First Irish woman to be elected to Birmingham City Council dies, aged 90

First Irish woman to be elected to Birmingham City Council dies, aged 90

THE first Irish woman to ever be elected to Birmingham City Council has died, aged 90.

Catherine Finegan, a native of Bantry, Co. Cork, died on December 13, 2021, as a result of her dementia, her family confirmed to The Irish Post this week.

The mother-of-six was born in Aughaville on June 27, 1931. She was the eldest of eight surviving children.

She and her siblings would later emigrate to Britain and the US in search of work, leading Catherine to make her way to England’s West Midlands.

Catherine first worked as a ‘clippie’ on the buses in Birmingham where she met her future husband, James Finegan, who was from Monaghan.

The pair were married at the Holy Family church in Small Heath and later settled in Alum Rock, where they raised their six children.

Catherine studied at Matthew Boulton College and later the Open University, before embarking on her political career.

In the 1970s she became involved with a monthly social group for families with children with disabilities and it was through listening to their difficulties and the lack of support available to them that she joined the Labour Party.

“Catherine believed in direct action to get things done,” her daughter Nuala Finegan told The Irish Post this week.

“She led two protests locally for safer streets, during which she was arrested for obstructing a road,” she added.

The Irishwoman’s successful community campaigns prompted the Labour Party to invite her to stand in the local elections and she went on to become the first Irish woman to be elected to Birmingham City Council in 1978.

“At the time of her election Catherine was a breakfast waitress and a photo of her holding a tray outside the Grand Hotel appeared in the Evening Mail,” Ms Finegan explained.

“Catherine poured her heart and soul into her role as a councillor,” she added, “she thrived off having a cause to fight for and worked hard to resolve the issues of people who felt their voices weren’t heard.”

Following her retirement form her councillor role, Catherine was made an Honorary Alderman of Birmingham city, an honour which her daughter claims made her “incredibly proud”.

Predeceased by her husband Jimmy, who died in 2009, Catherine is survived by her siblings Margaret Reed (Eureka, California); Philomena Phillips (Birmingham, England) and Peter O’Driscoll (San Francisco), her children Peter, Breda, Brendan, Nuala, Gerard and Siobhan, 12 grandchildren (two pre-deceased) and eight great-grandchildren.

Catherine will be received into Our Lady Help of Christians Catholic Church in Tile Cross, Birmingham at 5pm on Monday, January 31, ahead of a requiem Mass at 10.30am on Tuesday, February 1.