International Women’s Day with a Dominican twist

On 8th March 2024, International Women’s Day, a special day in the family history of one of our staff members in Cabra coincided with an important event at St Dominic’s Grammar School on the Falls Road, Belfast. A blue plaque was unveiled by the Ulster History Circle on the walls of St. Dominic’s to commemorate the achievements of a former student, Maighréad Nic Mhaicín, a translator, writer and scholar of Irish and Russian.
Maighréad Nic Mhaicín is the maternal grandmother of Lara Kelly from our Congregation Justice Office, and Lara and her family travelled to Belfast to witness the unveiling, in the company of staff and students of St. Dominic’s, Dominican Sisters and local residents. St. Dominic’s hosted a reception after the unveiling, and gave the family a very warm welcome.
Maighréad Nic Mhaicín was born in Dungloe Co Donegal on 12th March 1899, the third child of nine born to Margaret and v

ohn Macken who was a member of the RIC. The family moved to Ballymena and then Belfast where they lived at Leeson Street and Hawthorne Street. Maighréad left school at the age of thirteen to work in a local blouse factory. She was later awarded a scholarship to attend St Dominic’s, and was working in a mill on a Friday and back sitting in a classroom on a Monday. She was an outstanding student, achieving a first class exhibition in her senior grade and coming first in Ireland in English composition in 1916. She graduated from Queen’s University Belfast with a First-Class Honours Degree in Celtic Studies and French in 1920 and won a scholarship to study an MA in French and Celtic Philology at the Sorbonne. It was while in Paris that she first learnt Russian.

Maighréád Nic Mhaicín, also known as Daisy, lived in interesting times through the sinking of the Titanic, the First World War, the Easter Rising and the War of Independence and Civil War in Ireland.

Events touched her personally. Her brother Bernard died shortly after being released from Frongoch prison; another brother Charlie died during the Influenza epidemic in 1918. Maighréad was a fluent speaker of French, German, Russian and was a renowned Irish speaker. As well as studying Irish at school she spent time in the Donegal Gaeltacht staying in Rannafast in the house of the renowned seanchaí (storyteller) Johnny Shéamaisín. Her translations of Russian literature to Irish include Chekov’s play The Cherry Orchard An Silín-Ghort (1935); a selection of his short stories Gearr-Scéalta Cuid 1; and, a selection of Turgenev’s short stories Scéalta Sealgaire. She also translated works in English and French to Irish.

Maighréad travelled to the USSR on two occasions in 1932 and 1936 and worked there as a translator. She married anIrishman Patrick Breslin, also a translator, in Moscow but returned to Ireland in 1937 to give birth to a daughter, Máiréad, Lara’s mother. She was refused permission to return to Moscow and Patrick was refused permission to leave the USSR. Tragically, he died in a Gulag in Kazan in 1942. It was many years later before Maighréad found out what had happened to him.

Here is a link to a press release from the event