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The inspirational women who helped well known Northern Ireland faces on the road to success


Meghan, Duchess of Sussex (Photo by Mark Large - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex (Photo by Mark Large - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Championing women: Meghan Markle
Paralympic champ: Kelly Gallagher with her mum, Margaret
Family ties: Rosemary Barton with her mum Jean
Inspirational advice: Lady Mary Peters
Amazing strength: Nichola Mallon and mum Anne
Central roles : Lynette Fay with her mother and grandmother
Inspiration: journalist Barbara McCann and her mum Margo
Actress Roma Downey

The Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, recently revealed the women she considers "forces for change" in this month's Vogue magazine, nominating activists, artists and a prime minister. Here, well known NI women tell Leona O'Neill who they would cite as inspirations in their lives.

‘My mother has such an admirable spirit and delights in pleasing others’

Paralympic champ: Kelly Gallagher with her mum, Margaret

Paralympic skier Kelly Gallagher, who was the winner of Britain's first Paralympic gold medal at the Sochi 2014 Winter Games, says her mum inspires her.

"The woman who inspires me most is my own mother," she says. "It is a cliche, however, as I've grown in age and maturity, I find qualities I used to consider weaknesses to be characteristics I admire most in her.

"Being headstrong, clever, determined, athletic, funny, everything I am and achieved, had always been attributed to my father. She would always say I'm like my daddy, which is quite true. I was a real daddy's girl and heartbroken after my dad died in 2012.

"But as I've got older, I've started to appreciate so many of the qualities my mummy has naturally. She's so supportive, I could tell her I was planning an expedition to the Moon, I wanted to become a surgeon, or was embarking on a life living off-grid in the bog, and her immediate reaction would be how she could help me with it all.

"I know I wouldn't have succeeded in ski racing and my dad wouldn't have been a pilot if it hadn't been for the unwavering support of my mum.

"She is a kind person, to the point where it is hard to find out what she would truly like because she delights in pleasing other people.

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"I sometimes can't understand how she 'goes with the flow'. And that in itself is such an admirable spirit, to get knocked around in life and yet never complain and keep going.

"I am lucky that I get to spend time with my mummy, she's great fun. My wish for her is to put herself first and find confidence in herself and happiness after the sadness of my dad dying.

"After all, she tells me all the time how great I am, and it's only because she created me."

'Thatcher had a tremendous work ethic, juggling family life and politics so seamlessly'

Family ties: Rosemary Barton with her mum Jean

Ulster Unionist MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Rosemary Barton, says she was inspired by her mum, Jean, to always aim high.

"My mother Jean without a doubt has been my greatest inspirational woman," she says.

"Having become a widow when my siblings and I were in our teenage years, she juggled the day-to-day needs of a family together with the management of the family farm. She always encouraged a sense of thoughtfulness and kindness, and to treat others as one would expect to be treated themselves.

"I was always inspired by her to achieve to the best of my ability, aim high.

"During my career in education, I generally had the same holidays as my daughter which was a great advantage, but one always had to be so organised to catch up with the laundry and ironing, keeping a home and, most importantly, making time for family life. I often wondered how my mother fitted it all in and managed a farm.

"During my teaching career I was also inspired by the tremendous work ethic of Margaret Thatcher, particularly her ability to juggle family life, political life and personal life so seamlessly together with the long working day. The full-time nature of my political life now, together with the time travelling to Belfast from Fermanagh and the irregularity of the hours is something I don't mind now, however, as a mother of a young family I would never have considered it as a career."

'My mum has come through health battles, but I admire her deeply as she's always smiling and loves life'

Amazing strength: Nichola Mallon and mum Anne

SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon says her mum's strength through health challenges is a constant inspiration to her.

"My mum is Anne Mallon," she says. "This time 13 years ago she was on holiday in Italy and she took a number of brain hemorrhages and was critically ill and on life support and received the Last Rites.

"It was a very traumatic time. My brother and I travelled over to Italy to say goodbye to her. It was awful, but lo and behold she beat all the odds and pulled through, thankfully. She has a communication disability and she has physical disability on one side of her body, but she is always smiling and absolutely loves life and is just has immense strength.

"When you hear of people coming through a journey like that - she had to learn to eat, walk and do everything again - sometimes their personalities radically transform and they can get understandably very frustrated, because it is very difficult for them to be able to communicate.

"My mummy was an absolute chatterbox and was the life and soul of all our family parties, up dancing and singing. I was really worried about that.

"But I have to say she is still herself. She still finds ways of communicating and ways of making us all laugh and she is still the life and soul, just in a very different way.

"The experience has taught me that life can throw some very terrible and difficult things at you, but you can get through it. She always reminds me to live and enjoy life, and not to take it so seriously. She has taught me a lot and still teaches me so much every day.

"When I'm struggling with things, I think, let's put this in perspective.

"I would say to my mum that I admire her immensely and she is an inspiration to me because sometimes I think she doesn't realise just h ow much I love her - because I don't tell her as much as I should."

‘I’m so lucky to still have my mum and gran in my life’

Central roles : Lynette Fay with her mother and grandmother

BBC broadcaster Lynette Fay says her mother and her grandmother inspire her greatly.

"I have to look no further than home for my inspirational woman," she says. "I come from a very matriarchal family, so my mother and my grandmother are the two main inspirations in my life. And I'm so lucky that I still have them in my life.

"Mummy, Brenda Fay, is a self-made woman. She started her own business out of nothing. She left school early and is now a successful interior designer in the Mid-Ulster area with a shop in Dungannon.

Granny, Nora McKeown, left school very early but worked her whole life and made sure that we had better opportunities than she ever had. She was never afraid of hard work and encouraged us to get stuck in and that ethos has been carried through from generation to generation.

"Mum is a very driven person, but she is the calming influence on everyone. She is the one everyone turns to no matter what, when there is something going on.

"She now looks after granny, who has lived with mummy and daddy for the last three years. That is the kind of person she is. She is so caring, but she very much encourages you to dust yourself on and get on with it.

"It used to bug me so much that she wasn't the mummy that would say 'come here wee petal to I see you' when something went wrong. Instead she would say 'dust yourself down now and just get on with things' and 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger'. But as I've got older I've discovered that she is absolutely right. And I find myself saying exactly the same thing and then shuddering thinking I sound like Brenda!

"I thank her every day and I make sure she knows how much she means to me. I am good to her. I think when someone plays such a central role in your life, making you be the person you are you have to do that every day.

"You make sure that they know exactly the influence that they have had on you."

‘Peggy Aiken was a formidable lady and she gave me the courage to believe I could do anything’

Inspirational advice: Lady Mary Peters

Northern Ireland's 1972 Olympic golden girl turned national treasure Dame Mary Peters says one special lady has inspired her and, even though she has long passed away, she still hears her advice ringing in her ears.

"My inspirational woman is a lady called Peggy Aiken, who was the first woman barrister in Northern Ireland," she says. "She became a member of my health club, which was Buster McShane's health club. I worked there during the 1970s.

"I was invited to speak at the Woman of the Year luncheon in London, which is a very important lunch. And I was telling Peggy and I was saying to her that I wasn't going to go as I didn't know anyone in London. And she said to me 'you will go and you will speak' and I said that I couldn't do that. And she said 'don't say you can't do anything, just decide you can and do it'. She said to me that if people like me don't do these things then other women will not be invited.

"So I did. I went and I spoke. I thank her for encouraging me to do something that I thought was impossible.

"This was the 1970s and she was already retired. She is no longer with us. I respected and admired her for being a leader in our community. Her words gave me the courage never to be afraid to do anything.

"I still think on her advice and I always remember her when I'm asked to do things and I think 'oh my God, why are they asking me to do that?' And I think, Peggy would have done it and so must I.

"I have lived my life by her words. I respected her so much. People within the law environment would remember her as a formidable lady of her era.

"She is no longer here, but I would love to thank her for giving me the courage to face up to challenges."

'My mum gave me the drive to reach my goals and taught me to speak my mind without hurting anyone'

Inspiration: journalist Barbara McCann and her mum Margo

UTV Live reporter Barbara McCann says that her mother Margo inspired her to reach for her dreams.

"I couldn't go past my own mother Margo as the first woman to inspire me," she says. "She was a stay-at-home-mum but provided me with the motivation and drive to have a career and move towards my own goals in life. She continues to do so this day with her love, kindness and open mindedness.

"She is funny and warm and has friends of all ages who just love to be in her company.

"At 91-years-old and as sharp as a tack, she's constantly on her iPad reading up on news and subjects or countries she finds of interest to her.

"If she hasn't got the iPad in her hands, she's always knitting - another Aran jumper or little ones for her great-grandchildren or those of friends.

"She is confident and persuasive with impeccable manners and is a stickler for good grammar and spelling.

"Mum also inspires me to turn the negative into a positive and speak my mind without hurting anyone in the line of fire."

‘Pat Hume handles life’s challenges with grace, humour and kindness’

Actress Roma Downey

Actress, producer and author Roma Downey says one well-known female figure in political life has always been her guiding light.

"Someone I have always admired and looked up to is Pat Hume," she says. "She is so smart compassionate and caring. She is a very genuine person, she cares not just about issues but about people. She has been an incredible wife and partner to former SDLP leader John, a loving mother to her children and an outstanding Derry woman speaking out and up for injustice and unkindness.

"I grew up on the same street in Derry as the Humes and Pat and my mother were good friends. My mammy Maureen tragically passed away when I was just 10-years-old and I always remember how kind Pat was to me and to our family at that time of great loss.

"We have remained great friends and I so admire her and all she has done in her life. She handles the challenges of life with grace and humour and kindness. I have always looked up to her I deeply admire her."

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