Dunlop, Mary Edith (1912–2003), campaigner for the welfare of the blind, was born 25 November 1912 at 33 South Mall, Cork city, youngest child and only daughter among three surviving children (a fourth child died young) of Nathaniel Henry ‘Ted’ Hobart (b. 1867), general medical practitioner, and Edith Guest Hobart (née Lane) (1881–1912); her mother died of pneumonia three days after her birth. The family later lived on Blackrock Rd, Cork city, and in Currabinny, Co. Cork. Reared in the Church of Ireland, Mary was educated in England, then returned home to keep house for her father. She married on her twenty‐first birthday (1933) Robert Andrew Egerton Dunlop (1902–67), a Co. Dublin native serving in Edinburgh as a lieutenant in the RASC; he had previously served at Fort Camden on Cork Harbour. Residing in Scotland till the outbreak of the second world war, they had one surviving child, a daughter (b. 1935); twins born subsequently died within weeks of birth. Robert Dunlop served in the British expeditionary force that was evacuated from Dunkirk (May–June 1940). Mary accompanied him on subsequent wartime postings in Egypt, Palestine, Libya, and Ghana; she served as an ambulance driver during the postings in north Africa. After the war her husband retired from the army with the rank of lieutenant‐colonel, and worked for some years as transport manager with a Cork brewery, residing in Currabinny. He died in the crash of a commercial passenger airplane over the Pyrenees (3 June 1967).
The personal tragedies Mary Dunlop endured gave her an understanding of, and compassion for, human suffering, and a resilient determination to overcome vicissitude. Interested in issues regarding the welfare of blind persons, owing to familiarity with the restrictions experienced by a blind uncle‐in‐law, she became active with her husband in the British‐based Guide Dogs for the Blind Association (GDBA); she raised funds in Ireland for the organisation, and trained guide dogs. By the early 1970s she was voluntary organiser in Ireland for the GDBA, and also served on the executive of the Cork county branch of the National Council for the Blind of Ireland. Impressed by the intelligence, obedience, and dexterity of a German shepherd dog, Jan, bred by the association, whom she acquired as a pet, Dunlop trained the dog to execute displays of her skills, and appeared with the dog at agricultural shows, horse shows, and dog shows throughout Ireland. In a favourite trick, Jan would jump through hoops while holding a raw egg in her mouth, after which Dunlop would break the egg in a bowl to prove it was not hardboiled. Highly popular with audiences, Jan’s displays were not only an effective fundraising device (the dog would solicit contributions carrying a collection box on its back), but demonstrated to the public the extent to which a dog could be trained, and how useful a highly trained dog could be to its owner. Becoming nationally known personalities, Mary and Jan appeared on RTÉ television’s ‘Late, late show’ in 1969.
In time, a four‐dog demonstration team toured Ireland for the GDBA. Funds raised in the country were largely used to send Irish people to the GDBA centre in Exeter for training in the use of guide dogs, there being no mobility training of any kind for the blind available in Ireland. By the mid 1970s only two dozen Irish owner–dog partnerships had been thus facilitated. Convinced that many more people would benefit should such services be provided within Ireland, Dunlop combined with Jim Dennehy, a Cork businessman accidentally blinded in adulthood, as co‐founders in June 1976 of the Irish Guide Dogs Association (IGDA; latterly Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind (IGDB)), of which Dunlop was elected president. Aspiring to establish a mobility centre in Ireland, which would offer training in the use of guide dogs and other mobility aids, the association secured premises in Drumcondra, Dublin.
Dunlop’s personal qualities of idealism and tenacity helped the association overcome some early problems of considerable magnitude. Within some of the established organisations for the blind there existed a bias against devoting scarce resources toward the provision of guide dogs, owing to scepticism regarding the numbers of clients who would benefit, and presumed problems posed to clients by the handling of dogs. At a deeper level, Dunlop and her associates confronted a widely prevalent, deeply rooted cultural attitude in Ireland (permeating even some of the established organisations) that regarded blind persons as afflicted, pitiable, and helpless objects of charity, rather than a set of diverse individuals who, given appropriate training and supports, had the capacity to cope with their disability, develop their talents and potentials, and live as functioning members of society. The association also faced internal problems involving the unsuitability of the Drumcondra site, difficulties in securing suitable dogs, and disagreements over policy and expenditure.
A turning point came with the conclusion in June 1979 of an interim three‐year agreement whereby the British GDBA supplied dogs and training for Irish staff pending development of a fully independent Irish association. The IGDA moved to new premises in a converted farmhouse on Model Farm Road, Cork city, where the first two dogs were trained and provided to owners in 1980. An Irish‐based breeding programme was established to supply dogs for training at the Cork centre; dogs were then matched with owners, who were trained in their use, and provided with post‐training support. The centre also offered other types of mobility training and rehabilitation to the blind and visually impaired. Dunlop received a People of the Year award in 1981, which she accepted not on a personal basis, but as an acknowledgement of the association and its work.
By 2003 the association had facilitated some 400 Irish‐trained guide dog partnerships, and provided long‐cane training to some 250 persons. A new purpose‐built kennel complex and residential training centre was opened on the Cork site in 2000, and a new administration centre in 2001. The association maintained a breeding stock of twenty brood bitches and five stud dogs (favouring golden retrievers, Labradors, and crosses thereof, with some German shepherds), and relied on the services of volunteer brood bitch holders and volunteer puppy walkers. A nationwide network of nearly 100 branches assisted in fundraising. From its inception the association offered its services to clients free of charge, or for nominal charges. While state support for day‐to‐day operations and capital projects began in 1993, some eighty per cent of funding continued to be derived from private donations and bequests.
An intensely modest and private person, Dunlop was forthright, punctilious, and perfectionist, known throughout the association as ‘Mrs D’. Though dreading public speaking, she was a determined, persuasive campaigner, whose greatest strength was to listen to blind and visually impaired persons, and to build the association around their assessments of their needs and aspirations. From the early 1970s she resided at Liscurra, Carrigaline, Co. Cork. Aged 91, she died 20 December 2003 at Castlemahon nursing home, Blackrock, Cork.