Mary Holland: journalist and women's rights campaigner

Mary Holland, who has died in Dublin after a long illness at the age of 67, was a dominant figure in Anglo/Irish reporting for more than three decades.

In the late 1960s, in a series of vivid reports for the Observer, she was the first journalist to draw attention to the coming crisis in Northern Ireland.

She subsequently followed all of the twists and turns of the story, not only for the Observer but for the New Statesman, for Weekend World on Televisionand latterly as a columnist in the Irish Times.

Although she was sometimes portrayed as a republican sympathiser, her intelligence, compassion and integrity made her trusted by all sides in the Irish conflict. Not only did she dissect the political machinations with great skill, but she also brought out the human suffering involved.

Mary Holland began her journalistic career rather incongruously as a fashion writer on Vogue and joined the Observer as fashion editor in 1964.

Three years later she was switched to news reporting after alerting her editor David Astor to the seriousness of the Ulster situation.

Her politics were said to have been radicalised through her relationship to Eamonn McCann, a left wing Irish activist, with whom she had two children.

She became a prominent campaigner for women’s rights in Ireland, especially over abortion and divorce.

She played an important role in helping all parties in the Irish dispute – in London, Belfast and Dublin – to understand each other’s perspective and especially in bringing the Ulster Unionists and Sinn Fein together in the political process.

She had an award-winning scoop in the Good Friday agreement and died disappointed that the peace hopes it raised had not been achieved.

On her death, leaders of all factions in Northern Ireland paid tribute to her insight and compassion and John Hume, the former SDLP leader, described her as “one of the outstanding journalists of the twentieth century.”

By Donald Trelford – former editor of the Observer from 1975-93

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