Nell McCafferty

Nell McCafferty (born 28 March 1944) is an Irish journalist, playwright, civil rights campaigner and feminist. In her journalistic work she has written for The Irish Press, The Irish Times, Sunday Tribune, Hot Press and The Village Voice.

Nell McCafferty
Born (1944-03-28) 28 March 1944
Derry, Northern Ireland
OccupationJournalist, writer, playwright

Early life

McCafferty was born in Derry, Northern Ireland, to Hugh and Lily McCafferty, and spent her early years in the Bogside area of Derry. She was admitted to Queen's University Belfast (QUB), where she took a degree in Arts. After a brief spell as a substitute English teacher in Northern Ireland and a stint on an Israeli kibbutz, she took up a post with The Irish Times.


McCafferty was a founding member of the Irish Women's Liberation Movement.[1] Her journalistic writing on women and women's rights reflected her beliefs on the status of women in Irish society. In 1970, she wrote a piece for the Irish Times on what women's liberation meant to her:

In 1971, she travelled to Belfast with other members of the Irish Women's Liberation Movement in order to protest the prohibition of the importation and sale of contraceptives in the Republic of Ireland. The incident, which attracted extensive publicity, became known as the Contraceptive Train.[2]

After the disintegration of the Irish Women's Liberation Movement, McCafferty remained active in other women's rights groups, as well as focusing her journalism on women's rights. Her most notable work is her coverage of the Kerry Babies case, which is recorded in her book, A Woman to Blame.[3]

Irish author Colm Tóibín commended Nell McCafferty's impact on Ireland as a journalist and a feminist:

McCafferty contributed the piece "Coping with the womb and the border" to the 1984 anthology Sisterhood Is Global: The International Women's Movement Anthology, edited by Robin Morgan.[4]

In 1990, McCafferty won a Jacob's Award for her reports on the 1990 World Cup for RTÉ Radio 1's The Pat Kenny Show. McCafferty lives in Ranelagh, an area of Dublin. McCafferty published her autobiography, Nell, in 2004. In it, she explores her upbringing in Derry, her relationship with her parents, her fears about being gay,[5] the joy of finding a domestic haven with the love of her life, the Irish writer Nuala O'Faolain, and the pain of losing it.

In 2009, after the publication of the Murphy Report into the abuse of children in the Dublin archdiocese, McCafferty confronted Archbishop Diarmuid Martin asking him why the Catholic Church had not, as a "gesture of redemption", relinquished titles such as "Your Eminence" and "Your Grace."

McCafferty caused a controversy in 2010 with a declaration in a live Newstalk radio interview that the then Minister for Health, Mary Harney, was an alcoholic. This allegation led to a court case in which Harney was awarded €450,000 the following year.[6][7] McCafferty has very rarely featured on live radio or television in Ireland as a commentator since the incident, despite being ever present in those media from 1990 onwards. However, she has been featured on a number of recorded shows.[8]

The Irish Times wrote that "Nell's distinctive voice, both written and spoken, has a powerful and provocative place in Irish society."[9]

McCafferty received an honorary doctorate of literature from University College Cork on 2 November 2016 for "her unparalleled contribution to Irish public life over many decades and her powerful voice in movements that have had a transformative impact in Irish society, including the feminist movement, campaigns for civil rights and for the marginalised and victims of injustice".[10]

Personal life

McCafferty was in a fifteen-year relationship with the late journalist Nuala O'Faolain.[8]


  • A Woman to Blame[3] - the Kerry Babies Case
  • Peggy Deery: A Derry Family at War
  • Nell. Penguin, 2004.
  • Goodnight Sisters: Selected Writings of Nell McCafferty. Attic Press, Dublin, 1987.
  • Goodnight, Sisters...: Selected Writings, Volume Two. Attic Press, Dublin, 1987.


  1. Stopper, Anne. Monday At Gaj's: The Story of the Irish Women's Liberation Movement. "Introduction", p. 3.
  3. A Woman to Blame Archived 9 March 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  4. "Table of Contents: Sisterhood is global :". Retrieved 15 October 2015.
  5. Chrisafis, Angelique (22 November 2004), "Just call me Nell", The Guardian, retrieved 30 November 2007
  6. "Bloody Nell ! ....Hell Breaks loose on Tom Dunne!". Radiowaves Forum. Radiowaves. 11 March 2010. Archived from the original on 5 November 2013. Retrieved 29 August 2013.
  7. Black, Fergus. "Harney receives €450,000 over radio 'alcoholic' slur". Irish Independent. Retrieved 11 December 2015.
  8. Russell, Chrissie (24 March 2012). "Nell: Nuala didn't ban me from her deathbed". Irish Independent. Retrieved 29 August 2013.
  9. "Nell McCafferty Archived 24 April 2008 at the Wayback Machine". Scríobh Literary Festival, 2005. Retrieved on 14 April 2008.
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