Gahan, (Winifred) Muriel Françoise (1897–1995), promoter of cooperation and traditional crafts, was born 27 October 1897 at Magherabeg House, near Donegal town, the second daughter of (Fredrick George) Townsend Gahan, a civil engineer with the Congested Districts Board, and Winifred Gahan (née Waters), a former governess, originally from Cambridgeshire. Four of her brothers became Church of Ireland clergymen. In 1900 the Gahans moved to Castlebar, Co. Mayo, where Muriel spent most of her early life. Her father often took her, as a child, on his surveys of the county, which gave her an early understanding of rural poverty. Educated initially by a governess, she was later sent to St Winifred's, an anglican girl's school in Llanfairfechan, Wales, where she spent three years before going on to Alexandra College, Dublin (1914–16). She showed little interest in study but excelled at sports. It was at Alexandra College that she formed a lasting friendship with Olivia Cruikshank (later Hughes) (d. 1989), who, like herself, became a prominent member of the United Irishwomen (known from 1935 as the Irish Countrywomen's Association (ICA)).
After a period living at Rathmines, Co. Dublin, in 1919 the Gahans moved back to Castlebar where, for the next seven years, Muriel engaged mainly in local sporting and social activities. She returned to Dublin after her father's retirement from the land commission in 1926, and the following year embarked on a career as a painter and decorator with an all-female firm, the Modern Decorator. In 1929, at the request of Olivia Hughes, she painted the United Irishwomen's stand at the RDS spring show. Though she claimed never to have heard of the United Irishwomen, this task was a turning point in her career, marking the beginning of her lengthy involvement in promoting traditional Irish crafts. Angered by the plight of isolated craft workers who lived on meagre incomes, in December 1930 she left her job and with other United Irishwomen opened a sales depot for their work in Dublin, named the Country Shop; financed primarily by the attached restaurant, the shop's profits assisted craft workers with grants and prizes. Its activities were directed by Country Workers Ltd, of which Gahan was managing director. Her work with the Country Shop was popularly associated with the Aran geansaí (sweater), which on a visit to the islands in 1931 she instantly recognised as a saleable product.
A key organiser of the ICA's early summer schools, she helped found the Irish Homespun Society (1935) and to organise its exhibitions at the RDS; in 1941 she was elected to its chair. She was also a founder of the Dublin Town Association (1935), which allowed urban women to work with the ICA, and was a driving force behind Irish Country Markets Ltd (1946), a cooperative society marketing crafts and produce; she held its chair until 1975. Always an enthusiastic supporter of the cooperative system, in the mid 1940s she did much to steer the ICA back to its cooperativist roots. She was a member of the RDS from 1946, and was appointed to its industries, art, and general purposes committee in 1948. Through her involvement with Country Markets and the RDS she secured financial and administrative backing for the Country Craftsmanship Scheme, established in 1951 to promote local craft exhibitions and competitions. She was a founding member of the Arts Council (1951), and in 1956 was appointed to the council of the Arts and Crafts Society of Ireland and to the National Savings Committee.
Gahan consistently stressed the need for improved teaching of crafts in Ireland: she successfully lobbied the National College of Art and Design to set up a school of weaving, and was instrumental in the ICA's securing funds from the Kellogg Foundation of America for An Grianán, their residential training college at Termonfeckin, Co. Louth, which opened in 1954. Her services to the ICA were officially recognised in 1965 when she was made a buan chara (honorary life member). Other awards included the Allied Irish Banks Community Development Award (1974), an honorary doctorate from TCD (1978), and the Plunkett Award for Cooperative Endeavour (1984). In 1976 she became the first female vice-president of the RDS. She continued to attend meetings of the ICA, Country Markets, the RDS, and the Crafts Council of Ireland (of which she had been a member since 1971) until 1992. In that year she left her home in Shankill, Co.Dublin, and moved into St Mary's nursing home, Ballsbridge, Dublin, where she died 12 July 1995. Her portrait, painted by Edward McGuire (qv), hangs in the council chamber of the RDS.