A prestigious Civil Rights Memorial award has been presented by a 1967 co-founder of the Civil Rights Association, Fionnbarra O’Dochartaigh, to Eileen Weir, a prominent community activist in Belfast’s loyalist Shankill area.
The hand-over took place during the recent McCluskey Summer School at The Junction in Dungannon.
Mr. O’Dochartaigh’s was passing on the award he himself had received. Among previous recipients were former Taoiseach, the late Garrett FitzGerald, Austin Currie, John Hume, and Ivan Cooper.
The latest recipient was not aware that she had been chosen and was surprised when Mr. O’Dochartaigh, a socialist republican, made his personal choice known.
In his address Fionnbarra O’Dochartaigh said: “Eileen follows in the footsteps of two of the former male holders of this award who were also proud, progressive Protestants. She was born and reared on the Shankhill Road. She has lived there throughout the Troubles and was employed in Gallagher’s tobacco factory. While there she became a staunch trade unionist, a role which incrementally developed her socialist beliefs.
“After she was made redundant she facilitated black taxi tours of the Shankill area for tourists, media and international agencies. It was during this time she first volunteered with the Shankill Women’s Centre, whose sponsors include the International Fund for Ireland. Eileen has become a household name in that loyalist district of Belfast. She is best known across the region and beyond as a feminist and working-class campaigner who leaves an impression everywhere she goes”.
He added: “Our cross-community 50th Anniversary Commemoration Committee has been grateful to Eileen in relation to her participation on panels at various events throughout this important year.
“For most Civil Rights leaders and activists she has helped us understand what it was like in Protestant working-class areas during the Civil Rights campaign, particularly as a high degree of hostility was witnessed although NICRA was created to achieve major socio-economic reforms for all sections of the community. Therefore, based on my personal choice as its last recipient, I am delighted to pass Dr. Conn McCluskey’s ‘Harpist’ sculpture to a female, a progressive Protestant and a fellow dedicated grass-roots human rights activist.
“If the cancer of sectarianism is faced head-on within all our communities, together, the common people will overcome, someday,” he concluded.