Maggie Morris: Derry’s champion of the poor and needy for 60 years

1951... Maggie Morris (looking resplendent in hat and fur coat) with Taoiseach Eamon de Valera during his historic visit to Derry.
1951... Maggie Morris (looking resplendent in hat and fur coat) with Taoiseach Eamon de Valera during his historic visit to Derry.

ALTHOUGH born in Leitrim in the nineteenth century, Maggie Morris fought the causes of Derry’s poor and needy for almost sixty years.

She became a member of the Board of Guardians [ad hoc authorities that administered Poor Law] and, despite determined opposition, won numerous reforms and improved the conditions of many people.

Her other great crusade was nationalism which she pursused with equal vigour.

She married William Morris and they lived at Lower Clarendon Street where they ran what is now the Clarendon Bar.

Morris’ Bar, as it was then known, was not the comfortable, well-appointed establishment that exists today and its clients were mainly dockers. Lacking the current compulsory amenities of modern public houses meant that the clientele had to leave the premises and cross the street to relieve themselves in the ‘Iron Man’ - a cast iron public urinal.

The business prospered while William and Maggie became members of the Nationalist Party which contested the Derry Corporation elections of 1920 after the introduction of proportional representation. On being nominated as a candidate, Maggie and her fellow nominees studied the new electoral system and planned their campaign carefully.

The result was a nationalist victory by the narrowest of margins - twenty to nineteen. Among the victors was Maggie. Not only was she elected as a member for the Waterside Electoral Area but she became the first woman ever to be elected to the Derry Corporation.

At meetings of the Corporation, she was in no way intimidated by her status as the only female in an all male gathering. She crossed swords vigorously in pursuit of her principles and causes, often clashing with Mayor Hugh C. O’Doherty.

The changing political situation of the period meant that the Nationalist controlled Corporation was, after a short reign, replaced by the gerrymandered situation which existed until the recent Troubles.

However, this did not deter Maggie and she continued to work tirelessly in the cause of Irish unity, becoming an ardent republican in the process.

After the Treaty, she was part of a deputation which travelled to Dublin to speak to Michael Collins. According to Florence O’Sullivan, another member of the delegation, Maggie tore into Collins, accusing him of the betrayal of the people of the North. Collins was left open-mouthed.

She famously said on one occasion that she preferred the “No Surrender Boys” to the “Free Staters”.