seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


Leave a comment

The Republic of Ireland Act 1948 Signed Into Law

The Republic of Ireland Act 1948 is an Act of the Oireachtas which declares that Ireland may be officially described as the Republic of Ireland, and vests in the President of Ireland the power to exercise the executive authority of the state in its external relations, on the advice of the Government of Ireland. The Act is signed into law on December 21, 1948 and comes into force on April 18, 1949, Easter Monday, the 33rd anniversary of the beginning of the Easter Rising.

The Act repeals the External Relations Act 1936. Under that Act, King George VI acts as the Irish head of state in international relations by accredited ambassadors and on the State’s behalf accepts credentials appointing foreign ambassadors to the State. The Republic of Ireland Act removes this last remaining practical role from the King and vests it instead in the President of Ireland, making the then President of Ireland, Seán T. O’Kelly, unambiguously the Irish head of state.

In 1945, when asked if he plans to declare a Republic, the then Taoiseach Éamon de Valera replies, “we are a republic.” He also insists that Ireland has no king, but simply uses an external king as an organ in international affairs. However, that is not the view of constitutional lawyers including de Valera’s Attorneys General, whose disagreement with de Valera’s interpretation only come to light when the state papers from the 1930s and 1940s are released to historians. Nor is it the view in the international arena, who believe that Ireland does have a king, George VI, who had been proclaimed King of Ireland in December 1936, and to whom they accredit ambassadors to Ireland. King George, in turn, as “King of Ireland” accredits all Irish diplomats. All treaties signed by the Irish Taoiseach or Minister for External Affairs are signed in the name of King George.

In October 1947, de Valera asks his Attorney General, Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, to draft a bill to repeal the External Relations Act. By 1948 a draft of the bill includes a reference to the state as being a republic. In the end, the draft bill is never submitted to the Oireachtas for approval.

The bill to declare Ireland a republic is introduced in 1948 by the new Taoiseach, John A. Costello of the Fine Gael party. Costello makes the announcement that the bill is to be introduced when he is in Ottawa, during an official visit to Canada. David McCullagh suggests that it is a spur of the moment reaction to offence caused by the Governor General of Canada, Lord Alexander, who is of Northern Irish descent, who allegedly places loyalist symbols before an affronted Costello at a state dinner. What is certain is that an agreement that there be separate toasts for the King and for the President of Ireland is broken. The Irish position is that a toast to the King, instead of representing both countries, would not include Ireland. Only a toast to the King is proposed, to the fury of the Irish delegation. Shortly afterwards Costello announces the plan to declare the republic.

However, according to all but one of the ministers in Costello’s cabinet, the decision to declare a republic had already been made before Costello’s Canadian visit. Costello’s revelation of the decision is because the Sunday Independent had discovered the fact and was about to “break” the story as an exclusive. The evidence of what really happens remains ambiguous. There is no record of a prior decision to declare a republic before Costello’s Canadian trip.

At any rate, the Act is enacted with all parties voting for it. De Valera does suggest that it would have been better to reserve the declaration of the republic until Irish unity had been achieved, a comment hard to reconcile with his 1945 claim that the Irish state was already a republic. Speaking in Seanad Éireann Costello tells senators that as a matter of law, the King is indeed “King of Ireland” and Irish head of state and the President of Ireland is in effect no more than first citizen and a local notable, until the new law comes into force.

The United Kingdom responds to the Republic of Ireland Act by enacting the Ireland Act 1949. This Act formally asserts that the Irish state had, when the Republic of Ireland Act came into force, ceased “to be part of His Majesty’s dominions” and accordingly is no longer within the Commonwealth. Nonetheless the United Kingdom statute provides that Irish citizens will not be treated as aliens under British nationality law. This, in effect, grants them a status similar to the citizens of Commonwealth countries.


Leave a comment

Mary Robinson Inaugurated 7th President of Ireland

Mary Robinson, Irish lawyer, independent politician, and diplomat born Mary Teresa Winifred Bourke, is inaugurated as the seventh President of Ireland on December 3, 1990, becoming the first woman to hold the office. She later serves as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) from September 1997 – September 2002.

Robinson is born on May 21, 1944 in Ballina, County Mayo. She is educated at Trinity College and the King’s Inns in Dublin and at Harvard Law School in the United States. She serves at Trinity College (University of Dublin) as Reid Professor of penal legislation, constitutional and criminal law, and the law of evidence (1969–1975) and lecturer in European Community law (1975–1990). In 1988 she and her husband establish the Irish Centre for European Law at Trinity College.

A distinguished constitutional lawyer and a renowned supporter of human rights, Robinson is elected to the Royal Irish Academy and is a member of the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva (1987–1990). She sits in Seanad Éireann, the upper house of the Oireachtas, for the University of Dublin constituency (1969–1989) and serves as whip for the Labour Party until resigning from the party over the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, which she feels ignores unionist objections. She is also a member of the Dublin City Council (1979–1983) and runs unsuccessfully in 1977 and 1981 for Dublin parliamentary constituencies.

Nominated by the Labour Party and supported by the Green Party and the Workers’ Party, Robinson becomes Ireland’s first woman president in 1990 by mobilizing a liberal constituency and merging it with a more conservative constituency opposed to the Fianna Fáil party. As president, she adopts a much more prominent role than her predecessors and she does much to communicate a more modern image of Ireland. Strongly committed to human rights, she is the first head of state to visit Somalia after it suffers from civil war and famine in 1992 and the first to visit Rwanda after the genocide in that country in 1994.

Shortly before her term as president expires, Robinson accepts the post of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR). As high commissioner, she changes the priorities of her office to emphasize the promotion of human rights at the national and regional levels. She was the first UNHCHR to visit China, and she also helps to improve the monitoring of human rights in Kosovo. In 2001 she serves as secretary-general of the World Conference against Racism held in Durban, South Africa. In 1998 she is elected chancellor of Trinity College, a post she holds until 2019.

After stepping down as UNHCHR, Robinson founds the nongovernmental organization Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative (2002–2010). Its central concerns include equitable international trade, access to health care, migration, women’s leadership and corporate responsibility. She is also a founding member of the Council of Women World Leaders, serves as honorary president of Oxfam International, a private organization that provides relief and development aid to impoverished or disaster-stricken communities worldwide, and is a member of the Club of Madrid, which promotes democracy. She also holds various posts at the United Nations and, in 2010, she establishes the Mary Robinson Foundation—Climate Justice, which operates until 2019.

Robinson is the recipient of numerous honours. In 2004 Amnesty International awards her its Ambassador of Conscience Award for her human rights work. In 2009 she receives the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. Her memoir, Everybody Matters: My Life Giving Voice (cowritten with Tessa Robinson), is published in 2012.

(Pictured: Mary Robinson during her inauguration as president in 1990, photograph by Matt Kavanagh)


Leave a comment

Second Inauguration of Mary McAleese

Mary McAleese is inaugurated as President of Ireland for a second term on November 11, 2004, becoming the fourth president up to that point to secure a second term, joining Sean T. O’Kelly, Éamon de Valera and Patrick Hillery. As of this writing in 2020, Michael D. Higgins is currently serving his second term as president.

McAleese’s initial seven-year term of office ends in November 2004, but she stands for a second term in the 2004 Irish presidential election. Following the failure of any other candidate to secure the necessary support for nomination, the incumbent president stands unopposed, with no political party affiliation, and is declared elected on October 1, 2004.

McAleese is re-inaugurated at the commencement of her second seven-year term on November 11, 2004. Her very high approval ratings are widely seen as the reason for her re-election, with no opposition party willing to bear the cost, financial or political, of competing in an election that would prove difficult to win.

Following the inauguration ceremony earlier in the day in Dublin Castle, McAleese attends a reception there hosted by the Government to mark the beginning of her second term of office. The 700 invited guests include members of the Government, the Oireachtas, the judiciary and dignitaries from Christian churches and other faiths.

McAleese identifies the need for strong and resilient communities as the theme of her second term in office. Speaking after her inauguration in the afternoon, she says, “The cushion of consumerism is no substitute for the comfort of community.” Speaking on the Northern Ireland peace process, she urges the hesitant to “muster the courage to complete the journey to a bright new landscape of hope.”

McAleese’s first term is distinguished by her work following the Omagh bombing and the September 11 terror attacks in the United States, as well as her behind-the-scenes work to open a dialogue with loyalists after the Good Friday Agreement.

Prevented by the Constitution of Ireland from running for a third term, McAleese leaves office in 2011 as one of Ireland’s most popular and respected presidents.

(Pictured: the second inauguration of Mary McAleese, November 11, 2004, President of Ireland website, http://www.president.ie)


Leave a comment

Body of Jack Lynch Moved to Church of St. Paul of the Cross

On October 21, 1999, President Mary McAleese leads mourners at the removal of the body of former Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader, Jack Lynch, from Dublin’s Royal Hospital, where he had died the previous day, to the Church of St. Paul of the Cross, Mount Argus.

Jack Lynch, in full John Mary Lynch, is born on August 15, 1917, in Cork, County Cork. He serves as Taoiseach of Ireland from 1966 to 1973 and from 1977 to 1979.

Lynch studies law and enters the civil service with the Department of Justice in 1936. He eventually decides on a legal career, is called to the bar in 1945, resigns from the civil service, and practices on the Cork circuit. He already enjoys a national reputation as a sports hero as he had won five All-Ireland medals as a Cork hurler and another as a footballer.

Lynch joins Fianna Fáil and wins a seat in Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas, in 1948. He works closely with Éamon de Valera in opposition (1948–51), and de Valera appoints him a Parliamentary Secretary in 1951–1954, Minister for the Gaeltacht in 1957, and Minister for Education in 1957–1959. When Seán Lemass succeeds de Valera as Taoiseach in 1959, he makes Lynch Minister for Industry and Commerce and in 1965–1966 Minister for Finance.

Lemass’s retirement in 1966 causes an internal party conflict over the succession that leads to Lynch’s selection as a compromise candidate, a position he reluctantly accepts. In November 1966 he becomes leader of Fianna Fáil and Taoiseach. In June 1969 he becomes the only Fianna Fáil leader other than de Valera to win an overall majority in a general election.

In 1969–1973 Lynch plays an important role when civil unrest leads to the collapse of the government of Northern Ireland and poses a threat to the stability of the Irish state. He fires two cabinet ministers who are suspected of involvement in smuggling arms to the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). He also creates a consensus in Irish party politics on a policy of conciliation and cooperation with the British government in seeking a solution to the Northern Ireland problem based on establishing power-sharing between the unionist majority and the Roman Catholic minority.

In 1972 Lynch wins an 83% majority in a referendum on Ireland’s entry into the European Economic Community and, on January 1, 1973, Ireland becomes a member. Although he is defeated in the 1973 Irish general election, he again demonstrates his remarkable popularity at the polls in 1977 when Fianna Fáil wins their largest and their last overall majority. In December 1979, however, discouraged by challenges to his authority from party colleagues, he resigns his leadership and soon after retires from politics. He serves on a number of corporate boards after his retirement.

Lynch dies in the Royal Hospital, Donnybrook, Dublin on October 20, 1999 at the age of 82. He is honoured with a state funeral which is attended by the President Mary McAleese, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, former Taoisigh John Bruton, Albert Reynolds and Charles Haughey, and various political persons from all parties. The coffin is then flown from Dublin to Cork where a procession through the streets of the city draw some of the biggest crowds in the city’s history. Following the Requiem Mass celebrated in his home parish of the Cathedral of St. Mary and St. Anne, his friend and political ally, Desmond O’Malley, delivers the graveside oration, paying tribute to Lynch’s sense of decency. He is buried in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery, Cork.


Leave a comment

The First Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland

constitution-of-irelandThe First Amendment of the Constitution Act 1939 amends the Constitution of Ireland to extend the constitutional definition of “time of war” to include a period during which a war occurs without the state itself being a direct participant. It is introduced and signed into law on September 2, 1939, the day after the Invasion of Poland by Germany and allows the government to exercise emergency powers during World War II, known in Ireland as The Emergency, although the state is neutral.

Article 28.3.3° of the Constitution grants the state sweeping powers during a state of emergency, but in the form in which the article is adopted in 1937, they can be invoked only during a “time of war or armed rebellion.” The First Amendment specifies that “time of war” can include an armed conflict in which the state is not actually taking part.

The amendment is introduced by the Fianna Fáil government of Éamon de Valera on September 2, 1939, and passes swiftly through both houses of the Oireachtas. Unlike later amendments, the First and Second Amendments are not submitted to a referendum because under the terms of Article 51, one of the Transitory Provisions of the Constitution, the Constitution can be amended by a vote of the Oireachtas alone from 1938 to 1941.

The First Amendment is passed only in English. This creates a constitutional difficulty, as the Irish text of the Constitution has legal precedence. The error is rectified by the Second Amendment, passed in 1941, which includes in its provisions, at Reference No. 21, the Irish text of the First Amendment.

The Emergency Powers Act 1939 is passed and signed on the same day as the First Amendment. Further Acts are passed over the course of World War II. The Emergency Powers Act 1976 is passed in response to The Troubles.

Article 28.3.3º is amended on two further occasions. The Second Amendment, passed in 1941, also under Article 51, clarifies that emergency provisions must be within the time of war or armed rebellion itself and add a clause at the end of the last sentence, which specifies that a “time of war” can extend beyond the termination of hostilities. The Twenty-first Amendment, passed in 2001, prohibits the use of the death penalty in a new subsection in Article 15.5.2º, and provides that the emergency provisions of the Constitution cannot be used to allow the death penalty.


Leave a comment

Garrett FitzGerald Becomes 8th Taoiseach of Ireland

garret-fitzgeraldGarret FitzGerald succeeds Charles Haughey to become the eighth Taoiseach of Ireland on June 30, 1981. He serves in the position from June 1981 to March 1982 and December 1982 to March 1987.

FitzGerald is born into a very politically active family in Ballsbridge, Dublin on February 9, 1926, during the infancy of the Irish Free State. His father, Desmond FitzGerald, is the free state’s first Minister for External Affairs. He is educated at the Jesuit Belvedere College, University College Dublin and King’s Inns, Dublin, and qualifies as a barrister. Instead of practicing law, however, in 1959 he becomes an economics lecturer in the department of political economy at University College, Dublin, and a journalist.

FitzGerald joins Fine Gael, attaching himself to the liberal wing of the party. and in 1969 is elected to Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas, the Irish parliament. He later gives up his university lectureship to become Minister for Foreign Affairs in the coalition government of Liam Cosgrave (1973–1977). When the coalition government is resoundingly defeated in the 1977 Irish general election, Cosgrave yields leadership of Fine Gael to FitzGerald. In his new role as Leader of the Opposition and party leader, he proceeds to modernize and strengthen the party at the grass roots. He briefly loses power in 1982 when political instability triggers two snap elections.

By the time of the 1981 Irish general election, Fine Gael has a party machine that can easily match Fianna Fáil. The party wins 65 seats and forms a minority coalition government with the Labour Party and the support of a number of Independent TDs. FitzGerald is elected Taoiseach on June 30, 1981. To the surprise of many FitzGerald excluded Richie Ryan, Richard Burke and Tom O’Donnell, former Fine Gael stalwarts, from the cabinet.

In his prime ministry, FitzGerald pushes for liberalization of Irish laws on divorce, abortion, and contraception and also strives to build bridges to the Protestants in Northern Ireland. In 1985, during his second term, he and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sign the Anglo-Irish (Hillsborough) Agreement, giving Ireland a consultative role in the governing of Northern Ireland. After his party loses in the 1987 Irish general election, he resigns as its leader and subsequently retires in 1992.

On May 5, 2011, it is reported that FitzGerald is seriously ill in a Dublin hospital. Newly-elected Fine Gael Taoiseach Enda Kenny sends his regards and calls him an “institution.” On May 6 he is put on a ventilator. On May 19, after suffering from pneumonia, he dies at the Mater Private Hospital in Dublin at the age of 85.

In a statement, Irish President Mary McAleese hails FitzGerald as “a man steeped in the history of the State who constantly strove to make Ireland a better place for all its people.” Taoiseach Enda Kenny pays homage to “a truly remarkable man who made a truly remarkable contribution to Ireland.” Henry Kissinger, the former United States Secretary of State, who serves as an opposite number to FitzGerald in the 1970s, recalls “an intelligent and amusing man who was dedicated to his country.”

FitzGerald’s death occurs on the third day of Queen Elizabeth II‘s state visit to the Republic of Ireland, an event designed to mark the completion of the Northern Ireland peace process that had been “built on the foundations” of FitzGerald’s Anglo-Irish Agreement with Margaret Thatcher in 1985. In a personal message, the Queen offers her sympathies and says she is “saddened” to learn of FitzGerald’s death.

On his visit to Dublin, United States President Barack Obama offers condolences on FitzGerald’s death. He speaks of him as “someone who believed in the power of education; someone who believed in the potential of youth; most of all, someone who believed in the potential of peace and who lived to see that peace realised.”

FitzGerald is buried at Shanganagh Cemetery in Shankill, Dublin.

FitzGerald is the author of a number of books, including Planning in Ireland (1968), Towards a New Ireland (1972), Unequal Partners (1979), All in a Life: An Autobiography (1991), and Reflections on the Irish State (2003).


Leave a comment

Birth of Irish Journalist Mary Holland

mary-hollandMary Holland, Irish journalist who specialises in writing about Ireland and in particular Northern Ireland, is born in Dover, Kent, South East England on June 19, 1935. She is raised in Ireland and married a British diplomat, Ronald Higgins. They lived in Indonesia but the marriage is annulled.

Holland originally works in fashion for Vogue magazine and then The Observer. She comes to prominence as one of the first Irish journalists to report on the rise of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and becomes an increasingly prominent commentator on the affairs of the region.

In 1977 Conor Cruise O’Brien is appointed editor-in-chief of The Observer. He is a writer and politician who serves as a government minister in the Irish Parliament, Oireachtas. He is often criticized for his uncompromising opposition to “physical force Irish republicanism,” and his actions to that end during Liam Cosgrave‘s tenure as Taoiseach are labelled as censorship by some. Shortly after starting as editor, he sends a memo to Holland:

“It is a very serious weakness of your coverage of Irish affairs that you are a very poor judge of Irish Catholics. That gifted and talkative community includes some of the most expert conmen and conwomen in the world and I believe you have been conned.”

Holland subsequently leaves The Observer and joins The Irish Times as their Northern Ireland correspondent. In 1988, she witnesses the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) Corporals killings.

Holland’s awards include the Prix Italia award for her television documentary on the Creggan in Derry (Creggan, 1980) and, in 1989, the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize for the promotion of peace and understanding in Ireland. She writes and campaigns for abortion rights in Ireland and admits, in an article on the topic of abortion, that she had had one.

Holland dies from scleroderma on June 7, 2004, just twelve days before her 69th birthday. She is survived by her children with fellow journalist Eamonn McCann. Daughter Kitty is now a journalist for The Irish Times, and son Luke works for the United States-based human rights think tank, the Center for Economic and Social Rights.


Leave a comment

Éamon de Valera Elected 3rd President of Ireland

president-eamon-de-valeraThe 1959 Irish presidential election is held on June 17, 1959. Éamon de Valera, then Taoiseach, is elected as President of Ireland. A referendum proposed by de Valera to replace the electoral system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote with first-past-the-post voting which is held on the same day is defeated by 48.2% to 52.8%.

Under Article 12 of the Constitution of Ireland, a candidate for president may be nominated by:

  • at least twenty of the then 207 serving members of the Houses of the Oireachtas, or
  • at least four of 31 councils of the administrative counties, including county boroughs, or
  • themselves, in the case of a former or retiring president.

Outgoing president Seán T. O’Kelly had served two terms, and is ineligible to serve again. On April 27, the Minister for Local Government, Neal Blaney, signs the ministerial order opening nominations, with noon on May 19 as the deadline for nominations, and June 17 set as the date for a contest. All Irish citizens on the Dáil electoral register are eligible to vote.

De Valera who had served as President of Dáil Éireann and President of the Irish Republic from 1919 to 1922 during the Irish revolutionary period, as President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State from 1932 to 1937, and as Taoiseach from 1937 to 1948, from 1951 to 1954, and again from 1957 until his election as president, is nominated by Fianna Fáil on May 12. He had served as Fianna Fáil’s leader since its foundation in 1926.

Seán Mac Eoin, a Fine Gael TD who had been the party’s candidate in the 1945 Irish presidential election, is nominated again by the party on May 15.

Patrick McCartan, who had also been a candidate in the 1945 election and had served as a senator for Clann na Poblachta from 1948 to 1951, is nominated by two county councils only, short of the four required for nomination. Eoin O’Mahony also seeks and fails to secure a nomination by county councils.

De Valera wins the popular vote with 538,003 votes (56.3%) to Mac Eoin’s 417,536 votes (43.7%).

Éamon de Valera is inaugurated as the third President of Ireland on June 25, 1959.


Leave a comment

Birth of Kevin Christopher O’Higgins, Politician

iohiggs001p1Kevin Christopher O’Higgins, Irish politician who serves as Minister for Economic Affairs from January 1922 to September 1922, Minister for External Affairs from June 1927 to July 1927, Minister for Justice from August 1922 to July 1927 and Vice-President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State from 1922 to 1927, is born in Stradbally, Queen’s County (County Laois since 1922) on June 7, 1892. He serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1921 to 1927 and is a Member of Parliament (MP) for Queen’s County from 1918 to 1921.

A man of intellectual power, O’Higgins is described by William Butler Yeats as “a great man in his pride confronting murderous men.” He is in fact murdered by maverick republicans while on his way to church.

Educated at University College Dublin, O’Higgins is apprenticed to his uncle, a lawyer. Following the Easter Rising in 1916, he joins the Sinn Féin nationalist movement and is imprisoned. In 1918, while still in jail, he is elected to Parliament from Queen’s County, and in the next year he becomes assistant to the minister of local government, William Thomas Cosgrave. He goes on to become a prominent member of Cumann na nGaedheal.

O’Higgins supports the Anglo-Irish Treaty with Great Britain that creates the Irish Free State. In 1922 he is appointed Minister for Economic Affairs and Vice-President of the Executive Council. He helps to draft the Irish Free State constitution and secures its passage through Dáil Éireann, lower house of the Oireachtas, the Irish parliament. Working for a united Ireland within the British Commonwealth, he plays an important part in the 1926 Imperial Conference. He also prominently represents the Free State in the League of Nations.

As Minister for Justice, O’Higgins establishes the Garda Síochána police force and takes summary measures to restore order following the civil war between the Free State forces and the Irish Republican Army (IRA). His role in the execution of 77 republicans in 1922–23 makes him many enemies, as does his sardonic wit, his inflammatory speeches during the civil war, and his curtailment of the liquor trade.

On Sunday, July 10, 1927, O’Higgins is assassinated at the age of 35 on the Booterstown Avenue side of Cross Avenue in Dublin, while on his way to Mass at the Church of the Assumption. The assassination is carried out by three anti-Treaty members of the IRA, Timothy Coughlan, Bill Gannon and Archie Doyle, in revenge for O’Higgins’ part in the executions of the 77 IRA prisoners during the Irish Civil War.

None of the three assassins is ever apprehended or charged, but Coughlan, a member of Fianna Fáil as well as the IRA, is killed in 1928 in Dublin by a police undercover agent whom he is attempting to murder. The other two benefit from the amnesty to IRA members issued by Éamon de Valera, upon his assumption of power in 1932. Gannon, who dies in 1965, joins the Communist Party of Ireland and plays a central role in organising Irish volunteers for the Spanish Civil War. Doyle remains a prominent IRA militant and takes part in various acts in the early 1940s. He lives to an old age, dying in 1980, and continues to take pride in having killed O’Higgins.


Leave a comment

Death of Artist Margretta “Gretta” Bowen

greta-bowen-children-in-the-parkMargretta Bowen, self-taught Irish artist best known as Gretta Bowen, dies in Belfast, Northern Ireland on April 8 1981. She starts painting late in life, around 1950, after her sons Arthur and George Campbell are already established as artists.

Born in Dublin in January 1880, Bowen lives most of her life in Belfast. She is married to Matthew Campbell, a veteran of the Second Boer War. They have three sons, Arthur, George and Stanley, who all go on to be highly talented artists, with George becoming particularly successful. After her husband death in 1925 she runs a laundrette and takes in lodgers to make ends meet.

Bowen comes to art late in her life. A few weeks before her seventieth birthday she finds paints left behind by her son Arthur and begins to experiment, apparently inspired to some extent by her sons. She uses her maiden name to apparently avoid any obvious connection with them.

Bowen clearly attracts notice early on despite her late start. In 1959, just five years after she takes up painting, she is given a solo exhibition by the Council for Encouragement of Music and the Arts, which continues to support her work when it subsequently becomes the Arts Council of Great Britain. An extensive and admiring review appears in The Times.

Bowen’s work is shown at the Royal Hibernian Academy, the Irish Exhibition of Living Art and the Oireachtas. She also holds one-person exhibitions at the Hendriks Gallery, the Bell Gallery and the Tom Caldwell Gallery. In 1979, at the age of 99, her works gain international fame. She exhibits at the first International Exhibition of Naïve Art in London.

Bowen dies at the age of 101 in Belfast on April 8, 1981.