Anne Daly reflects on the life of an inspiring woman who made a difference: “Vicky was a force of nature in Ballymun,” this was how Fr. Eamon Sheridan her local Parish Priest summed up the life of the late great Vicky Mc Elligott who died earlier this week. At her funeral mass held in St Joseph’s parish church I had expected to shed a lot of tears but instead I left uplifted as the life of this amazing mother of 8, and a very dynamic community activist was celebrated in story, samba music and much humour as she would have wanted. I knew exactly what Eamonn Sheridan meant when he described Vicky as a “force of nature.” A description of her that resonated with the hundreds of friends and family mourners who packed the church to overflowing – a real tribute to some one who “lived the radical gospel and brought it to life” in Fr Eamon’s words.
I became friends with Vicky when I was invited by Fr. Noel Kearns in the mid 1990s to join the then Columban Youth Project – and now the Poppintree Youth Project – which he had just set up with the local community primarily to help the youth of the parish. Vicky was very active in organising that project and it has made a great difference in the lives of many young people over the years. However, the local institution in which she was most actively involved was BACA – The Ballymun Animal Caring Association, and became very well known as the public voice of part of that initiative the Ballymun Horse Owners Association. The association worked with local people to maintain what Vicky believed was an important part of Dublin working class culture. In an interview with a Ballymun local paper in 1999 she said:“There have been horses in this area for 18 years. They are kept at an old derelict Workmen’s Club which was converted into stables where the horses are well looked after. However, there is a need for a more permanent facility where the horses can be made available for the wider community and training provided in caring for the animals.” Over the years she turned that statement into reality helping to raise considerable funds and securing the building of very impressive facilities.
Vicky was drawn always to the underdog, especially the young offenders and would regularly visit them in prison. This helps to explain her commitment to the horse project which she saw as a valuable outlet for them.
Vicky was a fearless community campaigner and always spoke her mind. At our board meetings at the Poppintree Youth Project she would question everything, and had a razor eye for detail, especially in regard to any decisions that could or might affect the vulnerable and marginalised. However, when those meeting ended we would often remain chatting with other board members, including Eileen Adams and Mary Couch, laughing for hours as Vicky regaled us with her many stories. One I recall was the thrill she got from learning to drive. I remember her describe in a childlike fashion the sense of freedom she said she experienced in getting those wheels and being able to go where she wanted. At her funeral service her son Christy said the “family never saw her once she learned to drive.”
I got to know Vicky very well for the first time when on behalf of Esperanza Productions I invited her in 1999 to come to Tanzania for the filming of our documentary film Are We So Different. That trip was described by one of sons at her funeral as “life changing.” What amazed Director and Co-Producer Ronan Tynan and myself was her innate ability to engage with Tanzanians during what involved a 1,200 kilometer trip between the capital Dar es Salaam and Arusha. The aim of the film was to facilitate an exchange between Tanzanian and Irish women to discover if the outcome of a major UN conference would make any difference to their lives. Outside Dar es Salaam on one occasion I recall her rage at seeing women stone breakers working in a local quarry for an absolute pittance, in the intense heat which was very obviously disastrous for their health. Her encounter with some Maasai Warriors was one of the high points of our trip, and I always remember fondly how to her delight one of them invited her to dance outside our hotel in Arusha.
As the Victorian horse drawn Hearse, which was preceded by a group of young Ballymun outriders on horse back escorted Vicky on her final journey to Glasnevin Crematorium, I was overcome with a sense of the passing of a truly great human being who made a real difference for her family, her community and so many of the people she came into contact with throughout her life.
Ar dheis De go raibh a anam.
Twitter: @AnneDaly19 Web: http://www.esperanza.ie