Delap, Kathleen Hilda (née Orpen) (1910–2004), activist in women's organisations, was born on 27 January 1910 in the family home, Lisheens, Carrickmines, Co. Dublin, fourth child and third daughter among five daughters and one son of Charles St George Orpen (1864–1939) and Cerise Maria Orpen (née Darley) (d. 1950). Both her parents were from well-connected and prosperous protestant families: her mother's family had owned a brewery in Stillorgan, Co. Dublin, and was related to the Guinness family; her father was solicitor to Trinity College and the Representative Church Body of the Church of Ireland; the artist Sir William Orpen (qv) and the architect and painter Richard Caulfeild Orpen (qv) were uncles. Three of Kathleen's sisters shared her lifelong involvement with the Irish Countrywomen's Association (ICA): Beatrice Orpen (qv), who married Chalmers 'Terry' Trench (qv); Grace (1905–66), who married Philip Somerville-Large and published on traditional dancing in Donegal; and Cerise (1904–90), who, with her husband, Cecil Parker, ran Avoca School in Blackrock, Co. Dublin, which was noted for its liberal educational policies.
Kathleen was at first educated by governesses in Lisheens. At 15, she went to Alexandra College, and then studied architecture for four years in UCD. She did not complete the course because on 27 July 1933 in Tullow parish church she married a Carrickmines neighbour, Hugh Alexander Delap (qv). They had two sons and two daughters, brought up in a busy household. The Delaps were enthusiastic gardeners, kept hens, and had a holiday home in Co. Donegal. Kathleen's family had a tradition of involvement in the community, and Hugh Delap's interests and social awareness fostered her commitment to improving life for women in Ireland. She joined the 'town associates' of the ICA in 1937, and served the organisation in many capacities. From 1947 to 1955 she edited a page of ICA news in the Farmers' Gazette; she was honorary secretary from 1955, and chairman of the executive committee in 1958. She worked along with Muriel Gahan (qv) towards the foundation of An Grianán, the ICA's college in Co. Louth, and from the mid 1950s was one of the trustees of the ICA's property. She lobbied strongly for more government assistance for rural women, arguing that farmers' wives needed technical training just as their husbands did. Recognising that the onerous work of carrying water from wells or pumps was performed mostly by women and made it difficult for them to do farm and housework effectively, she campaigned for piped water to be supplied to all rural homes.
Kathleen Delap would not have shared many of the attitudes of the academics and politically extreme activists of international feminism in the 1960s, but her considerable public profile and commitment to the ICA's goal of improving the lives of Irish women helped change attitudes of government and the wider public. She advocated reforms in income tax and social services provision and sought equal pay for women. In 1975, in a widely reported conference paper, she said husbands and wives should share housework, and that women should be able to have the choice to work outside the home, not to have children, or not to marry – views which not everyone at that date, even in the avowedly non-sectarian ICA, would have shared. As time went on, she came to be regarded in the ICA as the repository of its traditions and values; in 1983 she was accorded their highest honour as 'buan cháirde' ('special friend'), and the organisation described her as a national treasure.
In April 1970 she was one of thirteen members chosen to sit on a government commission on the status of women. In 1973 she was one of about thirty women from the Republic of Ireland caught up in a bomb blast which destroyed the Wellington Park Hotel in Belfast, where they were attending a conference on women and social service. No one was injured, but the experience surely deepened Delap's commitment to the Women's Voluntary Emergency Service, set up in 1971 to help refugees from the Northern troubles, and to the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, in Co. Wicklow.
Delap shared in her husband's voluntary work in cooperative development and for the disadvantaged; they helped Traveller families as well as scores of unemployed men, and were ahead of their time in their awareness of environmental issues. Hugh Delap died in 1997; Kathleen survived him until 29 October 2004, when she died in St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin, after a short illness.