Daly, Miriam (1928–80), historian and political activist, was born Miriam Annette McDonnell at the Curragh Camp, Co. Kildare, on 16 May 1928, daughter of Commandant Daniel McDonnell (d. 1972) and his wife Anne McDonnell (née Cummins); she had one sister. Her father came from a Dublin working-class background and held pro-labour views; he served under Michael Collins (qv) in the war of independence and fought in the Free State army during the civil war. Miriam was educated at a local convent school and UCD, graduating BA (1948) with first-class honours in history and economics, and H.Dip.Ed. (1949), before completing a first-class honours MA with a dissertation on 'Irish labour in England in the first half of the nineteenth century', supervised by George O'Brien (qv). She became an assistant lecturer in the UCD department of history (1950–53), working with R. Dudley Edwards (qv), who, according to departmental tradition, sexually harassed her until her father visited the department and threatened him with a gun (private information).
On her marriage in 1953 to Joseph (or Francis) Lee, a psychiatrist, Miriam resigned her lectureship but became an extramural history lecturer at UCD until moving with her husband to England in 1958. While Dr Lee, who died from a heart attack in 1963, practised his profession, Miriam was a part-time history mistress at Haberdashers' Aske's School for Girls (then located at Acton in west London), while undertaking Ph.D. research at King's College, London, on agrarian distress and popular resistance in nineteenth-century Ireland. Her husband's death forced the abandonment of her Ph.D. In 1964 she secured a lectureship in economic history at the University of Southampton, and in 1965 married secondly Jim Daly, philosopher and political activist, who shared fully in her subsequent political activities. The Dalys moved in 1968 to Belfast, where they took up posts at in the departments of scholastic philosophy and of economic and social history at QUB; they adopted a daughter and a son in 1970.
At Queen's, Miriam Daly was noted for her commitment to extramural teaching, organising a course on labour history whose students included many protestant trade unionists; she also lectured both republican and loyalist prisoners in Long Kesh and cooperated with both on prisoner welfare work. She was highly regarded by her numerous students, even when they did not share her political commitments. One of her persistent beliefs was that academics should not be content with 'the elitist preservation of the fruits of [one's] thinking among a jargon-ridden few, who would find occupations for themselves in theorising while the historic present passed by' (Daly, Costello, 76), but should actively seek to enlighten the general public. This commitment to popular education underlay her regular contributions to RTÉ radio's Thomas Davis lectures in 1972–3, including her piece on the development of motor and cycle transport from the late nineteenth century, which was published in Kevin B. Nowlan (ed.), Travel and transport in Ireland (1973).
Daly played a significant role in developing the organisational infrastructure that underpinned the later development of the academic study of modern Irish history. She was involved in the planning of the multi-volume New history of Ireland, though eventually had to drop out as a contributor, and she engaged in an abortive attempt to produce a computer database of conflict in nineteenth-century Ireland. A founding member of the Irish Labour History Society, she served on its committee for several years and co-edited the second and third issues of its journal, Saothar. She was a co-founder of the Economic and Social History Society of Ireland, a committee member of the Ulster Society for Irish Historical Studies, a member of the editorial board of Irish Historical Studies, and organised the first conference on Irish labour history held at an Irish university (May 1974). After the premature death of her QUB mentor Kenneth Connell (qv), she compiled a bibliography of his writings for the first issue of Irish Economic and Social History (1974). She contributed articles to journals, including Philosophical Studies, Christus Rex, Newman Review, History Review, Business History and Ulster Folklife.
On 10 March 1978 Daly spoke at the opening meeting of the Dublin History Workshop; her paper on 'The relevance of Connolly today' argued that the association of socialism with nationalism delineated by James Connolly (qv) was best represented in contemporary Ireland by the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP), the political wing of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA). She was chosen to participate in an American lecture tour in March–April 1979 on 'The Irish woman', sponsored by the Irish American Cultural Institute of Eoin McKiernan (qv); her talk on 'Women in Ulster' was published in the pioneering essay collection edited by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Irish women: image and achievement (1985). In April 1980 Daly was an Irish delegate to a UNESCO conference on labour history in Paris.
At the time of her death, Daly was gathering material for a textbook of Irish economic history on which she had originally intended to collaborate with Connell, and was working on a chapter based on her research into agrarian resistance for a proposed Festschrift in Connell's memory, but neither project had assumed publishable form. One of her obituarists, J. J. Lee, lamented that future generations would not realise her true significance because the written word lives, but the spoken word does not. Daly, however, did not consider academic publication of primary importance; once, at a conference, she startled colleagues by declaring that she preferred to devote her current academic sabbatical year to political activism because it was more important than research.
While at UCD, Daly had been a member of Young Fine Gael. Her gradual radicalisation was part of a wider process involving her loss of faith in Roman catholicism, mainly because of its hostility to socialism and state planning, and its tolerance, and even exaltation, of a capitalist system based on selfishness and exploitation. (Moral revulsion against the capitalist philosophy of rational self-interest was an abiding feature of Daly's career.) She formally abandoned catholic belief in the late 1950s; a decade later she adopted a form of 'progressive' catholicism influenced by the writings of the Jesuit theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955) and the Pastoral constitution on the church in the modern world (Gaudium et spes) issued by the second Vatican council. This view (expressed in her 1967 Furrow article 'Believing today') emphasises the progressive eschatological role of the Holy Spirit inspiring the believer to share in the realisation of the kingdom of God on earth through struggle for social justice, and has affinities to liberation theology. It strongly influenced her subsequent support of physical-force socialist republicanism and eclectic version of socialism (whereas Jim Daly was a more consistent Marxist). She was further politicised at Southampton as an active member of the Association of University Teachers and a campaigner against the Vietnam war.
On their moving to Belfast, the Dalys became involved in the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA); the rapid escalation of violence thereafter and the behaviour of state forces intensified her radicalisation. Miriam Daly also joined the National Democratic Party (NDP), serving as its assistant secretary in 1969, and joined the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) when the NDP merged into the new party in October 1970. She had already criticised the prominent SDLP activist John Hume for advocating increased private home ownership rather than extended state housing, and at the first SDLP annual conference she led opposition to a motion proposed by Hume condemning all political violence.
In 1971 Daly was elected to the executive of NICRA but was voted off the following year by supporters of Official Sinn Féin. Further radicalised by 'bloody Sunday' (30 January 1972), she left the SDLP to join Provisional Sinn Féin, contributing to its Belfast paper, Republican News. In 1974 the Dalys responded to death threats by moving from the Stranmillis area (close to QUB and working-class loyalist districts) to the Andersonstown Road, deep within the west Belfast catholic ghetto. Miriam Daly acquired a reputation as a prisoners' advocate and as a forceful and outspoken public speaker, often compared to Máire Drumm (qv). In Dublin Daly inhabited a loosely organised and quarrelsome milieu of leftist and republican intellectuals critical of the republic's social problems and of the state's response to the Northern Ireland troubles. In 1976 she chaired the committee that campaigned against the death sentences passed on the anarchists Noel and Marie Murray for the murder of off-duty Garda Michael Reynolds during a bank robbery.
Consistent features of Daly's ideological pronouncements included hostility to the international capitalist order and free trade as irremediably biased in favour of the developed countries, a view reinforced by her awareness of the deindustrialising effect of improved transport links on much of nineteenth-century Ireland; advocacy of state socialism based on the nation state, with government control of credit and industry (she equated the 1916 Easter rising and the 1917 Russian revolution as revolts against the capitalist world order, described the Irish republic as a neo-colony, and believed that the Soviet bloc was just as democratic as the West though both were flawed); and opposition to 'two-nationism' or any formal recognition of Ulster protestants/unionists as possessing a distinctive identity that was not simply a product of British colonial manipulation and native collaboration.
In 1977 the Dalys resigned from Provisional Sinn Féin over the party's advocacy of an Irish federation of four self-governing provinces. They were recruited in August 1977 to the IRSP by Séamus Costello (qv), and co-opted to its ard chomhairle just before Costello's assassination (5 October 1977). In February 1978 Miriam Daly was elected chair of the IRSP, a post that she held until March 1979, when she resigned because of administrative disputes between the party's political and paramilitary wings. Remaining active on the party's national and Belfast ard chomhairlí, she was the founding chair of the Seamus Costello memorial committee. She addressed several IRSP events (such as their 1978 Bodenstown rally), and spoke for the party on French and British television programmes, while equivocating over its relationship with the INLA. (Some later IRSP/INLA material describes Daly as a 'volunteer', but she was never an INLA member.)
From 1978 Daly campaigned for political status for paramilitary prisoners. This became her main political cause after she resigned from the IRSP for a combination of ideological and personal reasons (the party was organisationally chaotic, and the INLA military leader Ronnie Bunting (qv) was dismissive when Daly complained that she had been sexually assaulted by a Belfast INLA member). Less than a fortnight before her death, Daly was elected to the executive of the Smash H-block Committee.
On 26 June 1980 Daly was murdered by unidentified gunmen who broke into her home, tied her up, and, after waiting some time for her husband (who was away in Dublin), shot her five times in the head. It is widely believed that the murderers were members of an Ulster Defence Association (UDA) hit squad created by John McMichael (qv) and including Ray Smallwood (qv), but it was unusual for loyalists to strike so deep inside a republican area. There has been widespread and persistent speculation (e.g., by Fr Raymond Murray) that crown forces were involved, either as suppliers of intelligence or as actual perpetrators, in her death and in attacks on other H-block campaigners, including Bunting, John Turnly (qv) and Bernadette Devlin McAliskey.
Daly was buried in Swords, Co. Dublin, with her first husband, after a paramilitary funeral organised by the IRSP but attended by a wide range of friends, including F. X. Martin (qv) and Justice Donal Barrington. Her memory has been revered into the twenty-first century by republican groups, notably the remnants of the IRSP, as a political martyr and lost leader: 'a great thinker who forsook the lofty halls of academia for the pulsating life of a street agitator' (Starry Plough, new series, no. 10). She was unquestionably a pioneer of social and economic history in the Irish context, but her published corpus is too slender to possess lasting significance, and her principal importance lies in her political activism.