Deputy Lord Mayor, Councillor Mary Rose Desmond today ( Thursday, June 9)  chaired a Special Meeting of Cork City Council where the Freedom of the City of Cork was conferred upon Mary Crilly, CEO of the Sexual Violence Centre Cork (SVCC).

This accolade is the highest honour a city can bestow upon a citizen or eminent guest and over 250 guests attended the historic ceremony which began with Mary Crilly entering the Concert Hall, accompanied by the Deputy Lord Mayor and Cork City Council CE, Ann Doherty, behind mace bearers Sean Finn and Noel Kearney.

Mary Crilly, CEO of the Sexual Violence Centre Cork (SVCC). Image: Michael O’Sullivan /OSM PHOTO

Ms Crilly was enrolled in the Roll of Freedom “in recognition of her unstinting support and advocacy for survivors of sexual violence over four decades” and “her tireless work in raising awareness of its prevalence, encouraging two-way dialogue with younger people, and working with government, statutory and voluntary agencies to change and influence social policy”.

Accompanied by Paul Moynihan, Director of Services, Cork City Council, Mary Crilly, CEO of the Sexual Violence Centre Cork (SVCC). Image: Michael O’Sullivan /OSM PHOTO

Deputy Lord Mayor, Mary Rose Desmond said:

Mary Crilly’s extraordinary resilience and fortitude has driven her work and the work of the Cork Sexual Violence Centre for almost 40 years. Not only have thousands benefitted from this work and dedication, but she has driven societal change in the way that sexual violence is now dealt with in this country.  That Cork is recognising this remarkable woman with the Freedom of the City is so very fitting and a proud day for Mary and for the City.

In her speech, Mary Crilly said:

Today is such a special day, not alone for me, but for all survivors of sexual violence in Ireland…Today is not just about looking back and seeing what has been achieved in our city and in our country and what has not been achieved. It is also about looking forward. It is about moving forward to fight the fight and make a difference.  And together, we can make a difference

As a society we need to have a zero tolerance for sexual violence.  We need to keep talking. We need to keep challenging. We need to change the culture that tolerates sexual violence,” she said.

Having signed the Roll of Freedom parchment, Ms Crilly was presented with a cylindrical freedom casket, raised and ‘planished’ by city centre-based Carroll Silversmiths who have been making freedom caskets for generations. 

A specially commissioned piece of poetry ‘This Poem is a Zone of Sanctuary’, written in honour of Mary Crilly, was read at the ceremony by its author, poet Paula Meehan. Music, including renditions of ‘A Little Help from My Friends’ ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ and ‘Feeling Good’, was provided by the Defence Forces Band of the Southern Command and Cork-based soul and blues singer, Karen Underwood accompanied by acclaimed pianist, John O’Brien.

The Roll of Freedom parchment, which includes Ms Crilly’s name, signature and the formal citation setting out why she is being honoured, is beautifully inscribed by local calligrapher, Des Meade and will be bound by Barbara Hubert Bookbinders into the ‘Register of Freemen from 1930-Present’ which is held at the City and County Archives in Blackpool

Mary Crilly biography:

Mary Crilly is a founding member and CEO of the Sexual Violence Centre Cork. Through her work in the centre, Mary has been providing support to victims of sexual violence across Cork city and county for nearly 40 years.

As a feminist activist, Mary has played a role in changing the response to male violence against women over the last four decades. Mary is noted for her work in the areas of sexual violence, domestic violence, sex trafficking, female genital mutilation and stalking. Mary continues to works tirelessly to eliminate sexual violence and to change attitudes and victim blaming in society. 

Mary’s work varies from supporting victims in court, or at the Sexual Assault Treatment Unit, to visiting schools and colleges, to working with government, statutory and voluntary agencies to change and influence social policy. 

Mary Crilly received a Pride of Cork Award in March 2022 in recognition of her work in the Centre. 


Awarding the Freedom of the City dates from the 14th century in Cork.

Nearly seven centuries later, it remains the highest honour the city can award and has been bestowed on nationalist heroes, writers, heroes, actors, campaigners for social justice and sporting greats.

Former recipients range from Charles Stewart Parnell, Douglas Hyde and Eamon de Valera to John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Woodrow Wilson and Tip O’Neill. Over the past 30 years, Mary Robinson, John Hume, Sonia O’Sullivan, Roy Keane, Mary Mc Aleese and Michael Flatley have been given the Freedom’.

There are four distinct periods covering the award in Cork city:

  1. From the 14th century to 1876: Honorary burgesses – largely based on status or purchases of the honour.
  2. 1877-1921:  Nationalist heroes – a legislative framework applied and the practice was to honour nationalists.
  3. 1922-1989: Clergy and Statesmen: chief recipients were Catholic clergymen.
  4. 1990 – present: High Achievers – the basis of the award has become outstanding achievement.

The custom of presenting the freedom in silver or sometimes gold boxes dates to the 17th century.

Renowned Cork silversmiths, William Egan and Sons were commissioned to make ‘freedom boxes’ from 1910. 

And for the last 40 years, the caskets have been raised and ‘planished’ by Sean Carroll and Sons.

To this day, Sean’s son, Chris makes the caskets using tools and equipment from the William Egan and Sons workshop. Chris is the third generation of Carroll silversmiths to make the freedom caskets for Cork City Council. 

Paula Meehan biography:

Poet, Paula Meehan’s work has garnered critical and popular acclaim locally and internationally. Recently she published As If By Magic: Selected Poems, (Dedalus Press, Dublin) Her lectures, when Ireland Professor of Poetry, on Community, Family, & Selfhood, Imaginary Bonnets with Real Bees in Them, is available from UCD Press.

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