Tributes to Madge Davison

Originally Published – Unity, 9th February 1991

MADGE DAVISON, Communist, feminist, activist and ardent Civil Rights campaigner died on Sunday 27 January 1991 at the tragically early age of 41.

At her funeral the following Wednesday, the many people from all walks of life, who in her friend Anne Hope’s words came “to celebrate Madge’s life, and mourn her death,” indicated what broad areas of life Madge had touched and influenced.

Tributes were given by Michael O’Riordan, National Chairman of the Communist Party of Ireland, who spoke of the work Madge had carried out in the Communist Party and Connolly Youth Movement; by Anne Hope, Madge’s lifelong friend and comrade, who gave a very moving salute to her work in the civil rights and women’s movements; and by Barry Macdonald close friend and colleague who spoke of the caring, principled and conscientious manner in which Madge worked in the legal profession.

Ireland, and indeed the international workers’ movement have suffered a tremendous loss with the untimely death of Madge-as have the people who knew and loved her.

Unity offers sincere condolences to John, Jonathan and Niall and to the family circle in their time of grief and sadness.

We salute you Madge!

A Woman for All Seasons

At the outset of the proceedings on this sad occasion I want to thank Madge Davison for giving me the honour, albeit a melancholy one, to pronounce the words of a final farewell.

It may seem incongruous to have this duty performed, as at a young woman’s funeral by one who has seen seven decades and three years, but it is not odd, strange or illogical although Madge Davison was but 41 years of age, she was a woman for all seasons, for all situations, and not for her own generation alone, but also for the one that preceded her

When the news of her impending death reached her wide circle of friends there was truly an extraordinary reaction.

Those of the generation which preceded her were saddened at the cruel passing of a young woman whom they cherished with maternal and parental affection-Likewise, those of her own generation who loved her with a sisterly attitude and a fraternal respect and attachment.

Both generations shared a common grief at the passing of Madge in full bloom, being cut off in a life of which, at the same time she had not yet reached the prime.

She was the object of much love but at the same time she never courted, sought or cultivated popularity. She was her own woman. She spoke her own pieces at all times.

She was kind in her appreciation of honest efforts. She was sharp in her criticisms of dishonest motivations.

Madge played a leading role in many organisations – the Civil Rights Movement, the Communist Party of Ireland and its youth section, the Connolly Youth Movement.

Anne Hope will deal with the Civil Rights Movement and Barry McDonald will pay tribute from her legal professional colleagues.

Madge served on the National Executive Committee of the CPI, bringing to bear on all questions her practical knowledge; experience coupled with a principled attitude.


Outstanding Leader

She was an outstanding leader of the CYM. For example in August 1973 she led an Irish Youth delegation to the 10th World Festival of Youth and Students in Berlin-114 in all, from the Connolly Youth Movement, the Republican Movement, Union of Students in Ireland, Young Liberals, National Federation of Youth Clubs, Irish Union of School Students, St. Gabriel’s Youth Club, delegates from NICRA, the Northern Ireland Transport and General Workers’ Union and the Dublin-based Automobile General Engineering and Mechanical Operating Union.

A wide roll call of Irish Youth-North and South-Catholic and Protestant, united in the cause of Peace and Friendship and Social advance for Youth.

On that occasion she displayed her capacity for straddling the generations when she led the 114 delegates to pay tribute at the graveside of that leading Irish Anti-Fascist, Frank Ryan, Commander of the Connolly Column of the International Brigades who fought for the defence of the Spanish Republic between 1936 and 1939.

Frank’s grave was in Dresden where he lay buried for 30 years before the rendering of the CYM Salute-seven years later we brought his remains home to Ireland.

Significant that today we have present a large number of Madge’s contemporaries of the CYM who have come from Dublin, Galway and Sligo, as well as Belfast itself to honour Madge’s passing.

The last time I heard Madge speak was in this very chapel when she was paying a tribute at the funeral of Dotsie Barr – she did it well.

In paying a well-deserved tribute, she, at the same time by the nature of her speech, revealed the warm and humane character of her own personality.

Friends!  Madge was particularly proud of her Presbyterian background, of the great contributions made by her forebears in the Society of the United Irishmen, whose foundation date took place 200 years ago, in October 1791.

Madge stood in the tradition and indeed in the image of such girl fighters as Betsy Gray who fell in battle for the cause of Irish democracy, for the independence of Ireland and for the unity of Protestant and Catholic sections of our people.

Inspired by Madge we should remember the retort of the American working class martyr, Joe Hill, who the night before his execution called out: “Don’t mourn-Organize!”

Let us think how best we can organise as a tribute to Madge Davison the 200th anniversary of the United Irishmen in October of this year.

Madge was deeply influenced in her character and political development through her association with another working-class heroine, Betty Sinclair, who was, 40 years older than Madge but life and conjunction of their activities as well as common membership of the CPI enabled Madge to know her in the closing years of her life.

Betty as a young woman was one of the leaders of the most celebrated struggles in Irish Labour History – the militant Outdoor Relief Workers’ strike in October 1932 united in struggle the Protestant and Catholic unemployed.

October this year presents us with the task of a combined tribute to the United Irishmen and the Unemployed Revolt of 1932 and the theme, common to both events, a theme close to the heart of Madge -the unity of the Protestant and Catholic sections of the working class.


Dear Friends, the fact was that Madge was motivated by a vision or dream of a society in which there would be no sectarianism, no exploitation, one in which poverty would be abolished, in short in an Ireland, free, united and socialist.

This was Madge’s dream, and recognition of that evokes the lines written by a poet of the 1930s, Langeton Hughes, the Black-American Communist, a leading figure in the struggle for Civil Rights for Black people, who wrote:

Hold on to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.

Madge, your bird has flown high into the sky.

Michael O’Riordan

“Everything a good lawyer should be….”

Among other things, in his tribute to Madge, Barry Macdonald, close friend and colleague said:

“Madge was a solicitor’s dream and a client’s dream. She was everything a good lawyer should be and epitomized all the best things the legal profession could offer the community if all of its members shared more of her values.

I wouldn’t insult Madge’s memory by saying that she was the equal of any man. I don’t know any man who was the equal of Madge.”

5 thoughts on “Tributes to Madge Davison”

  1. Madge was my aunt,but because I lived in London,I never really got to know her as well as I would liked to have.I knew that both she and John were communists,but I had no idea just what an important figure she was.Her contribution to the class struggle makes me very proud


  3. I first met Madge and her friend Anne Hope in Queens University in 1967 when they came to support us in the formation of Queens University Republican Club. The Club had been formed as a riposte too,and in defiance of, Unionist Home Secretary Bill Craig’s arbitrary banning of Republican Clubs throughout the six counties. We decided to adopt the tactic of marches and meetings, and in November 1967 organised a huge (for those days) march to Bill Craig’s luxury home on the Annadale embankment. Our tactic of marching inspired Fred Heatly, founder and first chairman of the enbryonic Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association to adopt that tactic for the CRA, which organised march from Coalisland to Dungannon in August 1968..
    Madge and Anne were inspirational figures; both were secretaries and churned out pamphlets by the dozen as well as designing and making banners and placards.
    Madge was a member of the tiny Belfast branch of the Communist Party which was to merge with the Irish Workers Party to become the CPI. She was a beautiful and striking (mini-skirted) figure as she carried the CP banner up the Falls Road in 1968 in a march to MCCrory Park to commemorate the Centenary of James Connolly’s birth. By all accounts she had turned a few heads at a May Day march in Moscow the previos year!

    Later in 1968 Madge wa quite literally walked on by Amercan military personnell who were marching through the city,having been granted the freedom of Belfast by the then corporation. Madge and a handful of young CP members were protestig against America’s war on the Vietnamese people and ended up in court.

    Madge spoke at a number of Republican meetings in Newry organised by the Oliver Craven Republican Club.I Afterwards we would adjourn for a drink; Madge’s wa always a hot wine! My then girlfriend (now my wife of over 40 yearsand I attended Madge and John’s wedding celebration and drank a lot of poitin.
    Madge then became a hard-working and highly active member of the NICRA executive. She was a real support to prisoners’ families after internment and we received a cheque and food parcel through her efforts when I was interned in 1971. Sadly events overtook the CRA after Bloody Sunday and it became largely irrelevant. However CP activists including Madge and John Edwina and Jimmy Stewart continued to live in loyalist East Belfast throughout most of the Troubles at great personal risk. Sadly we lost touch and I only heard of her untimely death months after the event. Her death was a loss, not only to her family, but to the Irish working people, Irish women and all of humanity. Ni fheicfear a leithid aris. ‘ Fresh forever hre in our hearts’. Venceremos.


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