Anna Eggert Lecture: Baroness May Blood

Listen to Baroness May Blood's full lecture, 'From the Factory Floor to the House of Lords'

‘God gave my brothers and sisters husbands and wives, he gave me the brains,' jokes Baroness May Blood. 'The two that got away,' she adds, 'I have to say, their miss was their mercy, because I was always going to change the world, and nothing was going to take the place of that.’

It is that incredible determination and will to succeed in a world hitherto riven by suspicion and religious intolerance that took May Blood 'from the factory floor to the House of Lords', the title in the first of a new series of lectures organised by the Women’s Resource and Development Agency.

There's a healthy crowd at the Ulster Hall to hear the Baroness's story, and she tells it with humour and few notes. Growing up on the Shankill Road, with neighbour fighting neighbour, Blood had a vision for peace, and showed remarkable courage and fortitude in her journey towards making that vision a reality.

She is but one in a long line of women who have helped to change the course of history in Northern Ireland for the better, and along with Mary Ann McCracken, civil rights organiser and barrister, Madge Davison and the Ulster Suffragettes, is the focus of the Anna Eggert Lecture Series.

'The impact that women have had on the history of Belfast is immense but overlooked,' explains Dr Margaret Ward of the WRDA. 'So we are providing this opportunity to look at the work that has been done in politics, in trade unions, in educational reform and within the community.'

The series was named in honour of Anna Eggert, a member of the WRDA board, who died in August 2011, whose husband and son were in attendance at the lecture. German born Eggert spent 30 years in Belfast and was hugely involved in women’s issues and community work as well as being a Blue Badge Tour Guide. 'She loved Belfast and made a big contribution to the lives of so many people here,' adds Ward.

In the podcasts above and below (the full recording of the lecture) Baroness Blood recalls the trajectory of her remarkable life and career, from passing her 11+ at the age of 14 – 'Out of a class of 42, 37 passed, and that was in a working-class Protestant area. We hear so much about underachievement these days' – through to her time spent working with the trade unions in Belfast and as a member of the House of Lords.

'Today we have a lady speaker,' Blood notes with a knowing nod to the almost entirely female audience, 'but in those days we had a Lord Chancellor, and he shakes your hand and everybody says, "Here, here!", and you're in! And it took all of five minutes.

'When I came out, all of the Secretaries of State that I had known over the years of the Troubles were saying how wonderful it was to see me, and I said, "You are all a bunch of liars, for you hated me when you were in Northern Ireland".'

True to her Belfast roots, Blood rarely takes a second to breathe between anecdotes. Although she does occasionally deviate, like all great story-tellers, she always picks up the thread where she left off.

Blood is also a refreshingly candid public speaker, admitting that her first full day at the House of Lords was 'certainly the scariest thing I've ever done'. She gets a cheer, too, when she expresses her shock that she has just reached the 12 year mark in office.

It is an inspirational story indeed, and Baroness Blood should be commended for finding the time to deliver it. Her example should help to motivate those women working in the community across Northern Ireland, or, indeed, in all sectors, and young people should listen to her story and learn from it. Blood's most enduring message, after all, is that anything is possible to those with the greatest resolve.

The next lecture in the series will feature John Gray, former librarian at the Linenhall Library, talking about Mary Anne McCracken in the Ulster Hall on January 20. On February 17, Dr Avila Kilmurray from the Community Foundation NI will speak about Madge Davison, a civil rights organiser for the NI Civil Rights Association and barrister from North Belfast. The final lecture will be given on March 2 by Dr Margaret Ward about the Ulster Suffragettes.