Anne Hailes: Congratulations to Dara McAnulty for Young Animal Hero award

Winner of the prestigious Young Animal Hero award, 14-year-old Dara McAnulty, with his family Roisin and Paul McAnulty and siblings Lorcan and Bláthnaid

“DO YOU have a friend who has campaigned for animal welfare in your area?” This was the question asked by the UK Animal Hero organisers. “We want to hear your heartwarming and inspiring stories, so if you know someone or an animal that deserves to be recognised then nominate them for an Animal Hero Award.”

And who better to be nominated than Dara McAnulty, a local teenager with autism who shares his passion for wildlife and conservation through blogging, fundraising, giving talks and taking part in citizen science projects.

I walked with this young naturalist in Castle Archdale Forest Park in June and was well educated during the morning. No wonder he has captivated the world with his blogs, has already won prizes and awards and is currently in discussion with a publisher for his book Diary of a Young Naturalist.

On September 6 he and his very proud family were in the Grosvenor House Hotel in London where he was announced as winner of the prestigious Young Animal Hero, and when Amanda Holden called him up to the stage he had no hesitation and gave a very direct no-nonsense interview about his passion before receiving his award from TV presenter Steve Backshall.

Many congratulations, Dara.

This is Good Relations Week

AND it means what it says, communities getting together to talk and share experiences and so improve relationships in general and within their areas in particular. With more than 180 events running across Northern Ireland until Sunday there is something for everyone – exhibitions, talks, concerts, workshops.

The overall theme of the week is ‘Then, Now… Next?’ encouraging a time of reflection on the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday / Belfast Agreement but even more so, thoughts about the future.

Jacqueline Irwin, chief executive of the Community Relations Council, says:

“When the agreement was signed it would have been impossible to imagine everything that has happened since. In the same way, we cannot assume what the next 20 years may bring. However, we do know this: we shape the future and its possibilities by our actions here and now.”

She added: “We still have some way to go, but every day the groups and organisations showcased during the week continue to work to drive us all forward as one collective community, representing this place in all its diversity. The week is only a snapshot of the work that takes place year-round, and we hope it encourages more people to engage and foster new relationships.”

It’s a huge album of snapshots

Drumming workshops in Derry and another on the ‘Islamic Faith, Tradition and Beliefs’ in the city, in Lurgan a tour of Shankill graveyard and the First World War graves, in Lisburn ‘Women on the Border’ discussing our own border, the Good Friday Agreement and implications of Brexit.

Then there’s ‘Brexit and the Bible’ in Belfast, a dance workshop in Dungannon and the ever popular Tullycarnet Yarnspinners. And, of course, lots of discussions on community relations.

One important event will be hosted by the Shankill Women’s Centre and organised by Eileen Weir, an outreach worker based in the centre; she has called it: ‘What is Women’s Place in Society?’ and it happens on Wednesday September 19 in Houben Centre on Belfast’s Crumlin Road, 9.30am until one o’clock.

The invitation has gone out to women from nationalist and unionist communities in north and west Belfast and the expectation is they will have much in common as they discuss their desire to be involved in a shared future for the sake of themselves and their families.

Community trauma effects all areas of Northern Ireland; domestic violence, drug dealing, addiction to prescribed medication, punishment beatings and suicide impacts the whole community but nowhere more than in the north and west of Belfast.

There is so much richness in sharing

It’s vital to talk together, laugh, cry and stand up for a better life and women are good at that because we are at the heart of the family and therefore at the centre of society in general and without doubt our voice should count. This is a point Eileen made when we talked.

“Women don’t get invited to sit round the table and contribute, because with male 'gatekeepers’ we don’t get a chance to get involved. I’ve never been asked to sit round the table to discuss issues like antisocial behaviour, bonfires, parades, flags. I challenge this at conferences where they are talking about local issues – I make my voice heard and ask, where are the female delegates? I don’t want rid of men, I just want respect and equality for all women.”

Now she is bringing women together to voice their opinions and to set up workshops to discuss how to bring women’s voices to the fore. Female politicians will also be there, not to talk politics, but to tell delegates their experiences ‘round the table’.

For almost three decades, Eileen has been involved in crucial cross-community work in north and west Belfast, work that has had a profound impact on the community, particularly in the Shankill area.

When she was 16 she joined the UDA for a brief period but soon ended her associations with the loyalist paramilitary group to pursue full-time employment in women's equality and fair employment matters as well as community relations.

She also worked with prisoners released early under the agreement, helping them to integrate back into society, secure employment and adapt to a better life.

For this work she recently won the Good Relations Award and last month the prestigious McCluskey Civil rights award, recognising her role in the civil rights movement.

:: For more information contact: Full programme of events at

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