Dwyer, Bernie (1943–2013), journalist, filmmaker and political activist, was born in Dublin on 14 December 1943 to Mary (née Fagan) and Arthur Hannon , a clerk at Dublin Corporation. She spent her early childhood in Drimnagh, before the family moved to Sutton, Co. Dublin. She left school early and went to work in a furniture shop and also did some modelling work. She married David Dwyer in 1967, and moved to Howth, Co. Dublin. The couple had three daughters and a son. During the late 1970s and early 1980s she worked as a Montessori teacher with children with intellectual disabilities at St Ita's, Portrane, and as a childcare worker at the Women's Aid refuge on Harcourt Terrace, Dublin. In a May 1985 interview with the Irish Times, Dwyer described her role at Women's Aid as her political awakening. 'I had never felt dominated and I began to see that I was privileged', she said.
In 1983 she decided to return to education and entered TCD as a mature student to study philosophy. In her second year, aged forty-one, she was elected welfare officer and deputy student union president, taking the subsequent year off from her studies to perform these roles. She was also the TCD representative on the Women's Rights Action Committee (WRAC) a group comprised of representatives from eight different colleges. During the time of Dwyer's involvement, access to abortion was a key campaigning issue for WRAC following the introduction of the eighth amendment to the Irish constitution in September 1983 by referendum. (This recognised the unborn's right to life as equal to its mother's). Additionally, Dwyer joined the Open Door counselling service, a small three-person operation offering support to women with unplanned pregnancies. When that organisation was shut down following legal action by the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) she started working at the Open Line helpline service, again offering support to women with unplanned pregnancies. She was elected to the executive committee of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties in May 1986.
Upon graduating from TCD Dwyer got a role lecturing in women's studies at UCD. There she became involved in the university's outreach programme to bring adult education to inner city communities and gave classes at the family resource centre at St Michael's estate, Inchicore, Dublin.
In 1988 Dwyer visited Cuba for the first time as part a tour of Latin America with an international solidarity brigade. Upon her return to Ireland, she became very involved in the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, becoming its chair and injecting new life into its work opposing the US trade blockade of Cuba and developing stronger Irish–Cuban relations. In that role, she took part in European solidarity conferences (in 1990 and 1992) and the first world solidarity conference (1994) where, as part of the Irish delegation to Cuba, she met President Fidel Castro.
She relentlessly lobbied the Irish government to take a stronger stance on the US embargo of Cuba (in existence in some form since 1960) and to use its vote at the UN to support it being lifted. In 1998 she accompanied the former general secretary of the Communist Party and veteran of the Spanish civil war, Michael O'Riordan, on a mission to Cuba as 'Irish friends' of the 'US pastors for peace' friendship caravan – bringing tons of food and medical equipment and supplies to the impoverished country. That same year she moved to Cuba and would live there for the next eleven years. Also in 1998, a group of men who became known as the 'Cuban Five' were arrested and imprisoned in the US on charges of conspiracy to commit espionage and murder, and as acting as agents of a foreign government. The Five had been sent to the US by the Cuban government to infiltrate and monitor the activities of expatriate groups of Cubans in Miami, Florida, who were responsible for various acts of aggression, including a bombing campaign, against the Cuban government. Dwyer became a member of the international committee to free the Cuban Five, organising events to publicise the case and win support.
During her time in Cuba she worked as a journalist at Radio Havana, running an English language programme which went out across the Americas. Her interviewees included linguist and social critic Noam Chomsky, author and activist Alice Walker, and Leonard Weinglass, the renowned defence lawyer then representing the Cuban Five. She also made a series of short films and documentaries with Roberto Ruiz Rebo including Che: the Irish legacy (1999) and Che in Ireland (2001) about Che Guevara's Irish ancestry and his short 1964 visit to Ireland when his plane was grounded by fog. Her other films included The footprints of Cecilia McPartland (2002), about the Irish mother of Cuban revolutionary Julio Antonio Mella, and her last The day diplomacy died, about US efforts to subvert the Cuban revolution from within, which she launched at the Screen cinema in Dublin in March 2010. Her most successful documentary was Mission against terror (2004) which she toured around the world to raise awareness of the Cuban Five's plight. She was awarded the Cuba medal of friendship in 2006 in recognition of her years of solidarity and advocacy campaigning, and the Felix Elmuza medal, Cuba's highest honour for journalism, in 2008.
She died of cancer on 10 July 2013 at St Francis Hospice, Raheny. A humanist service in celebration of her life was held in the round room of the Mansion House, followed by cremation at Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin. In 2015, her ashes were scattered into the sea in Havana at a ceremony attended by her family and friends and the Cuban Five – who had all been released by December 2014. A plaque was unveiled in her honour at the Julio Antonio Mella International Camp, where delegations visiting Cuba often stayed.