'Rights' Campaigner; This Whole Thing That You Are Not Allowed to Be Different Is the Worst Problem Northern Ireland Has; Brief Encounter

The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland), May 24, 1998 | Go to article overview

'Rights' Campaigner; This Whole Thing That You Are Not Allowed to Be Different Is the Worst Problem Northern Ireland Has; Brief Encounter


It's a warm summer's day, bees are buzzing and lunch- a Marks and Spencers chicken and sweetcorn soup, with croutons, and egg and onion rolls, washed down by red wine - it's served in the garden of equality campaigner Mary Clarke Glass's Hillsborough home.

The Glasses' dog Homer, as in Iliad and The Simpsons, and successor to the late Wolfgang Amadeus (the previous family pet) amuses himself by catching bees. It's a mystery. Does Homer swallow the bees ? Mary, as erudite on canine bee catching habits as she is on the intricacies of equal opportunities legislation, has it sussed. ''Apparently the saliva drowns the bees so they can't sting,'' she says.

It's an ordinary scene yet this is no ordinary garden and Homer is no ordinary dog. Both have a colourful history. Homer, who was beaten by his previous owners, was discovered in an animal shelter, ailing and frightened, his chances of survival slim. After tender nurturing by Mary and her husband Basil, Homer has grown into a big friendly animal well disposed towards strangers, his black coat gleaming with well being.

The garden is so beautiful its part of the National trust Ulster Gardens Scheme, open to the public on certain weeks of the year. According to the National Trust leaflet ''roses, honeysuckle and clematis cover the trellis work above perennial beds full of peony, acquelegia and delphiniums''. Mary particularly loves the roses and lilies too - she adores lilies.

The house itself, known as The Old Curatage, dates back to the 17th century and was originally a barracks for the militia. It has paintings by Hillsborough artist Neil Shawcross , a walnut drinks cabinet formerly owned by a bishop and a pastiche of family photographs, quirkily placed in the bathroom.

We talk about the things we talk about on warm days - shopping, magazines, and Basil - a supreme court bankruptcy master who is suffering from a tooth abscess - the local hedgehog population , female bonding, the recent holiday at a retirement town in Southern California, racism in Northern Ireland (she is a member of the Commission for Racial equality) , we even talk about the clothes she is wearing, a breezy blue reefer shirt and white trousers.

"I love Marks, which is just down the road. These trousers are Marks, these shoes are Marks, my bra and pants are Marks" but she says she also likes Sainsbury's and Tescos and that some of the clothes shops in Hillsborough are excellent.

Mary is not the sort of woman who normally lounges around in her garden talking about her underwear though. She says she hates being idle and her CV is certainly impressive, reflecting a life spent championing the underdog.

A former law lecturer and BBC presenter, she chaired the Equal Opportunities Commission for Northern Ireland from 1984 to 1992, is a director and volunteer for Victim Support and was the Alliance Party candidate for the 1995 European elections. She is also a founding member of the Northern Ireland Womens Movement.

She has also sat on a number of public bodies including the National Consumer Council, Probation Board, University of Ulster Council, Rent Assessment Panel, Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights and chaired the Extern Organisation.

Through her work with the Womens Movement she has the satisfaction of seeing legislation which she and other women, like Eileen Evason, lobbied for come into force. Northern Ireland is now on a par with the rest of the United Kingdom in areas such as equal pay, divorce and domestic violence and, more recently, race legislation. She is still friendly with women she campaigned with in the early days and has made friends in Hillsborough too; She and Basil are members of a takeaway club with two other couples - they take turns to meet in each others houses and eat Chinese or Indian takeaways. …

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