Annie grew up in the lower Springfield area of west Belfast, a working class area of factories and mills, one of which was James Mackie & Sons or Mackies as they were known locally, a textile machinery and engineering plant.
Annie was from a family of eleven.
“Upstairs there were five boys and four girls, so the girls were in the back room and the boys were in the front room”.
Living conditions were cramped but Annie remembers a very close community.
“Everybody took care of each others kids. There was lots of activity, there was a sense of vibrancy about the place”
When Annie turned fifteen she left school and went looking for an office job at Mackies but was turned down, because, she feels, she was a Catholic. “There were very few men that lived beside me that worked in Mackies factory, if they did they would have been the less skilful jobs”.
This mirrored her experience elsewhere. There were few skilled jobs for Catholic young people.
At the beginning of the Troubles, Annie was 16 years old. She remembers a particular night in August 1969 when people were burnt out of their houses on the Lower Falls. “There was a riot and I remember my mummy was at bingo down on the Falls Road, so myself and one of my brothers start to walk down the Falls Road to meet up with her and make sure she’s okay, but when we got down there, Norfolk Street and Conway Street were burning, you just couldn’t get down any further, there were riots, shootings, but thankfully she got home safely.”
Annie married and went to live in Twinbrook.
“At that time I didn’t really have much involvement in what was going on in the community, I just went to work everyday, my husband just went to work everyday”
In 1981 tensions were high given the Hunger Strikes.
“Bobby Sands was from Twinbrook, his family lived there, there was a sense of fear in that community”
Annie’s husband became a member of Sinn Fein and she recalls helping out by handing out leaflets and attending the candlelit vigils taking place during Bobby Sands’ time on hunger strike. When the advice centre at the Twinbrook Tenants and Community Association was forced to close, Annie, aware of its importance within the community, volunteered to help keep it open.
“I talked to a couple of people in the Tenants Association and I said that I would be prepared to open it in a voluntary basis if they had the money for the telephones, that’s all you needed because the rent was free”
Annie and two other women opened the advice centre every morning from 9am to 2pm for the next 4 years. She went on to become involved with the Links Project working with young people who had offended.
“You got a lot of hassle from people who said you were working with what they called ‘the hoods’ and the good kids aren’t getting anything.” At the time, there were many punishment beatings taking place in the community and Annie found herself having to convince detractors of the Links Project that the young people needed support and help, not to be shot and excluded from the community.
“Those were difficult times, I got into lots of rows over things like that, but we got through it, I think eventually the message got through, you can’t keep shooting people and punishing people hoping they will get the message.”
Annie, now known for her community work, was approached to become a Councillor.
In 1993 she was elected as a Sinn Féin councillor to represent Dunmurry Cross on Lisburn City Council. “I agreed to do it but at the time I said I would only do one term, which is four years, politics wasn’t really my strength”
This higher profile had adverse effects on her family. In July 1993, two months after being elected, Annie suffered an horrific attack on her home.
“Paramilitaries came to my house and tried to murder me, and my three kids were in the house at the time”.
“It’s just the grace of God that no one was hurt, but that had a big effect on my kids, my two daughters were eight and eleven at the time, both still at primary school, but we were lucky that we got the right help because a lot of families, at the time, didn’t get the right help.”
Annie was determined to continue her work and started working with the Twinbrook Celebration Partnership on community redevelopment in the area. In 1999, Twinbrook celebrated its 30th Anniversary. “We thought that this would be an opportunity to enhance the reputation of the area and its people, so let’s celebrate the thirty years of its existence”.
Annie reflects on Twinbrook as an estate. “Twinbrook has settled a lot. In the beginning, when Twinbrook was built in the early 1970s, people were coming from all over the place. At that time you had the redevelopment on the Falls Road. When the conflict got worse, people were being forced out of their homes, burnt out of their homes across Belfast. Many ended up in Twinbrook. It was like a new town, nobody knew each other, it took a long time to settle down. In terms of infrastructure, not much has changed, at one time in Twinbrook there would have been a thousand stolen cars a year recovered in the area, that has changed immensely there’s hardly any incidents now. You can see the community is settling but it’s taken a long time, and it’s going to take a few more years for all that to change”
Reflecting on what community development means to her, Annie says
“Community development for me is just about people working on the ground, but it also has to be about trying to address issues that effect the community and every community is different. It’s not difficult to get people involved when you’re trying to do more positive stuff”
On the future for Belfast and Twinbrook?
“There could be more done in terms of education, education is the most important factor in anybody’s future”.