From sitting at a small desk in what was then known as Lenamore Primary School to sitting in the state of the art Mayor’s Parlour in the Guildhall, Galliagh woman, Elisha McCallion has come a long way.
Elisha is only 32 but she’s been a councillor for over ten years and is also the mother to three young boys, Daithí (10), Fiachra (7) and Malachi (10 months).
Elisha became the first ever mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council on April 1 but before she reached the plush surroundings of the Mayor’s Parlour she had cut her cloth in the community and voluntary sector in Galliagh and Shantallow.
Elisha is Galliagh born and bred. Today, she lives only a few doors away from the house she was born in. The house belonged to Elisha’s aunt and in October 1982 she was born.
“I have so many fond memories of growing up in Galliagh,” said Elisha.
“Many of my family would have been involved in the first ever summer camps to be held in Galliagh. Usually, you were only allowed to spend one week at the summer camp but because of our family connections, my older brother, Sean Paul, my younger sister Stephanie and I always ended up getting an extra week out of it,” she smiled.
Elisha went to Galliagh Nursery School, then Lenamore Primary School (now St. Therese’s P.S.) before moving onto Thornhill College where she completed her A-levels.
“I have so many fond memories of going to Lenamore P.S.,” she said.
“I met so many amazing people there who would go on to become special friends. I also remember Mr. Brady, he was a teacher there who would go on to become the school principal - he was an amazing teacher.”
She added: “I wasn’t the most academic person at school - that came later in life but I made some amazing friends when I was at Thornhill too. I also remember my teacher Miss Boyle, she took me for Politics - she had a real talent for making things really interesting.”
Despite her lack of enthusiasm for academia, Elisha was passionate about Irish History and Politics and when she was 15 years-old she started to show an interest in what was happening in the North of Ireland.
“Every summer my friends and I used to organise our own version of Wimbledon in our back square - it was one of the things I used to look forward to the most but the year when Drumcree happened I was glued to the television.
“My friends couldn’t get me out of the house. I was obsessed with what was happening and I suppose that’s when I decided to join Sinn Fein Youth.”
From her mid-teens to her early twenties, Elisha dedicated a lot of her spare time to Sinn Fein Youth. She spent sometime studying Irish History and Politics at North West Regional College before going on to study for a degree in Community Development at the University of Ulster’s Magee Campus.
Elisha’s first job was working for the Galliagh Independent Advice Service. It was there she said she developed an understanding of how community work could make a difference to peoples’ lives.
“I am still extremely proud to be associated with the advice service. It was there I worked under one of the most truly dedicated people I have ever met in my life - Jimmy Doherty.
“Jimmy not only educated me on welfare rights but he showed how important community work to be. Jimmy Doherty is without question one of the most unsung heroes of this city.”
Elisha then went to work for Galliagh Development Trust before she secured a position working for the Galliagh Women’s Group where she remained until she gave up her job to concentrate on her role as a local Sinn Fein councillor.
“I am really proud of my work as a community worker,” said Elisha.
“I sat on the Off The Streets committee for quite some time and that’s something I am especially proud of. The work carried out by Off The Streets is invaluable to the local community.”
As a result of the formation of the new Derry City and Strabane District Council, Sinn Fein, as the largest party, were given the chance to nominate a councillor to be the first ever mayor of the new council.
Sinn Fein approached Elisha in October last year but due to the considerable demand the role would have on her life she took her time before reaching a decision.
“I was honoured when the party asked me but I had to be practical - I have a husband and three young children, there was a lot to think about.
“My husband Declan and I spoke to both of our families and after a few months I told the party I would like to accept their offer. I’ve been in the job for just under two months and I have absolutely enjoyed every moment of it.”
When asked if she has any ambitions to further her career within Sinn Fein, Elisha said she never thinks that way.
“I like to live in the moment so the most important thing in terms of my responsibilities as a councillor is serving the people of Derry and Strabane.
“I am really looking forward to the time I have left as mayor. By the time it’s over I will have been mayor for just over a year and I intend on meeting as many people different people as possible - I am really enjoying all it entails.”
The responsibilities that come with being Mayor of Derry and Strabane and being a mother to three young boys means Elisha has very little time to herself. However, when she does manage to find a rare hour to spare she likes to spend it either listening to music or watching her boys play football.
“My boys are football mad. They live and breathe football. I love going along to watch them play for Don Boscos - my husband Declan is also a coach for Don Boscos.
“When it comes to music I really enjoy listening to Christy Moore - he’s playing a concert in Derry soon - I can’t wait.
“In terms of the more modern music I really like ‘Passenger’ and Ed Sheeran.
“I also used to be a real fitness nut and I am starting to get the bug again but like everyone else it’s finding the time but where there’s a will there’s a way,” she smiled.