A large crowd attended the Riada Area Spring Meeting at Roseyards Presbyterian Church Hall hosted by Armoy W.I.
The speaker was Baroness May Blood MBE who captivated her audience immediately.
On her first visit to the House of Lords she noticed a multitude of doors leading to offices, conference rooms and cloakrooms. It was her first task to find out where all these doors led to and she drew a parallel to her own life and the many doors that she went through.
Her first door was being born into a mixed community area and going to school in the Donegal Road area. She admitted she hated school but wanted to be a teacher because she saw they had power.
On leaving school the teacher told her she was a hussy and wouldn’t make much of herself, she now has three honorary doctorates. She was born in a mixed community area where everyone helped each other and people were regarded as just that, people.
Women at the mill were not in a trade union and May became a shop steward when she was twenty years old. This was the second door that she went through. She took the job of shop steward for a month and found herself in a male dominated world.
The Troubles in the late 1960’s allowed her to enter the third door. This was the first time she had seen soldiers on the streets of Belfast. She moved from the Grovenor Road and doors led to paramilitaries, opportunities to help families and doors to work.
There had been six operational mills in the area and she worked in the last one so what now? She applied for the RUC but was turned down. At 22 years old she joined the Salvation Army but did not attend their college. She reminded us that her bonnet was £3.00 the equivalent of three weeks wages.
The family moved to a loyalist ghetto to an estate run by paramilitaries and it was her strong faith that enabled her to fight against paramilitaries.
The mill closed and she now had the opportunity to work with unemployed men and prisoners. More doors opened and she received her honorary degrees from the University of Ulster, Queen’s and the Open University.
She wrote a book entitled “Watch my lips I’m speaking” which was a sell out. May was offered a life peerage never offered to a woman before in Northern Ireland. She has now spent sixteen years in the House of Lords and doors are still opening as she pursues her work in fighting for integrated education.
She concluded her speech to rapturous applause a speech delivered with humour and passion which sums up Baroness May Blood MBE.