Northern light goes out after decades of service

OBIT: Lady McCorkell had to tread carefully in her Red Cross role in Derry
She was a woman who for years had to tread a fine and dangerous line between the two warring communities in Northern Ireland and risked her life on many occasions to bring aid and comfort to beleaguered people on both sides of the religious divide.
Lady McCorkell was the pragmatic head of the Derry Red Cross during the Troubles, and she once entertained the IRA to tea to facilitate talks with representatives of the British government. She died in Dublin on Christmas Day aged 89.

It was in June 1972, following an explosion of violence in which hundreds had been killed, that Aileen McCorkell agreed to host at her family home clandestine peace talks between the British government and the Provisional IRA, whose delegation included a young Gerry Adams.

Brought up in the South before the Second World War, she had never imbibed the political and religious intolerance of the North, realising instead that, by its principles of humanity and impartiality, the Red Cross could play a vital role in Northern Ireland. Accordingly she steered the Derry branch down a middle way of absolute neutrality between two warring communities…

… (Following war service), After a brief spell as a school matron at Cheltenham she returned to Ireland. There she met, and in 1950 married, Michael McCorkell, from a Derry family which had run a well-known sailing fleet in the 19th century. In 1975 he became Lord Lieutenant of Londonderry and in 1994 was appointed KCVO.

She turned to voluntary work in 1961, having broken her back in a riding accident. She founded the Derry City Red Cross group in 1962, which became a fully-fledged branch in 1965, with her as its first president. She also became a member of the Northern Ireland Council of the British Red Cross.

For her work during the Troubles she was awarded, in 1972, the Red Cross Badge of Honour for Distinguished Service. In 1975 she was appointed OBE.

More of the Irish Independent’s front page tribute at: