Holland, who died Monday night at age 69 after a long illness, was best known for her work on Northern Ireland. The National Union of Journalists said she was a writer of “fearless courage and integrity” and that with her passing “a radical and compassionate voice had been silenced”.
Born in England, where her Catholic parents had moved from Ardfield, near Clonakilty, West Cork, she became an iconic figure and the winner of many awards for journalism and broadcasting.
In the late 1960s, she became the first journalist to write for a major British newspaper in Northern Ireland. From 1979 until recently, she was a columnist for the Irish Times. She died in Dublin on Monday, of a degenerative connective tissue disease, after seven years of illness.
In 1979, she was controversially fired by the Observer’s then editor-in-chief, Conor Cruise O’Brien. He said an article she wrote about a Derry woman opposed to violence but who supported the H-Block campaign had made him “personally ashamed.”
O’Brien said that Holland’s motives had been honorable, and free from “propagandist intent,” but that she was a poor judge of Irish Catholics and they had “conned her.” She was then appointed Irish editor of the New Statesman and she co-founded Magill magazine in the late 1970s with Vincent Browne.
She later worked as a reporter on the London Weekend Television “Weekend World” series, winning awards for her 1980 “Creggan” program, an account of the previous 10 years as seen by families in a working-class Derry housing estate.
Fifteen years later, she made “Shankill,” a program about working-class Protestants. She was also a regular panelist on RTE’s “Questions and Answers” and appeared regularly on BBC and UTV.
In the 1983 abortion referendum, she actively campaigned against the constitutional amendment, addressing meetings nationally and controversially admitting she had had an abortion herself.
Responding to her death, the former SDLP leader, John Hume, said he extended his condolences in the knowledge that there would be “massive sympathy throughout the whole country, North and South”.
“Mary was an absolutely outstanding journalist and was the first major journalist to give detailed coverage to the Northern Ireland problem in the British press which promoted real debate about a solution to our problem,” he said.
Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, said: “Mary was a very courageous journalist who will be missed by all who knew her. She was a greatly admired journalist because of her integrity and courage and she will be missed by all who knew her.
“Her coverage of Ireland, from the 1970s, did a lot to change how the North was covered, as it challenged the bias and censorship of the time. She brought this same integrity to all her journalistic work and was often a voice for those most marginalized in our society”.