McCartan, Joyce (1929–96), community worker, was born in Banbridge, Co. Down, the only daughter among four children of Hugh Buchanan , whose family had originally settled in Northern Ireland from Scotland. Joyce, however, had a difficult childhood; her mother died when she was about seven years old, leaving her with the responsibility of looking after her father and brothers. After attending school in Banbridge, she left at the age of 14 to begin work in a cloth factory in the nearby village of Seaforde. There she remained for about two years until unhappiness with her home life led her to run away at the age of 16 to Belfast, where she soon found employment as an assistant in a draper's shop. In a local dance hall Joyce met her future partner and husband, Seamus McCartan, who worked on mending cars on a casual basis, and they soon set up home in a house in Bagot St., just off the Ormeau Road. She had been raised as a protestant, but this did not prevent her from marrying Seamus, a catholic, and subsequently bringing up their eight children in that faith.
It was through rearing her family that she first became involved in community politics, later describing herself as a ‘family feminist’. In the early 1970s McCartan took part in a number of protests by women along the Ormeau Road, on various issues ranging from the ending of free milk for primary school children to the high cost of public transport. From this sprang a determination to encourage women to seize the initiative in assisting their communities by providing them with a support network. As a result she became associated with the Women's Information Group, which had been established as an umbrella organisation to allow women to take the lead in setting up things that they considered their local communities needed. These ranged from advice centres and facilities for children to action groups to impel government bodies to address pressing concerns. The movement soon spread throughout Belfast, and in spite of the ongoing sectarian tension it succeeded in forging links between protestant and catholic groups. The success of this initiative was enough to persuade Joyce to branch out on her own, and this led to the opening of the Women's Information Drop-In Centre (WIDIC) on the Lower Ormeau Road. Like many other parts of Belfast, this area had been badly affected in economic and social terms by the outbreak of the Troubles, leaving it with few public amenities and poor infrastructure. From small beginnings the WIDIC took the initiative not only by providing a meeting place for local women's groups, but by establishing homework classes for local children, growing vegetables and flowers for sale to finance its activities, and taking over a derelict chip shop to open the Lamplighter Fish and Chip Restaurant, not only providing employment to local people but serving as a meeting place for young and old alike. After negotiations with government agencies, a youth training operation, Mornington Enterprises, was created to provide local teenagers with the opportunity to learn various skills such as computing, gardening, painting and decorating, woodwork, and catering.
While at the forefront of these efforts, Joyce McCartan also had to endure a great deal of personal tragedy, with several of her immediate family dying as a result of sectarian violence. The final example of this came in May 1987 when her youngest son, Gary, aged 17, was shot dead by loyalist paramilitaries in the family home. On the morning of the attack she was meeting women in the WIDIC offices a short distance away and heard the gunfire and the screams of her family. In spite of this she remained committed to her community work, and this was recognised in a series of awards: Irish Pensioner of the Year (1991), MBE (1992), and an honorary doctorate from QUB (1995). Late in November 1995 her work was further recognised when she received Hillary Clinton, wife of president Bill Clinton, in the Lamplighter Café on the Ormeau Road during the US presidential visit to Ireland. After her death a professorial chair was established in her honour at the University of Ulster, with the inaugural Joyce McCartan lecture (October 1997) given by Hillary Clinton.
After a brief illness she died in hospital on 8 January 1996; she was survived by her husband and remaining seven children.