Sheila Conroy

(22/04/1918 - 11/05/2012)

Sheila Conroy (née Williams) was born in Bantry, Co. Cork . She came from a difficult family background and experienced bad health. After leaving school at fourteen years of age she worked in the low-paid hospitality area and quickly became involved in organising women to affiliate to the Irish Transport and Workers’ Union (ITGWU).

In 1954 she was the only female delegate to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU). In 1955 she was the first woman to be elected to the national executive council of the ITGWU, the largest trade union in the state.

Before her wedding in 1959 she took time out to work as a volunteer in Our Lady’s Hostel for Homeless Boys in Eccles Street, Dublin 1. Conroy also worked as a playgroup leader at Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin.

In 1969 she worked as a part-time secretary in the Irish People’s College, an adult education forum founded by the trade union movement in 1948. Her efforts to increase student numbers and the variety of classes offered as well as securing government grants led to her working full-time there from 1975.

Conroy was appointed chairperson of RTÉ in the 1970s. This made her the first woman to chair an Irish semi-state company.

Going back to the People’s College it seems that in the late 1980s, she had grown the student enrolment to 2,000, starting at 200 when she took up the position. From 1984, she served as the College’s President. She also engaged with other bodies promoting international adult education exchanges.

Her steadfast commitment to fighting for rights of others led her to involvement with initiatives promoting the Irish language, widows’ rights, women’s role in broadcasting, literacy training of prisoners, pay and employment conditions for workers and their pension entitlements.

When she died ICTU General Secretary David Begg acknowledged her “lifelong service and dedication to the labour movement”.

Person Photo
Connection with area: Devoted her life to serving the labour movement and advocating for working people's rights. She worked for a while as a playgroup leader at Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin.