Monday, July 18, 2011

Improving Belfast - Mary O'Malley in the 1950s

As well as her contribution to Belfast's cultural life, Mary O'Malley also made efforts to improve the social and political landscape of the city. She was elected as an Irish Labour Party councillor to Belfast Corporation in 1952, and as a consequence she began to receive a huge amount of correspondence from her constituents. Many of these impoverished individuals wrote requesting her help in the area of social housing, which at the time was in a woeful state.

These letters are hard reading, being as they are often desperate pleas for assistance. The example here is from a handwritten letter from a Mr James Gorman of Durham Street, Belfast:

Dear Mrs O'Malley,

Hope you are keeping well.... the last time I was speaking to you... you told me you would try and help me get fixed up and I was hoping you could do something for me as it is getting me down... we are all in one room and I have a girl at 14yrs and the others are 12 & 8 & 2 and it is not very nice.

Mrs O'Malley I am fed up and thinking of going across the water maybe I get a house there but I don't know what to do. Maybe you could do something for me, we never had a home of our own...'

There was little O'Malley could do for these people, but her political correspondence is full of responses to requests she made on behalf of constituents like this to the housing authorities. A points system determined who received houses, and Catholics often felt they were discriminated against. However, there was a happy ending for Mr Gorman. The letter above from the Estates Department to Mary O'Malley confirms that he has been noted for a three bedroomed house in the new estate of Ballymurphy.

Sarah Poutch

1 comment:

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