From factory girl to Derry City Councillor

Councillor Angela Dobbins.  (1301JB11)
Councillor Angela Dobbins. (1301JB11)

Angela Dobbins took over from Colum Eastwood on Derry City Council when he decided to step down to concentrate on his work as an MLA.

Angela wasn’t elected to council last year but she polled well during the May elections.

After the election Colum Eastwood addressed the crowd inside a packed Guildhall. He said that the people of Derry should get used to the name Angela Dobbins. Angela was co-opted onto Derry City Council in October last year.

“The last few months have been a real baptism of fire,” says Angela. “I had my first council meeting in October last year - it was daunting but I have to say that I have enjoyed every moment of it.”

Angela is the eldest of eight (two girls and six boys) children and was born and reared in Epworth Street in Rosemount. Her parents are Eamon and Bernie Donnelly.

“My dad was a plasterer and my mother raised eight children - I don’t think there are too many people around who would argue that raising eight children isn’t a full-time job.”

Angela describes her childhood as a happy one and recalled one of her happiest memories as setting off in the car to Donegal with her sister, brothers and father.

“My dad owned a Hillman Imp (pictured, right), I think it was a car smaller than Mini Cooper.

“I can remember long hot summers when six of us would pile into the car and my father would drive to Dunree in Donegal - they were happy times.”

Angela attended St. Eugene’s PS and St. Mary’s College in Creggan.

“I enjoyed my time at St. Eugene’s - it was a lovely school.

“I passed the 11 Plus but I still wanted to go to St. Mary’s. I could have went to Thornhill but I wanted to go to St. Mary’s because my granny lived in Malin Gardens. It meant that when I was finished school every day I could go to my granny’s for my tea - I loved it.”

When she was in third year at St. Mary’s Angela’s parents decided that they wanted her to transfer to Thornhill to study for her O-levels.

“Thornhill was great,” she says. “The curriculum at Thornhill and St. Mary’s was different which meant that I had to repeat third year when I started at Thornhill.

“It was at Thornhill that I was taught by Mr. Terry Downey. He taught me English and he was one of those teachers that when you look back you say to yourself ‘they made a difference to my life’.”

When she was 16 years-old Angela left Thornhill and got a job working in O’Donnell’s pharmacy on the Strand Road.

“It was different back then,” she says. “I was the oldest so there was an onus to me to get out into the big bad world and get job. That’s just how things worked back then.”

Angela left her pharmacy job when she was 18 years-old and secured a position working as a factory girl for United Technologies (Essex) in Eastway.

“Essex was a fantastic place to work. There was great camaraderie there. I have fond memories of working there and some of the people I met when I was there are still friends to this day.

“Although we were all working there was great craic to be had. There was a real social side to working in Essex.

“I remember heading home on a Friday after getting paid. I’d hand my keep to my mother, get washed and dressed and head down the town to meet all my friends in either the Embassy or in Oscar’s in Waterloo Street.”

Angela worked in the Essex factory for over ten years but left her job in her late twenties to rear a family with her “other half” Michael Dobbins.

“My other half is Michael Dobbins and we have been together for almost 30 years. We have three daughters and their names are Rachael, Emma and Lisa.”

Angela’s three daughters are now “big and bad” but all three girls were ill when they were younger and Angela experienced heartbreak in 1988 when her oldest child, Carolyn, died of Meningococcal meningitis when she was one and a half years old.

“No parent should ever have to bury their child - it was just a horrible time for myself and Michael.

“Carolyn was sick one day and she was dead the next. It was just a horrible time.”

Despite the heartache Angela and Michael experienced when Carolyn died the couple went on to have three other daughters.

“One of the girls was born very premature. She weighed under two pounds and as a result she needed a lot of care when she was younger.

“I was always over and back to the children’s ward in Altnagelvin. I must have walked the halls of that ward so many times that I started to know the doctors and nurses by their first names.

“I owe so much to the help and support of the staff there. Dr. Brown in particular was of great help and support - I’ll never forget what they did for me.”

She continued: “All three girls are big and bad now. We are all members of Sparta Athletics Club and Lisa is an Irish, British and Ulster sprint champion.

“We are also members of Steelstown Brian Og’s and I was delighted to see them achieve promotion last year.”

It was during motherhood that Angela decided that she wanted to get back into education. She enrolled in several night classes and attained qualifications in word processing and her European Computer Driving Licence.

“Enrolling in the night classes was perhaps one of the best things I have ever done. After I got my qualifications it meant that I was able to go to Magee to study for a degree in Law and Politics.”

Angela’s children became ill in the third year of her degree and as a result she was forced to drop out to care for them.

“I went back to Magee a few years later and studied for degree in Business Studies specialising in accounting. I just scraped through - the girls were still sick, so much so that neither Michael or any of my daughters was able to attend my graduation ceremony.”

As her daughters got older Angela started to take an active interest in community work. For 20 years she lived next door to former SDLP MLA Mary Bradley and cites her as one of her major influences.

“I lived in Shantallow for over 20 years and got to know Mary Bradley very well. Mary taught me so much and helped me to understand what it was to be a local politician.

“I have no intention of filling Mary Bradley’s shoes but I have every intention of walking in her footsteps.

“I have always been an SDLP woman. Ever since I was able to vote I always went the way of the SDLP. So I am over the moon to be representing the party on Derry City Council.”

She continued: “I got one of the best bits of advice ever last year when I met the late Berna McIvor. Berna is regarded as a heroine in the SDLP and was John Hume’s election agent for years. Berna told me that canvassing starts on your first day as a councillor and not six months before an election. It was so insightful and it’s a piece of advice that will stay with me forever.”

Eight years ago Angela and her family moved to a house on the Culmore Road. It was during this time that she helped to set-up a local community group in the area and has been constantly lobbying on behalf of the residents there ever since.

“My reason for getting involved in community work and then ultimately Derry City Council was because I wanted to give the people that I was living amongst a voice.

“The Culmore area of the city has some of the highest levels of rates in Derry but it’s seriously lacking in facilities.

“It’s my aim as a councillor to tackle these problems and resolve as many as I can. I see the next few years as a long job interview and I am going to work extremely hard and do my best for the people that I represent.”

Angela described how she felt when the SDLP approached her about standing in the council elections in 2011. She says that it was one of the most proud moments of her life and explains that it’s a challenge that she is relishing.

“I couldn’t believe it when the SDLP asked me to stand. I didn’t think that I had much of chance standing in the same election as Colum Eastwood but I did ok.

“When Colum announced that he would be standing down the SDLP approached me and asked me if I would be interested in putting my name forward to take his place. I was delighted that they asked me and everything was made official in October.

“I’ve been thrown in at the deep end but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve learnt so much from those around me and people like Colum Eastwood, Mark H Durkan, Pat Ramsey and Mary Bradley are only a phone call away.

“I am enjoying life as a Derry City Councillor. I enjoy addressing and trying to resolve the day to day issues that affect people in the city. I would describe myself as a hands on politician and all I want to do is help the people I represent be heard. I want them to have a voice.”