Monday 11 December 2017

Death occurs of victim of the Fethard Boycott

The late Betty Cooper.
The late Betty Cooper.

A WOMAN who became embroiled in the famous Fethard Boycott of 1957 died last week.

Betty Cooper – who has been described as the life and soul of the village – passed away aged 86 on Thursday morning at her home.

A large crowd attended Betty's funeral service at St Mogue's church on Saturday to pay their final respects to the well-known South Wexford woman.

Betty is remembered by many for how she was a victim of the Fethard-on-Sea boycott of 1957, which was organised by Catholic priests against the local Protestant community at the time.

She was described by family friend Eileen Cloney as being 'always full of the joys of life, always happy to see you, always mad to chat and always a good friend'.

Betty was born and reared in Fethard on Sea where her mother was a postmistress. She opened a newspaper and sweet shop which she ran for many years and her jolly demeanour was known far and wide.

Betty lived over the shop until recent years when she moved down to live in the house beside it. She played a vital part in her the community and never travelled further than Enniscorthy or Stradbally in her life.

Yet many visitors to her shop were unaware of the part Betty Cooper played, or at least found herself cast, in the boycott. It was not something Betty liked to talk about.

'She never talked about it and I never liked to push her one it,' said Ms Cloney.

Sadly Betty fell ill in recent weeks and passed away peacefully at her home, which was her wish.

At her funeral Reverend Richard Greene praised her for never having become embittered, adding that she was profoundly sad that the Fethard Boycott happened in her native village.

At the time of the boycott in 1957, Betty owned a shop on Fethard's main street which sold cornflakes, sweets and newspapers.

At the service of local shoppers, she suffered when a boycott of Protestant businesses was ordered from the pulpit of the local Catholic Church by priests Father Allen and Father Stafford.

This followed a refusal by Eileen Cloney's mother, Sheila, to send her to the local Catholic school. Sheila, the daughter of a Protestant stockbreeder, was married to Sean Cloney of Dungulph Castle, and a Catholic.

At the time, any non-Catholic spouse of Roman Catholics had to agree to raise any children as Catholic as a result of Ne Temere (a decree issued in 1907 regulating the canon law of the Church about marriage for practising Roman Catholics). The year-long boycott saw Betty's shop sales plummet drastically.

'I'd ask Betty, and she'd joke, 'Why, are you going to put it in the paper?' It seems to have been something people in Fethard didn't want to bring up again,' said Ms Cloney.

The boycott spread in 1957. Éamon de Valera condemned it, and Time magazine coined the term 'fethardism' to mean a boycott along religious lines in an article on the events in Wexford.

Protestants from miles around travelled to Fethard to buy supplies from Betty – and from Leslie Gardiner's General Stores across the road. Betty continued to work in the shop until her retirement. The 1957 episode came to an end when local priest Father Allen went into Betty's shop and bought cigarettes, thereby signalling a truce which other customers could follow.

Betty is survived by her nephew Tom Crumpton and her many friends.

Wexford People

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