International Women’s Day on Thursday last, 8th March was an occasion when women throughout the world were honoured for making outstanding contributions to their communities.
Many Donegal women merit special recognition this week, with one of them surely being Denise Delaney, a young married mother of three who lives in Buncrana.
Denise, who is a Traveller, is chairperson of the Residents’ Association at the Earlsfort (Dún na nIarlaí) Council housing estate in the Cockhill area of the town. In the two years since she was instrumental in establishing the Association, Denise has worked tirelessly and creatively with other residents to make the 40-house estate an exceptional place to live.
“Denise is making a fabulous contribution in that community up there,” said Cllr. Rena Donaghey, a founding member of the Buncrana Tidy Towns Committee who attended a festive family fun day at the Earlsfort estate last summer. “She is working really, really hard, she is very determined, and her heart is in the right place. She is one of the leading lights in that community, she really is.”
A drive through the Earlsfort estate immediately reveals the results of the good work that Denise and other members of the Residents’ Association have done there. The entrance is marked by a beautiful engraved stone sign that Denise designed to look like a ship, in keeping with the “Earls” theme. The litterless green lawns are dotted with four benches on which parents can relax and chat as older children kick balls between goal posts at the centre of the estate and younger ones play happily in two sandboxes.
“I feel if you live in a place where you don’t like what you see, you don’t feel good,” Denise, 32, said of her motivation for playing an active role on the estate. “I grew up in a horrible estate; it didn’t look nice or feel nice. Here you look out, kids are always playing together, and it’s a nice environment. My kids are playing with all their friends, who don’t judge them. I don’t hide who I am; everyone knows who I am and what I am. It’s nice to be appreciated for who I am instead of pretending to be someone else. I have great support here, we make a good team. I get support from them and they get support from me.”
An energetic and inspired community organiser, Denise hosts regular well-attended meetings of the Residents’ Association in her kitchen and set up an Earlsfort Facebook page that is used to keep residents informed and to get their opinions on matters concerning the estate. A monthly door-to-door collection that Residents’ Association members make of donations for improvements on the estate provides an additional opportunity to receive feedback and suggestions from every resident.
Such commitment and effort on the Earlsfort estate has made a strong impression on Town Engineer Donal Walker, who has assisted with a number of projects there. “If there’s a group willing to put work into maintaining their estate, we’ll try and help them along,” Donal said. “There are other very good people on that Residents’
Association, but a big reason we’re doing what we’re doing there is Denise. She’s a great girl who is very good at rallying her neighbours and has a good deal of respect in the community. Sometimes you’ll find Residents’ Associations will slate the Council about why we haven’t done this or that. When Denise comes on the phone, if there’s something I haven’t done that I promised to do, she’ll go around it in a nice way: ‘I know you’re going to do that, Donal, I know you just haven’t had time.’ She’ll give me a wee dig but in a very nice and subtle manner! That’s the nature of her. If all our tenants were like that, we would have no problems.”
Denise grew up in Mayo and moved to Buncrana from Letterkenny five years ago. She attributes the confidence that is now such a striking feature of her personality to the encouragement she received while still living in Letterkenny and attending a two-year Community Health Worker programme at Donegal Travellers Project.
“I couldn’t praise DTP enough,” Denise said. “A lot of Travellers leave school very young, but DTP are bringing people back in and showing them they’re worth something. I used to be terribly shy and afraid to speak around councillors and other official people. Now I’m not afraid of speaking to anyone! Working in groups at the DTP gave me the confidence; now I believe in myself and I believe that I’m capable. It’s lovely to show people here that I’m a Traveller, don’t be afraid of me, come talk to me. We all get along really, really well. Neighbours are always in and out of my house, and the kids are really great here, as well.”