Strathfoyle looks back on the work of Willie-Gerard Melarkey

Young people from the Strathfoyle Social History Group, from left, Catherine Coyle, Roisin Coyle, Ryan Gillespie, Edel McAllister, Nadia Broadbent and Caitlin Irwin, presenting copies of their book 'Those Were The Days, A journey from Lisahally to Strathfoyle', and DVD 'Down Memory Lane' to the Mayor, Councillor Martin Reilly, at the launch in the Strathfoyle Youth Centre on Thursday night. Included are Noel O'Donnell, youth leader, Norman Jenkins, voluntary youth leader, and members of the community to contributed their stories.
Young people from the Strathfoyle Social History Group, from left, Catherine Coyle, Roisin Coyle, Ryan Gillespie, Edel McAllister, Nadia Broadbent and Caitlin Irwin, presenting copies of their book 'Those Were The Days, A journey from Lisahally to Strathfoyle', and DVD 'Down Memory Lane' to the Mayor, Councillor Martin Reilly, at the launch in the Strathfoyle Youth Centre on Thursday night. Included are Noel O'Donnell, youth leader, Norman Jenkins, voluntary youth leader, and members of the community to contributed their stories.

If Willie-Gerard Melarkey was still alive it’s sure he would have been smiling on Thursday night.

Willie-Gerard lived in Strathfoyle and from the late 1960s to the 1990s he documented life in the estate using a small handheld video camera.

Strathfoyle Youth Club, youth worker, Noel O’Donnell, was born and bred in Strathfoyle and was aware of the work carried out by Willie-Gerard. After getting permission from the Willie-Gerard’s niece, Noel decided to use the material as a way of bringing the older and younger generations of the estate together.

“Willie Gerard was an incredible man. He was the most community focused person I ever met and thanks to the kindness of his niece Bernadette and her husband Patsy Deeney we were able to use Willie-Gerard’s work to create a DVD and a book,” said Noel.

The book, which is titled ‘Those Were The Days’ and the DVD, which is titled, ‘Down Memory Lane’, was officially launched by the Mayor of Derry, Colr Martin O’Reilly in Strathfoyle Youth Club on Thursday evening.

“It’s taken us about two years to complete it but finally we are here,” said Noel.

“There was little funding available at the start but as soon as we secured funding we were able to start exploring the relationships between the older and the younger people living on the estate. The two generations of people worked together on the project and the book and the DVD is a result of their collaboration and hard work.

“Some of the older people were a little hesitant at the start because they had their own views of younger people but after a few sessions, both groups realised that although they were of different ages they had a lot in common.

“The project has helped to not only highlight the great work of Willie-Gerard Melarkey but it has also helped to break down barriers between the two generations and improve relationships. The craic the two groups had working together really was something.”

Sisters Catherine and Roisin Coyle have lived in Strathfoyle all of their lives and they both worked on the project.

Catherine said she enjoyed working with the older people from the estate and explained that despite the obvious dated quality of a lot of Willie-Gerard’s clips, she was shocked at the differences between the Strathfoyle estate in the 1960s and the estate of 2013.

“I was able to get a real insight into what life was like in Strathfoyle back in the 1960s and 1970s by looking at Willie-Gerard’s clips,” said Catherine.

“It was really interesting looking at First Holy Communions being made in the 1970s and then thinking about the ones that are happening now - there are so many differences but the one thing that has stayed the same is the people. The people are just as warm and friendly now as they were back then,” smiled 16 year-old Catherine.

Catherine’s younger Roisin, said what struck her the most was listening to the older people of the estate recollect how some of them left school in their early teens to go and work in the local factories.

“I am 15 years-old and some of the women I spoke to during the project already had a year’s experience working in a factory when they were my age - I found all that stuff really shocking but interesting at the same time, if that makes sense.

“I remember a few of the women telling me how they had to use ice cold water to wash their hair before going to work in the morning - my generation wouldn’t know anything about that, we are really lucky.”

She added: “It was also good fun to watch the sports days and the hops (discos) that took place in the estate back then.”

Coincidentally, the project was Noel O’Donnell’s last as a youth worker as he is retiring after 33 years in the job. Making the book and DVD has been a labour of love for Noel as he says if it hadn’t have been for Willie-Gerard Melarkey he might not have become a youth worker.

“This has been a great project. Everyone involved in it has enjoyed it and I am just delighted to be able to do something to show off the great work carried out by Willie-Gerard. Willie-Gerard first got me involved in youth work when he asked me to run a youth disco when I was 14 - I only had three records to chose from - how times have changed,” he laughed.

For more information on the ‘Those Were The Days’ book and the ‘Down Memory Lane’ DVD contact Strathfoyle Youth Centre on 028 7186 0334