Morag Gilmartin: Political activist and veteran of the CND movement
Saturday 29 October 2011
In the early 1960s Morag Gilmartin was active in the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Govan and Gorbals Young Socialists when Paul Foot and Gus MacDonald held sway.
She was involved in the earliest demonstrations against the Polaris nuclear submarine base on The Holy Loch and was among the first Aldermaston marchers. Gilmartin was one of the Scottish Committee of 100 along with Stuart Christie and fellow Paisley buddy, Danny Kyle. She retained her radical spirit and in later years was at Grosvenor Square in 1968 and, despite illness, the big anti-Iraq war demonstration in 2003.
Gilmartin was a popular figure in and around the Glasgow and Paisley folk song scene, contemporaneous with Norman and Janey Buchan, Danny Kyle, Archie Fisher, Josh MacRae and Billy Connolly among others.
Gilmartin and her sister Mary shared many a youthful adventure as they engaged with left-wing politics in Glasgow. Mary described Gilmartin as a "...beautiful person...inside and out. Whenever out with the girls, Morag rarely escaped notice. She was witty and kind and good looking and we used her, unashamedly, to attract attention, pushing her ahead of us through pub doors and crowding in behind as heads turned."
Sarah Gilmartin (known always as Morag) was born in Paisley on the eve of the Second World War. Her father, John, was a steam valve engineer at John Brown & Company, Clydebank and was seconded to war work with the Royal Navy. Gilmartin grew to be the big sister in a family of six. Her mother, Sarah, was a strong character and a passionate debater on the issues of the day. She had a fierce temper, but the children always knew that they were the most important thing in their parents' lives. Gilmartin attended St. Margaret's Convent School in Paisley. She worked at J & P Coats' Anchor Cotton Thread Mill and was a regular at Paisley ice rink for the skating and ice hockey in the mid 1950s.
By the time the USS Proteus arrived at The Holy Loch in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis moved the Cold War to the brink of catastrophe, Gilmartin was a regular on the cold roadways of the sit-down protests. But following the tragic death to cancer of her young sister, Kathleen, Gilmartin left Paisley in 1967 to join friends in London for a fresh start. She met and married the musician Gerry Wood in West Kensington. Wood will always remember his first sight of Gilmartin strolling along, a picture of nonchalant beauty. When he came to know her sense of humour, intelligence, boldness and underlying vulnerability, the game was up for the next 45 years.
Together with Wood, she hitchhiked across France and Spain to Morocco, and worked in south Devon. Their first child, Martin, was born in 1969 and within the next six years, Aram and then Magda were born also.
In west London Gilmartin was able to be a full-time mother for several years. Her knitting was always much sought after and she made jewellery and pottery and developed her interest in mythology. In addition to her generosity and warmth, Martin, Aram and Magda felt that she always kept her own "child-like" sensibility, allowing them and their friends to "be children". She had an "open door" play policy and the climbing frame and den in the back garden were invariably busy with the play of her children and their friends and neighbours.
But she wasn't a soft touch. Once, faced with a cheeky rebellion after telling the children to stop sliding down the stairs on a bunk-bed mattress, she quickly took a broom to them and they ran as if for their lives.
Magda remembers Gilmartin quietly slipping pocket money to penniless friends. "She was a mother who held your torch when you couldn't hold it yourself. She had faith in every one of us, family or not."
In recent years, Gilmartin retired early from the Plant Records Office at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew, and returned regularly to Paisley to help nurse her ailing mother. Following her own diagnosis of secondary terminal cancer in June of this year, Gilmartin was herself nursed at home in Brentford. She died surrounded by her family and was buried in a woodland on a glorious autumn day. As testimony to her lifelong kindness, caring and courage, family and friends from across the years turned out in numbers.
Morag (Sarah) Wood, political activist, mother, craftswoman: born Paisley 12 August 1939; Married 1969 Gerry Wood (two sons, one daughter); died Brentford, Middlesex 5 October 2011.
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