4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A book of many facets,
This review is from: Everybody Matters: A Memoir (Hardcover)
Mary Robinson grew up in the 1950s, which was perhaps the worst period in recent Irish social history; I know, having lived through it too. Her childhood was spent in Ballina and at boarding school in Dublin. She was fortunate enough to be born into an elite; both parents were doctors and highly regarded citizens, locally at least. She could have led a comfortable and uncontroversial life but choose to act differently. When she started out on her legal and political work, Ireland was still strictly bound by the firewall surrounding the island, erected in accord with the dictates of the Catholic church: censorship of books, not just pornography as in other countries but censorship of IDEAS; censorship of plays, of films, even of newspapers and the other media. The Irish were not to be permitted to know. The Church dictated how far the Irish were to march, and decreed the limits of ordinary political and other discussion and the politicians willingly complied, as did ironically the post-colonial people of the island. They spoke of Irish freedom - but few western European countries were as unfree as the free Irish Republic.
It was into this situation that Mary Robinson launched herself, with her formidable political and legal skills; availing of constitutional law and the fledgling notion of human rights to get things moving. None of Mary Robinson's work was easy: it led to severe strains with the rigidly Catholic side of her family, fortunately temporary. What eventually came about was nothing less than the belated implementation of the Enlighenment in Ireland - as had come to most of Europe a century or more previously. Her battle was to be a long one; for her personally, it ultimately culminated in the presidency, an office she availed of to the maximum to expedite the process of change. By her legendary visit to West Belfast, she made a signficant contribution towards motivating both sides to get talking with one another. When she visited war-torn regions of Africa, a revolutionary thing for an Irish president to do, she heself was visibly shocked and this set the agenda for the international role she would take up after leaving the presidency; extending internationally what she had done nationally.
Apart from being an important historic document: this is a fascinating story of personal and national development - and also a most entertaining read. I hesitate to say 'must' but: this is truly a must for anyone with even a passing interest in late 20th century Irish history. We discover quite a lot about Mary Robinson and the system within which she had to operate - but don't quite discover what gave her this strength and the uncomprising nature of her approach. Some day, another biography of her must be written...