York and married to President of the United States, Franklin D Roosevelt but these words, spoken to the United Nations in 1958, clearly reverberate for Ballina native, Mary Robinson. Indeed, she could easily have spoken them herself.
In ‘Everybody Matters’, for the first time, the more personal and private Mary Robinson merges with the barrister and senator, president and UN High Commissioner to paint a truly human word-picture of a remarkable Irish woman. The blurb on the dust-jacket says it all: “One of the most inspiring women of our age. Mary Robinson has spent her life in pursuit of a fairer world.”
A turning point for the young Mary Bourke, from a well-to-do professional Ballina family, was when her parents sent her to finishing school in Paris. There the teenager was introduced to the writings of feminists Simone de Beauvoir and Francoise Sagan and soon the lure of life in a convent and the conservative religious influences back home began to wane.
On returning home Mary won a scholarship to Trinity and as a self-declared ‘class swot’ managed to achieve three First Class degrees in 1967, two from Trinity and a Barrister-at-Law degree from the Kings Inns. However, her swotting, she concedes, did not preclude her from gate-crashing the Trinity Ball by climbing a ladder.
Moreover, there was a bearded distraction around this time, even though the efforts at wooing by longtime husband, Nick Robinson, did not come to fruition for some time as Mary headed off to Harvard University.
As Ireland’s first female president the Áras could prove to be a lonely spot but her role as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights would be Mary’s biggest challenge and in the book ‘she does not shrink from describing the huge political difficulties she encountered among the many triumphs’.
At the launch Taoiseach Enda Kenny said Mary Robinson’s ‘beautifully written and brilliantly observed’ book managed to be haunting, brave, disturbing, uncomfortable, reassuring, illuminating and also very funny, while also revealing an innate humility.
In conversation with Olivia O’Leary
AND when she sat back into an armchair with her old combative friend and interviewer, on the stage of Ballina Arts Centre, Mary Robinson’s innate shyness (written about eloquently in the book) melted away and her natural warmth, ironic humour and humility shone brightly.
There was a wicked twinkle in her eyes as she recalled her mother’s sometimes embarrassing pride in her ‘senator, professor daughter’. Like the time she brought her to see the matron of Holles Street during her first pregnancy. It transpired the matron was far more interested in her brother Aubrey than in the young ‘senator, professor daughter’.
“Later when I asked Aubrey to explain the matron’s interest in him, he said it may be because she thinks my car hit hers!”
During her conversation with Olivia O’Leary the inveterate campaigner ensured to note that she was ‘very glad’ the Taoiseach brought out the subject of the sustainable future of the planet in his speech. She said her day job was now devoted to the Foundation for Climate Justice. The foundation advocates for those marginalised communities that are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
She said climate change, due to our use of fossil fuels, is really undermining many poor communities in the world and that ‘food security is really a problem for the future’.
Referring to a Shell to Sea protest outside the centre on her arrival, she said, that due to her role as an Iar-Uachtarán, she would not comment on matters that may come before the Oireachtas. The protestors were carrying placards asking: “What about human rights on your doorstep?”
MORE Everybody Matters by Mary Robinson is published by Hodder & Stoughton and is on sale in hardback in all local bookshops.
HAVE YOUR SAY email firstname.lastname@example.org with your comments