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Nun’s letters to executed activist

The Impartial Reporter

Correspondence between a County Fermanagh nun and a Nigerian human rights activist, who was executed in 1995 for opposing oil exploration in his homeland, has been compiled into a book which is being launched at NUI Maynooth today (Thursday).

President of NUI Maynooth Professor Philip Nolan, Irish missionary nun Sister Majella McCarron and university archivist Roisin Berry with letters from executed Nigerian activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. Photo: NUI Maynooth.


Sister Majella McCarron from Derrylin was working as a teacher in Lagos, when she became involved in the Africa-Europe Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) and met Ken Saro Wiwa, a writer and activist who led the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). During the 1990s this organisation led a non-violent campaign against the environmental degradation of Ogoniland (in South East Nigeria) by the Royal Dutch Shell company. Sister Majella kept track of the campaign, occasionally visiting Ogoniland and seeing the pollution created by Shell’s oil exploration. “At night time, as far as the eye could see, there were oil flares,” she recalls.

Ken Saro Wiwa was also an outspoken critic of the Nigerian military government, which he believed was responsible for killing Ogoni people who were upset at oil pipes being laid through their villages. He was arrested on 21st May 1994 and was executed on 19th November 1995, along with eight other Ogoni activists. His execution provoked international outrage and resulted in Nigeria’s suspension from the Commonwealth of Nations for over three years.

During his imprisonment in Port Harcourt detention centre, Mr. Saro Wiwa wrote to Sister Majella. The letters cast light on Saro-Wiwa as a political activist, a writer, a family man and a personal friend to Sister Majella. Sister McCarron tried to save his life by informing Trocaire and the international community of his plight and the “silent genocide” that was occurring on the Niger Delta. As a result, Ireland was the first country in the northern hemisphere to invite Shell to explain itself before the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs following the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa.

In 2011, she donated these letters to NUI Maynooth. Today, the book called ‘Silence Would Be Treason: Last Writings of Ken Saro-Wiwa’ will be launched by his brother Dr. Owens Wiwa at NUI Maynooth, introduced by Baroness Nuala O’Loan. Audio transcripts of interviews carried out by NUI Maynooth with Sister McCarron will also be launched.

During these interviews, Sister McCarron speaks of her childhood in Fermanagh, where she attended Aughakillymaude school. Aged 13, she applied to join the Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles and left home for Rostrevor, County Down, where she attended a juniorate. From there, she attended a novitiate in County Cork and completed a science degree, before moving to Ibadan, Nigeria to teach science in St. Teresa’s College for girls.

In the 1980s, she became involved in the AFJN and decided to learn about activism through the Ogoni issue. “I gave up my PHD, my university life to follow my AFJN mandate to its bitter conclusion,” she says.

Sister McCarron recalls having the realisation that “I was taking on the multi national Shell” and voices her strong opposition to energy companies “splitting the community.”

“I experience it in every community. It’s the same story whether it’s Erris (Co. Mayo), Leitrim, whether it’s the people threatened by fracking now; it’s exactly the same story. The same psychological war-fare is being got ready for them.

“There are the entrepreneurs who are quite short-sighted … then there’s the political class who will balance what’s the gain and what’s the loss. There are people who are very scared that if activism comes onto our step, then we are in trouble. Then there are people deliberately planted by the company – God forgive companies for what they do to communities.”

Sister McCarron went on to be a table observer of the Garvaghy Road conflict and was involved in the Shell to Sea campaign.

She now lives in Claremorris, County Mayo.

Posted Date: 
20 November 2013