For Caitrione Ruane, Northern Irish human-rights activist, the road to political activism for a free and united Ireland began in the Central American nation of Nicaragua in 1983. Three years of humanitarian work in a country swept up in a process of revolutionary change would lead her to take a new look at issue gripping her native land and would awaken a feminist questioning of women's roles in society.
Ruane has traveled from her native Ireland to take part in the International Women's Day activities at UH. She was invited by the Irish Unity Committee at UH with the support of several other student organizations and academic programs on campus. She will be speaking this afternoon from in the third floor lounge of the Roy G. Cullen building and again on Saturday evening at a forum in the UC Underground called "Ireland's Prospects for Peace."
Ruane was born in the Republic of Ireland, the union of the 26 counties of Ireland which have achieved self-rule. A talented athlete, she played professional tennis and represented Ireland in the Federation Cup, the women's equivalent of the Davis Cup.
In 1983 Ruane, who had just turned twenty, was offered a scholarship to study and play tennis for a university in Chicago. But in one of the several surprising twists of fate which seem to mark her life, Ruane decided to give up the scholarship and volunteer for humanitarian aid work in Central America.
Ruane met a Catholic priest from El Salvador through a friend and began to learn about the strife-torn region from which he had come. Ruane returned with him to Nicaragua. The next three years would deeply effect her views and life. "It totally radicalized me," Ruane said. "Both Latin America and Ireland were invaded by more powerful countries and colonized," said Ruane.
A new period has opened in Irish history with renewed hope of a solution to the centuries-old conflict. Peace talks are in progress involving Northern Irish political parties and the governments of Britain and the Republic of Ireland. While Ruane expressed hope for progress through peaceful negotiation, "The process is flawed," she said. The British seek a solution without the possibility of a reunited Ireland, but the people of Ireland can never accept a settlement that leaves Ireland divided.
Ruane's view of women and their roles in society was also impacted by her experiences in Nicaragua. "Nicaraguan women are some of the strongest women I have ever met," Ruane said.
Ruane was impressed by the heavy risks, sacrifices and burdens borne by these women as they took part in the struggle to shape their country's future, she said. Ruane said that she is convinced that the emancipation of women is interlinked with the struggle to free Ireland. Ruane also helped found the Center for Research and Development in Northern Ireland after her return to Ireland in 1987.