Reid, Mary (1953–2003), republican and feminist, was born in Monaghan town (home of her maternal grandparents) on 25 April 1953. She was the eldest of six children (four girls and two boys) of Plunkett Reid, grocer, and his wife Patricia. Her childhood was spent in Pettigo, Co. Donegal, where her parents kept a grocery shop; Reid always retained a strong attachment to Pettigo, and by her own wish was buried near it in Lettercrann churchyard. In 1973 the shop was destroyed by a no‐warning loyalist car bomb, though the Reids, who lived above it, survived.
Reid, who attended the St Louis convent secondary school in Monaghan town, was conspicuously intelligent and idolised by her family; when she sat her leaving certificate examination she received the highest marks awarded that year. She studied history and politics at University College Dublin, where she became active in the Official republican movement, then studied law at Trinity College Dublin. She subsequently acquired MAs in rural development from UCG and creative writing from the University of Lancaster; she became fluent in French and Irish and had conversational knowledge of German and Spanish.
Reid married Cathal Óg Goulding (son of Cathal Goulding (qv), Official IRA chief of staff), with whom she had a son (also Cathal) in 1973. The marriage broke up and Reid joined the Irish Republican Socialist Party, which broke away from Official Sinn Féin in 1974 under the leadership of Séamus Costello (qv). She admired Costello for his skill at grassroots politics, and believed he had a better grasp of the political situation in the Republic than Goulding and his closest allies, whom she saw as essentially 1950s figures and as displaying personal jealousy towards Costello. Reid became the IRSP’s education officer in 1977 and in 1978–9 edited the party journal, The Starry Plough; she took an active role in publicising the wrongful arrest and alleged Garda mistreatment of IRSP activists accused of the Sallins mail train robbery (March 1976), and used the issue to challenge the special criminal court, a three judge no‐jury court where paramilitaries were tried. She was also an active campaigner for political status for paramilitary prisoners.
In 1979 Reid resigned from the paper; her resignation appears to have been due to factional disputes within the IRSP, which was increasingly falling under the dominance of its military wing, the Irish National Liberation Army. She moved to Paris (travelling on a false passport) where she campaigned for the rights of political refugees. On 26 August 1982 she was arrested in an apartment in the suburb of Vincennes with two IRSP activists, Stephen King and Michael Plunkett, by an elite French Gendarmerie unit, the GIGN. The French authorities claimed guns and explosives had been found in the flat and that the GIGN (newly formed by President Francois Mitterrand’s Socialist government) had uncovered a link between the INLA and Palestinian terrorists who bombed a Jewish delicatessen in the rue des Rosiers, Paris, killing six people and wounding twenty‐two. Reid’s son was placed in a French foster home by the authorities before being taken by friends and, eventually, by his grandmother.
At their trial the defendants claimed the weapons had been planted at the flat; they admitted they had possessed the weapons, but claimed they were for self‐defence against the British secret service. (There was a persistent belief on the republican left that leading members of the INLA and IRSP were assassinated by the British state in revenge for the 1979 INLA murder of the Conservative party’s Northern Ireland spokesman Airey Neave.) According to Holland and McDonald, INLA: deadly divisions, Plunkett was indeed engaged in INLA arms smuggling but had no connection to the rue des Rosiers bombing, which was carried out by a radical Palestinian splinter group rather than the INLA’s contacts in the mainstream Fatah section of the PLO; the Gendarmerie had been tipped off by a French leftist involved in the arms‐smuggling operation, who handed over the weaponry later alleged to have been found in the flat and who subsequently accused the gendarmes of manipulating him.
The ‘three of Vincennes’ were sentenced to five years’ imprisonment but released on 20 May 1983 after nine months in jail; they were formally cleared on 5 October after a gendarme admitted lying about the arrest, investigators showed legal procedure had not been observed and it appeared that the weapons had indeed been planted. They subsequently engaged in long‐drawn‐out litigation against the French state and Captain Paul Barril, the officer who led the raid. The case attracted widespread publicity in France because of the gendarmes’ shadowy high‐level links to the Mitterrand government. In 1989 they won a lawsuit against the French state for wrongful arrest and were awarded symbolic damages of one franc. Another civil case was eventually thrown out on procedural grounds; an appeal to the French supreme court for its reinstatement was still pending at the time of Reid’s death.
In June 1991 three gendarmes involved in the investigation were tried for fabricating evidence; after an emotive trial (in which Reid testified that the case had ‘destroyed her life’, leading the original informant to declare in court that he was ashamed to be a Frenchman) they received brief sentences which were quashed on appeal. Barril gave evidence, still claiming to have found arms in the flat and sensationally alleging that he had received carte blanche to pursue the case from Mitterrand’s controversial defence minister, Charles Hernu (d. 1990). Barril subsequently sued Le Monde for libel, but in November 1995 the French supreme court threw out his case, stating that Le Monde correctly stated the operation ‘was from beginning to end a frame‐up, conducted by Captain Barril’ (quoted in Ir. Times, 8 Feb. 2003). It is generally believed the handling of the affair reflected both the personal ambition of the officers involved and the government’s desire to be seen to take strong action against terrorism.
Reid initially sought political asylum in France, but in 1987 returned to Ireland. After spending a year in Louisburgh, Co. Mayo, she returned to Derry city where she was a part‐time lecturer in Women’s Studies in the department of continuing education and the arts at the North West Institute of Further and Higher Education, Derry. She was heavily involved in community development and publication projects in the north‐west (including paying for disabled children to take riding lessons); for the last two years of her life she also taught English to GCSE students through the Community Resources Centre in Rosemount, Derry. She was never again formally affiliated to any political organisation, though she is alleged to have contributed to some Sinn Féin policy research documents.
Reid published many poems in Irish and English (a collection was being prepared at the time of her death). She had studied creative writing under the poets James Simmons (qv) and Cathal Ó Searcaigh, the latter becoming her close friend and mentor. She was also strongly interested in Celtic and feminist spirituality, influenced in particular by the Armenian mystic George Gurdjieff (1866?–1949); she conducted research on the history and folklore of St Patrick’s Purgatory, Lough Derg (near Pettigo). She also went on walking tours in the Sinai and in France, where she retraced medieval pilgrimage routes; she paid lengthy visits to the Mediterranean port of Sete (in French Languedoc) which she regarded as her second home. For the last fourteen years of her life her partner was Terry Robson, an academic and former IRSP activist.
On 29 January 2003 Mary Reid drowned at Lacacurry beach on the Isle of Doagh, Co. Donegal, where she had gone to walk her two dogs in stormy weather conditions. She was buried near Pettigo after requiem mass; Bernadette Devlin had earlier spoken at her removal and Éamonn McCann gave a graveside oration.
Reid’s death gave rise to considerable controversy and speculation. Her siblings refused to accept the official conclusion that there were no suspicious circumstances associated with her death (which implied either that she had committed suicide – friends testified that she had been afraid that the impending American invasion of Iraq might bring about the destruction of the world, though these friends also considered it unlikely that she had committed suicide as she was making plans for the future, including the publication of her poetry collection, her son’s impending marriage, and a sponsored walking trip in the Pennines to raise money for guide dogs – or that the smaller of her dogs, which was never found, had gone swimming and got into difficulties and she had drowned trying to rescue it). The siblings complained that the Garda Síochána had acted negligently in failing to seek possible evidence of murder (sections of the republican left suggested she might have been killed by British or French state forces, loyalists, or one of the many factions produced by the repeated divisions within IRSP/INLA). These concerns were reinforced by the subsequent exposure of improper practices within the Garda Síochána in Donegal, and in October 2005 a new Garda investigation into her death was undertaken, but a six‐month enquiry concluded that her death had indeed been accidental.
Despite her stormy voyage through the alternative subcultures of post‐1970 Ireland, Reid appears to have had a genius for friendship. She was widely mourned. An obituary, unsigned but attributed to Éamonn McCann, recalled that she ‘brought fierce commitment to all the causes she believed in … She never had anything she wasn’t ready to give away … She described herself as a socialist, a republican, and a feminist, but in the end her poetic sensibility couldn’t be contained neatly within any ideology … She saw transient things transfigured, found magnificence in the mundane, had a huge heart and a wild imagination … (Ir. Times, 15 Feb. 2003).