By Donna Deeney
August 28 2018
A campaigning woman from Belfast’s Shankill Road has spoken of her honour after being recognised for her work by a leading figure from the civil rights era.
Eileen Weir, who briefly joined the UDA as a teenager, is this year’s recipient of the McCluskey Civil Rights’ Memorial Award.
The accolade was presented to Ms Weir by Fionnbarra O Dochartaigh, one of the main people in the Civil Rights Association from 50 years ago.
Ms Weir, a member of the Shankill Road Women’s Group, is the first female recipient of the award.
She is best known for her work as a feminist and working-class campaigner, and has previously been recognised for her community relations work.
While she is the first female to be awarded the McCluskey sculpture, she is not the first person from the Protestant community to receive it.
Ms Weir said it was good to be recognised for the work that is being done within the community at a grassroots level.
She said: “I was totally surprised at getting the award, but delighted.
“A lot of my work is rights-based, because that is the way I have lived my own life and tried to do that for others, but I never thought it would be recognised.
“The women I work with within the community get on with life and do what they can to build peace.
“If we have a problem we deal with it, address the issues and get on with it on the basis that everyone has an understanding of where each of us is coming from.
“We don’t necessarily have to agree, but that doesn’t stop us building peace and good community relations.
“It is good to be recognised for the work that is being done within the community at grassroots level because that work continues quietly every day.”
Ms Weir had just turned 16 when she briefly joined the UDA.
However, a short time after that she ended her associations with the loyalist paramilitary group and pursued full-time employment in women’s equality and fair employment matters.
Ms Weir began her civil rights work on the shop floor of Gallagher’s Factory, where she was shop steward.
After being made redundant in the late 1990s, she went on to facilitate black taxi tours of the Shankill area for tourists and international visitors.
It was at this time that she first volunteered with Shankill Women’s Centre – the start of years of dedicated work.
She ensured their largely under-represented voices on the Good Friday Agreement and peace process were heard.
Presenting the award, Mr O Dochartaigh said that Ms Weir was a “very worthy recipient”.
The striking sculpture was created in honour of the late Dr Conn McCluskey, who is considered the father of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland.