Kate McCarry – the first Lady Councillor for Letterkenny
Following the Local Government (Ireland) Act of 1898, which set up the framework for the first Urban District Councils, Letterkenny received its first Urban Councillors in the elections of 1899. From then, and up until its dissolution in 2014, 96 different councilors served on either the Urban or Town Council. However, female representation in local governance in the town was very poor in the 115 years of its existence as, from those 96 councillors, only five were women – Kate McCarry, Sally Blake, May McClintock, Jean Crossan and Lisa Culbert (although as the latter two were co-opted onto the Council, technically the people of Letterkenny only elected 3 women in the entire history of the Council). Leading the way for female representation on the Council though was the hotel proprietress Kate McCarry, who was elected in June 1925.
Kate McCarry was born in 1882, the daughter of Michael and Annie McCarry who were the original owners of the hotel when it opened in November 1862. Kate’s mother, Annie, was the daughter of Charles and Margery Gallagher, originally from Treantaboy near Drumkeen. McCarry’s Hotel was located where the Warehouse Bar is today at the top of the Main Street.
In the tumultuous period of the early twentieth century, McCarry’s Hotel was recognized as one of the centres of Republicanism in the town, especially following the events of 1916. Unofficial Sinn Féin courts were held there in open defiance of the Courthouse located just across the street while Sinn Féin leader Eamonn DeValera was brought there from the Port Bridge by a torchlit procession of over 400 supporters to stay in the hotel in February 1918 on his tour of the county ahead of the crucial elections that year.
On the night of Wednesday 18th May 1921, an IRA attack on the Main Street resulted in Constable Albert Carter being shot dead by a revolver bullet to the throat with Sergeant Charles Maguire receiving wounds also. In reprisal, the Black and Tans, located in No. 1 Barracks next door to the Courthouse, heard the shots and were quick to retaliate on the streets of Letterkenny. Two local civilians, Anthony Coyle and Simon Doherty, were injured while McCarry’s Hotel was shot up and a grenade thrown through the window. Newspaper reports tell us:
“McCarry’s hotel was injured, the smoke room windows being completely demolished, pictures and mirrors shattered. A large hole was torn in the floor, apparently by a grenade or bomb. There are several bullet marks on the ceiling and walls. Terror prevailed during the night, few people retiring to bed.”
It is no surprise then that Kate McCarry, the owner of the hotel during these turbulent times, was a committed Republican and it was on this ticket that she was elected to the Urban Council in June 1925, becoming the first woman to be elected in the process. Also elected that year were William Boyle, Patrick O’Donnell, John Cullen, William Gallagher, Samuel Divel, William G. McKinney, J.P. Speer and Michael Moriarty. Kate McCarry served on the council for 3 years, serving as Vice-Chairman in her time, but it would take another 42 years for a female to be elected again, with Sally Blake being elected in 1967. Kate McCarry died in 1970 with her place in Letterkenny forever assured as the first elected woman to Letterkenny Urban District Council.