Ireland, Beatrice de Courcy (née Haigh) (‘Betty’, ‘Bet’) (1911–99), socialist and anti-war activist, was born 25 May 1911 in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, England, youngest of four daughters of Philip Haigh, a Yorkshire-born architect, and Victoria Alice Haigh (née Brunker), a native of Dublin, where her family were in the building industry. She was educated at Cheltenham College, and at a school in Switzerland. Also attending a catering college, she assisted her sister in operating a restaurant in Cornmarket St., Oxford, a haunt of university and local leftists, known colloquially as ‘the Irish café’. There in the early 1930s she met John de Courcy Ireland (qv), an Oxford history student, when he called to the café to wash off soot and grime on completing a canoeing trip through the canal system linking Oxford and the Thames to Bath and the Severn; they married in 1932. On John's graduation, they moved to Manchester, where he taught school in nearby Bury (1934–7), and they both were active in cultural and political organisations, including the Gaelic League (they frequently visited Dublin and Belfast) and the China Relief Society, which supported Chinese displaced by the Japanese invasion and occupation of Manchuria. Having received paramedical training with the Red Cross and the St John Ambulance Brigade, in 1936 Beatrice went to Barcelona as a volunteer on a medical team attached to the republican international brigades in the Spanish civil war; she also delivered medical aid funds for wounded combatants collected by Manchester trade unionists. Already known as a forceful platform speaker at street corners and market places throughout northern England, on her return she addressed numerous public meetings about the Spanish war, and contested the 1938 Manchester city council elections on behalf of the Labour Party.
In 1938 she and John moved to Ireland on his being commissioned to write a book about the border (a project abandoned on commencement of the second world war). After spending several months on the Aran islands to improve their Irish, they lived in Muff, Co. Donegal. Torn between his anti-fascist convictions and his nationalist identity with neutral Ireland, John joined the Irish government's Local Security Force (LSF), participating in border and coast patrols, and worked on the major British/American naval construction site on Lough Foyle. After his dismissal for trade union organising among the labourers on the site, and leading a protest against working conditions, the couple moved to Dublin on his appointment as history teacher at the grammar school attached to St Patrick's Church of Ireland cathedral (1942–9). Identifying strongly with the politics of James Larkin (qv), which they described as ‘libertarian socialist’, John and Betty became militant members of the Irish Labour Party, John serving in the early 1940s as secretary of the party's Dublin executive. Subsequently John taught at Church of Ireland schools in Drogheda, Co. Louth (1949–51), and Bandon, Co. Cork (1951–3), at Kingstown grammar school, Dún Laoghaire, Co. Dublin (1953–73), and at Newpark comprehensive school, Blackrock, Co. Dublin (1973–87). The couple had one son and two daughters, and lived at several addresses in greater Dublin before settling (c.1960) at ‘Caprera’, a small bungalow on Grosvenor Terrace, Sorrento Rd, Dalkey, Co. Dublin. From 1953 they were members of the unitarian church, St Stephen's Green, Dublin. An active supporter of the Red Cross, Beatrice was unsuccessful as Labour candidate in the 1955 Dún Laoghaire borough elections. She participated in the first two marches of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) at the British atomic-weapons production site at Aldermaston, Berkshire (1958–9), and was a principal founder (c.1958) and secretary of Irish CND. Her recreations included painting. She died 24 December 1999. A plaque placed by Irish CND in People's Park, Dún Laoghaire (2002), honours her and John's work as peace activists.
Her husband, John de Courcy Ireland (1911–2006), was a noted maritime historian, political activist, teacher, and author. Throughout his multi-faceted career he regarded himself as one half of a team, describing Betty as the ‘real inspiration’ of all ‘the adventures, campaigns, and journeys’ of his life (Seafaring Irish, liner notes).