There are not many people who made their way from the mills of Belfast to the House of Lords.
May Blood was born on 26 May 1938 and for the first six years of her life she grew up in a mixed area of Belfast with her mother and older sister. She would not have understood at the time, but her family had been separated by World War II due to the evacuation of the older Blood children and the enlistment of her father in the army. Of the experience, Blood said:
At the age of fourteen, Blood left school. She entered a local mill with the intention of only staying two weeks but stayed for the next thirty-eight years.
Within half an hour of being at the mill she was approached and told that everyone was in the Transport and General Worker’s Union, and despite her father having reservations about women joining trade unions, she ‘wasn’t gonna be the different one’ and signed up.
Blood was soon made shop steward and attended several training courses through the union, later becoming the senior shop steward where she dealt with long working hours, health and safety and a rise in wages. Eventually, Blood applied for, and got elected to, the regional committee which was the ruling committee of the TGWU. ‘This was totally unheard of. Women did not apply for those positions,’ Blood stated later in an interview, ‘We had to fight for our place there and gain the respect for the other guys on the committee.’
In the 1990s with the prospect of ceasefires and peace talks, Blood and a handful of other women asked if there would be women present at such talks. They were told that there would be, should they be elected. The next six weeks ‘were the most hairy and the most scary’ of her life as they quickly tried to organise the Women’s Coalition. Blood was made Campaign Manager and took full advantage of the media attention they were attracting and took every opportunity to get in front of the camera to plead their case. Their main goal wad ‘to get women where decisions were being made.’ Two women – Monica McWilliams and Pearl Sager – were elected. The Women’s Coalition successfully introduced amendments to the Good Friday Agreement on the inclusion of women in public life, mixed housing and integrated education, to name a few.
In 1995, Blood was awarded an MBE by the Queen for her work in labour relations and in 1999 she was the first woman in Northern Ireland to be given a life peerage as Baroness Blood of Blackwatertown. She would later joke that ‘if anything came into the House of Lords pertaining to Northern Ireland and it had sex in the title, I was the only person voting in favour of it.’ She would continue to receive awards throughout the early 2000s and on 4 September 2018, she retired from the House of Lords, aged eighty.
I help to manage Slugger by taking care of the site as well as running our live events. My background is in business, marketing and IT. My politics tend towards middle-of-the-road pragmatism, I am not a member of any political party. Oddly for a member of the Slugger team, I am not that interested in daily politics, preferring to write about big ideas in society. When not stuck in front of a screen, I am a parkrun Run Director.