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Opinion: 'In the 1950s, I fought the marriage ban and continued teaching with no pay'

97-year-old Maureen Cronin became a test case for the INTO Teachers’ Union.

Maureen Cronin

Maureen Cronin, aged 97, played a key role in getting the marriage ban lifted for school teachers in 1950s Ireland.

With the introduction of the marriage ban in the 1930s, female teachers who got married had to give up their permanent job. Maureen defied the new rule by continuing to work for 12 months in Limerick without pay. 

The Clare woman was honoured with the ‘Age is No Barrier Award’ at the 2014 Hidden Hearing Heroes Awards yesterday. 

HeroesAwards2014-30 Quaid Cleland (age 9) from Rathfarnham, Dublin with 97-year-old Maureen Cronin from Clare receiving the 2014 Hidden Hearing Heroes Awards. Source: Conor McCabe

I BECAME A test case for the INTO Teachers’ Union as I had the resources to do so.

I just thought that it was terrible that after all that training, and after getting a job, these women just had to give it all up and be an ordinary housekeeper.

The INTO association had a meeting and I said, “Well, what are we going to do about it?” The union wanted to fight it, so I offered to do it as I could afford to. I had a big farm and I could afford to work for a year without any money.

I defied the ban and carried on teaching in Limerick for a full year without pay, but it was not easy. Every inspector ignored me and passed by my room, while the parents merely tolerated me.

I was tolerated as I had music, I did the organ and the choir, so was beneficial to the community and the school.

After a year, I was dismissed from my post and it was only after the Bishop of Limerick intervened that I got my pay.

No pay 

The bishop sent for me, and said: “You mean to tell me you taught for free without any money?”

He said he would go to Dublin the next day to see what he could do and came back down with my salary under his arm.

While I was not allowed hold a permanent position as a teacher, I was able to take up temporary work.

I answered an advert in the newspaper for a position at a school in Kilkenny run by Captain Wandesford, a Protestant lord. He said he wanted a a music teacher of any religion providing she could do music, so I got it hands down as I can play eight musical instruments. 

It was a different time though. No Catholic would put a step into a Protestant yard at that time. The Catholic parish priest was outside the wall one day and he tipped me on the arm and told me if I was to die in the residence there or if I got sick, he would not be able to attend to me. That’s the way it was.

I chose to fight it as I had more resources than other teachers. That’s why I did it. When the ban was lifted in 1958 they all got back into jobs, and jobs were scarce back then.

I’ll be 98 at Christmas and I am delighted with the award today. 

So what is Maureen’s secret to a long, adventurous life? 

I write a poem every day of the Clare Champion and read a book every week. I have a computer, I play the fiddle and the organ and all this keeps me going. I play eight instruments but my arthritis might mean I won’t be able to play for much longer, but I love it. I have a walking stick, but I say I have the walking stick to stop me going too fast, that’s just me.

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About the author:

Maureen Cronin

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