Bernie Dwyer will be with the Five and Cuba forever
The rhythmic sound of the waves and the warm sea breeze has harbored the ashes of a dear friend of Cuba, the Irish Bernie Dwyer, where were launched into our sea by Gerardo, Antonio, Fernando and René, along with the families and friends of the beloved social activist, who until her death, and even seriously ill, she continued to fight for the liberation of the Five. (Havana, 7th March 2015)
During International Women’s week 06th of March 2015, Bernie Dwyer; International Activist’s ashes were set free by the ‘Cuban Five’ in her beloved Havana, Cuba with her loving family and friends present. Bernie had died as a result of cancer in July 2013 which she courageously and persistently battled against for eight full years. She had lived and worked in Cuba for 11 years during this period I visited her 25 times. I knew Bernie a good twenty years. She gave many ‘Women’s History’ sessions to our working class local education programme in St. Michaels Estate, Inchicore, Dublin.
Back in 1998 Bernie came up with a proposal to the Family Resource Centre to conduct a cultural exchange with Cuba. Her idea was for us to fundraise to bring a Cuban film maker Xonia Zayas a member of the Union of Cuban Artists, Poets & Writers to Ireland. We were really interested as we always did local to global work. I had previously gone on brigades to Nicaragua and El Salvador and also had been involved for many years in solidarity work. We the Family Resource Centre had already been involved in the organising group to bring five Nicaraguan Campensinos women to Ireland in 1992 along with an Irish women’s brigade to Nicaragua in 1991. Two of our own local women Phil Keane and Jean McSorely participated on that brigade.
Xonia Zayas came in March 1998, she got a shock seeing the conditions of how people had to live in St. Michaels Estate. She met with many urban, rural and Traveller women’s groups around Ireland. In May 1998 it was our turn to go on an exchange to Cuba. Both Marian Keogh a local community activist from St. Michaels Estate and me took off to Havana. Bernie was at the airport and she took us to a hostel in Miramar. The Cubans did not know what hit them! Wild Irish Women! Every single day we had four political meetings and visits to projects, factories and ministries. Our brains were busting but we were hungry to get a close understanding through the eyes of communities and workers in Cuba of how society was organised.
Bernie who had fallen in love with a Cuban TV presenter and producer, would leave us back to the hostel each night for a rest. However the two of us would take ourselves off to Old Havana for the music, dancing and the craic! It was an amazing trip. We were embraced by Cuban families and friends. We learnt Salsa and Cha Cha, about Cuban art, culture and politics from the grassroots up system. Also the amazing spirit of the Cuban people in spite of the struggle they lived daily. So began our beloved relationship as a project who brought many Cubans to Ireland.
Bernie Dwyer committed herself to the struggle of the Cuban people. She became a journalist at Radio Havana, Cuba. She ran the English programme which went out all over the Americas, North & South. She made wonderful programmes of great interest and interviewed many Irish visitors to Cuba. She also made films relating to Cuba. Bernie was a defender of Cuba – she would fight like a tiger if you did not agree with her, She even took on to challenge Cuban leaders whom she did not agree with.
She took up the campaign of the Cuban Five, Cubans who were imprisoned in the United States for their anti terrorist work monitoring a violent Cuban group in the south of Florida. She travelled all over the United States, Sweden and Europe highlighting their unjust incarceration. I remember one of the Cuban Five wrote her a poem – she was so moved and ecstatic. She was driven by their campaign. Today they are enjoying their freedom and happiness as a result of all the solidarity of people like Bernie.
She would come home to Ireland to visit her family and grandchildren. Bernie really adored her grandchildren. She was very connected to them and wanted them to know and remember her influence on them. She would always come along to the citywide International Women’s Day celebration organised by the Family Resource Centre St. Michaels Estate annually. One year we happened to be in Havana for IWD and we organised a big party on the roof of Anna’s Casa Particular, all the women from the streets joined us. They sang, danced, recited poetry and gave a great rendition of ‘International’ which brought tears to my eyes as I saw true internationalism taking place. The last IWD celebration Bernie attended in Wynns Hotel was in March 2013 which her friend Adrianne Boyle brought her in to. She was very sickly then but her spirit was true to form as Terry McGrath who spent many a night in Cuba with Bernie asked her what she wanted to drink Bernie replied that she’d have a double Cuba Libre! She never missed a trick!! Ha-ha. On the night Cathleen O’Neil said to me that Bernie had come to say goodbye to us all, I thought about that statement many times after and I realised it was a very precious night and a celebration of a life of true international activism and friend.
Bernie survived a few more months. I went to see her in Beaumont Hospital where she was sitting up in blue pyjamas reading an Isobel Allende book. She could not talk anymore but she could write – so it did not stop her conversing. Soon after the visit she was moved to St. Francis Hospice – a beautiful place to move on to the next struggle. Bernie was not going anywhere yet, she defied the odds, she held on as she did in every aspect of her political and family life. The changes for Cuba recently, Bernie would have celebrated as would she have been there to welcome the Cuban Five home. They were truly there to welcome her home to Cuba. Her family and the men took her to the sea where many a night she would sit on the Malcon sipping rum and enjoying Cuban lovers. Bernie our friend and comrade was scattered to the winds by the men she had spend years defending.
It was a great week to mark her freedom and liberation out of her urn – as the Hugh McCall song goes ‘Take me to some high place of river rock and sea, scatter my ashes, feed me to the wind so I can be everything you see, the air that you are breathing’ Bernie Dwyer; friend and comrade would be in her element knowing she was given such a beautiful honour and send off by her Cuban compenous and compenas and her Irish comrades. She would be pleased that Rual Castro and President Obama have opened discussions for a way forward for both countries.
Reflection of Rita Fagan
Friend and Comrade