Who is Monica McEnroy?

I’ve taken annual leave from work this week so that I can focus on my book manuscript. To explain briefly, the book is about representations and expectations of Irish women in the 1960s as seen through the lens of women’s magazines. I’m currently tackling the chapter on 1960s motherhood, which has caused me to revisit Monica McEnroy’s columns in Womany’s Way magazine.  She did so much in her columns to draw attention to the inequalities that women faced in their everyday lives, yet her name seems to have been forgotten in relation to the women’s liberation movement in Ireland. I’m really intrigued by her, but I’ve only been able to piece together a limited amount of information about her.

McEnroy was a midwife, was married to a dispensary doctor, had three children, and was in her thirties in the 1960s. Though not one of the names now popularly associated with the women’s liberation movement of the seventies, she appears to have been an active participant. In the second half of the 1960s, Woman’s Way provided her with a platform – before the emergence of an organised women’s movement – to advocate change. Initially, she had been careful and guarded in her criticisms, but in 1967 the tone began changing, and by 1968 her column could be relied on for unrestrained, passionate and often stinging criticisms.

McEnroy developed a reputation as a leading campaigner for change in the area of contraception. You’ll find a piece over on the Come Here To Me Blog about a debate in 1970 that she participated in with anti-contraception campaigner Mena Cribben; it’s also mentioned in Anne Stopper’s Monday at Gaj’s. According to Mary Kenny’s Something of Myself and Others, McEnroy was on the ‘contraception train’ to and from Belfast in 1971.

While contraceptive legislation was most often the target of her acid pen, she wrote on a whole range of issues that came under the broad umbrella term of the equality agenda. In a refreshing and unusual take for the time, she wrote a piece in Woman’s Way in February 1967 about children born outside of wedlock. While the tradition was to blame unmarried mothers (to use the contemporary terminology), McEnroy questioned instead the role of the fathers and why they escaped the stigma that haunted mothers. The following month she passionately rejected the term ‘illegitimate’ to describe children born outside of marriage (image above).

She was co-opted onto Wicklow Urban District Council following the death of Joseph Lalor, and she subsequently held the seat for Labour at the June 1967 local elections.

I’m keen to learn more about Monica McEnroy. If you can add anything more, please do get in touch. Either comment below or email me directly c.meehan2[at]herts.ac.uk. Thank you!