Price, Dolours (1950–2013), republican paramilitary, was born on 16 December 1950 in Belfast, the daughter of Albert Price (1915–96), upholsterer, and his wife Christina (née Dolan). Dolours had three sisters (the eldest died soon after birth) and a brother; she was particularly close to Marian (b. 1954), leading some commentators to mistake them for twins. Her father participated in the 1938–9 IRA bombing campaign in England, joined a mass escape from Derry jail during the second world war, and was interned in the Curragh camp in the 1940s and during the 1956–62 IRA border campaign. Her mother was in Cumann na mBan, and was briefly imprisoned in Armagh women's prison. Dolours' maternal aunt Bridie Dolan (d. 1975), who lived with the Price family, was blinded and lost both hands while moving IRA explosives during the second world war. Dolours recalled being brought up on her father's memories and a sacralised cult of republican martyrdom embodied in Bridie. Although her first name – after the seven 'dolours' (sorrows) of the Virgin Mary – suggests Marian devotion, republicanism took precedence over catholicism and Price ceased to attend Mass aged fourteen after noticing her parents did not do so. In later life she was 'not particularly religious' but occasionally prayed for those in whose deaths she had been involved.
Educated at St Dominic's Grammar School on the Falls Road, she was remembered as bright and vivacious by classmates, including Mary Leneghan (later McAleese; president of the Irish Republic, 1997–2011). In 1968 she became a trainee teacher at St Mary's College, Belfast. She saw her father's physical-force republicanism as futile and joined People's Democracy, which hoped to create an all-Ireland socialist republic by awakening working-class loyalists to their class identity. Her conversion to physical-force republicanism began when she was among civil rights protestors beaten and chased into a river at Burntollet Bridge by loyalists (4 January 1969). After the implementation of internment in August 1971, she became the first female member of the Provisional IRA, having rejected Cumann na mBan as a subservient auxiliary. Her sister Marian also joined. In March 1972 Dolours represented the IRA in an Italian lecture tour organised by the far-left group Lotta Continua. The sisters acted as couriers, transporting messages and weapons, flirting with soldiers to assure safe passage; they also carried out bank robberies, on one occasion disguised as nuns. They combined these activities with their teacher training.
According to Dolours's later testimony, the Prices joined a secretive unit called 'the unknowns', which reported to the future Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and whose duties included transporting 'disappeared' offenders to be killed and secretly buried. Those driven by Price to their deaths included Jean McConville (qv); she claimed she was present at McConville's killing but did not fire the fatal shot.
Early in 1973 Price led eleven volunteers (including Marian) to bomb London. Four car-bombs were transported to London and placed in prominent locations on 8 March 1973, timed to go off at 2.50 pm. The bombing team intended to fly from Heathrow before warnings were issued but one bomb was discovered early and travel routes to Ireland locked down. As some 1,000 Irish passengers were questioned, the sight of Price giving directions to her colleagues aroused suspicion, and all but one of the team were arrested. Two bombs could not be defused, and 255 people were injured at the Old Bailey and New Scotland Yard (a man also died of a heart attack). Price blamed the injuries on Londoners' ignorance of dangers familiar in Belfast: 'If people ignored the warnings and stood around gawking, they were stupid' (Sunday Independent, 23 September 2013).
The bombers were convicted after a ten-week trial in which the Prices attracted attention by their colourful outfits and Dolours equivocated skilfully in the witness box. On 14 November 1973 they were sentenced to life imprisonment, with the recommendation that they serve twenty years. The convicted defendants declared themselves IRA volunteers and demanded political status; the Prices, Hugh Feeney and the future Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly declared an immediate hunger strike for transfer to Northern Ireland prisons. The hunger strikers were subjected to 165 days' force-feeding; their mouths were held open with callipers while a tube conveying liquid nourishment was forced down their throats. This treatment, which the Prices compared to rape and which gave the sisters lifelong anorexia nervosa, disquieted humanitarians (notably the lifelong pacifist Lord (Fenner) Brockway, who visited and corresponded with the sisters throughout their imprisonment). The force-feeding was discontinued on 18 May 1974; the hunger strike continued until 7 June. The International Medical Council subsequently ruled it unethical for doctors to participate in force-feeding.
The hunger strike aroused widespread sympathy in the Irish Republic and among the left-wing in Britain. Voluntary bodies and local authorities passed resolutions of support, and celebrities including Siobhán McKenna (qv) and Cyril Cusack (qv) joined pro-Price demonstrations. The campaign centred on the Prices; the separate contemporaneous hunger strike and death of IRA prisoner Michael Gaughan were overshadowed.
The Prices issued prison letters describing the force-feeding process and emotive poems in which Dolours recalled being a little girl dreaming of putting the world to rights; Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act was invoked to prevent letters being read by their sister Claire on an RTÉ programme. The hunger strike was raised in the dáil by Neil Blaney (qv) who compared the Prices to Thomas Ashe (qv) (who died from force-feeding in 1917) and Terence MacSwiney (qv) (the Prices were confined in a segregated wing of Brixton prison, where MacSwiney died, and Dolours herself later recalled being driven by the mystique of republican martyrdom). Elements within Sinn Féin advocated running the hunger strikers in the general election of February 1974. In the end, Albert Price stood in West Belfast as an independent and won 11.9 per cent of the vote. After the cessation of the hunger strike, the sisters were transferred from Durham to Armagh women's prison on 18 March 1975.
They continued to suffer health problems, and in May 1980 Marian was released on licence because her life was endangered by anorexia. Separation from her sister exacerbated Dolours's anorexia; Brockway continued to lobby for her release, telling ministers she had renounced violence, and in April 1981, after massive weight loss, she was moved to hospital and then released. She chose not to rejoin the IRA, but campaigned for Adams in the 1983 general election. Moving to Dublin, she worked as a freelance journalist (mostly for the Irish Press) and moved in artistic circles, charming even political opponents with her conversational wit and flamboyant dress sense. She described herself as a pacifist and joined the Irish CND. She read several of her own short stories on RTÉ radio and announced her intention to produce a jail memoir. Publishers rejected it as a pedestrian day-by-day account; an extract appeared in the literary magazine Krino in 1987.
In 1983 Price married the actor Stephen Rea in a private ceremony at Armagh catholic cathedral; they had two sons. She used the surname Rea occasionally, but generally retained her maiden name. Undertaking secretarial work for the Field Day theatre company in which Rea was prominently involved, she lived with him in London for some years in defiance of her release conditions. She advised Miranda Richardson on playing an IRA member opposite Rea in The crying game (1992, dir. Neil Jordan). In 1988 the News of the World tabloid accused her of faking anorexia and compared her to the notorious sadistic serial killer Myra Hindley. The couple later moved to Malahide, Co. Dublin.
Price disapproved of the 1990s Northern Ireland peace process, and from 1997 attended a number of events linked to dissident republican groups. Believing their activities were futile, however, she refused to join them. Suffering from depression, she drank heavily and became dependent on prescription drugs. In 2001 in Dublin she pleaded guilty to a charge of stealing and forging prescriptions and was fined £200; afterwards she received addiction counselling. From the late 1990s her marriage to Rea came under strain, and they quietly divorced in 2003.
In 2001 she was approached by the researchers Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre (a former IRA prisoner) who were compiling an archive of interviews with former paramilitaries in association with Boston College. She gave separate interviews to McIntyre and Moloney (the latter, which discussed the McConville killing, was not part of the Boston College project but was kept with that archive; Price had not discussed the killing on tape with McIntyre, who was unaware of the Moloney interview, and this later caused confusion about what she had left on record). She contributed a number of articles to McIntyre's 2001–08 webzine, The blanket, a forum for republican critics of Sinn Féin, accusing former colleagues (including Adams, Gerry Kelly and Joe Cahill (qv)) of betraying republicanism.
In 2010 Moloney published Voices from the grave, a book based on the Boston interviews. Price gave a number of interviews stating that Adams had been her commanding officer, and that she had given an account of the McConville killing to Boston College. This gave the PSNI a basis on which to demand access to the archive, and led to the disintegration of the project amid extensive legal proceedings and mutual recrimination. Adams denied the accusation, pointing out that Price opposed the peace process and had serious mental health issues (she underwent treatment in St Patrick's Hospital, Dublin); some of Jean McConville's children called for both Adams and Price to be arrested. In 2010 Price approached the commission searching for the bodies of the 'disappeared', offering whatever information she possessed. After Marian Price was arrested in 2011 on charges of assisting Real IRA terrorism, Dolours campaigned for her release.
On 23 January 2013 Dolours Price was found dead in her home on St Margaret's Road, Malahide; death was caused by a combination of antidepressant and sedative tablets. She was buried at Milltown cemetery, Belfast. She was variously described as a victim-perpetrator trapped by republican tradition and the injustices of Stormont rule, a charming friend who might under other circumstances have been a littérateur or actress, and a stony killer disavowing remorse over the death of McConville and other atrocities. In 2018 a semi-dramatised documentary based on the Moloney interviews, I, Dolours, was released (dir. Maurice Sweeney).