May Blood remembered: Politicians gather to pay respects to former labour peer

Baroness May Blood MBE Credit: Pacemaker

The funeral of Baroness May Blood has taken place in Belfast.

The trade unionist and integrated schools advocate Baroness Blood died last month aged 84.

A service of thanksgiving for the former Labour peer took place at Ballygomartin Presbyterian Church.

Mourners heard how her dedication and conviction to the causes she believed in were clear to all who met her.

Politicians from across Northern Ireland paid tribute to the working-class activist in the wake of her death, as did President of Ireland Michael D Higgins and Archbishop John McDowell.

Speaking at her funeral service, campaign director at the Integrated Education Fund Paul Caskey said, "it was May's honest straight talking, no-nonsense, common-sense approach that earned her huge respect".

He said that the Baroness was "an inspiration" to all and said her death had prompted messages of praise from all sections of society.

Having grown up in a working class community of Belfast and starting work from the age of 14 at a Belfast mill, she would go on to fight for better work conditions at the mill and for opportunities for those in her local community.

"She sought nothing in return," Mr Caskey said.

"She never ever sought personal benefit from her efforts."

Mr Caskey said that the experience of her family home being set on fire for defending their Catholic neighbours, as well as her time in the mill, helped give her a "unique and natural ability to transcend the sectarian division of this society".

"It didn't matter what social class or religious background you came from, for May believed that the day-to-day issues of employment, education and health were far more important things in life to worry about."

He also retold a story of how the late Baroness mulled over whether to accept her title.

"Initially she wasn't sure if she should take the title.

"She asked to think it over.

"Not the usual response.

"What would people think of me?

"Surely people like her didn't go to the House of Lords?

"But typical May, she was determined to use her position to help others not herself.

'If I can use the title to help the Shankill, help Early Years and young people, then I will', and she did."

May Blood went on to become a founding member of the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition and helped raise money and awareness for the Integrated Education Fund since 2001.

Mr Caskey said she used her title to promote the fund and helped to raise millions of pounds for the cause.

"Her passion, conviction and dedication was clear to all that met her.

"She inspired countless people to become supporters.

"They adored her.

"We all did."

As he concluded his tribute to his late friend, Mr Caskey broke down.

"May yearned for the day that Northern Ireland would be at peace with itself.

It was that desire for peace that drove her to do exceptional things for so many people.

"She always said this little phrase: 'There are people who make things happen, there are people who watch things happen, and there are people who wonder what happened.' "May Blood made things happen. Thank you May for all you did - I knew this would happen - to make Northern Ireland a better place."

Among those in attendance at the funeral were Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill; Grand Secretary of the Orange Order Mervyn Gibson; actor Jimmy Nesbitt, US Consul General Paul Narain, veterans commissioner Danny Kinahan; children's commissioner Koulla Yiasouma, and Belfast Lord Mayor Tina Black.

Also present were DUP MLA Brian Kingston, UUP MLA Mike Nesbit, Alliance Party MLA Kellie Armstrong, comedian John Linehan, and several former colleagues of Baroness Blood from the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition, including Monica McWilliams and Jane Morrice.

Mourners walked in cortege after the coffin as it was brought from Ballygomartin Presbyterian Church down Ballygomartin Road.

James Nesbitt attends May Blood funeral in Belfast
Sinn Fein Vice President Michelle O'Neill attends May Blood funeral in Belfast Credit: Pacemaker

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