A woman from a Laois farming background was recently announced as one of two Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) candidates to run for the party in the South Belfast constituency in next May’s Assembly election.
Elsie Trainor, nee McLoughlin, grew up as the youngest of ten with a full-time farming father and stay-at-home mother on a mixed farm of tillage and livestock in Jamestown, near Ballybrittas.
“Growing up in this environment was a joy for me and laid every single foundation stone on which I have since built. It was beautiful, educational, free-spirited, at times difficult, and full of variety both of situations, and characters,” she said.
“As I have seven older brothers, there was essentially a band of young teenagers who saved me from the serious hard work, but we all very much got involved, certainly for the all-hands-on deck jobs like saving the hay, bringing in the straw, feeding the suck calves, moving the cattle, bedding the sheds.
“In fact, bedding the sheds still gives me lovely memories of dark nights, bedding cosy bright sheds with fresh smelling straw.
“My upbringing was full of fulfilling memories. My parents worked hard, placed a huge emphasis on our academic education and world knowledge. They ran an open house where visitors streamed through day and night and were as welcome as though they lived there.
“This definitely defines me today, for me home is not home unless you are contributing to community.
“My father was as happy helping somebody as he was doing his own work, and we grew up in a community where helping and supporting those around you was so inherent, it was barely acknowledged.”
After attending Rath NS and second level school in Portarlington, Elsie went to University College Dublin (UCD) where she studied for a BA in English, graduating in the late ’90s, followed directly by a post-grad in business and marketing.
“Upon graduating, I was fortunate to join a very cultivating and progressive information management business in Dublin. I joined at entry level and finally left as group marketing manager.
“I had a great role model in the CEO of that business who placed honesty and integrity centrally. Ironically it was whilst in that role that I had a treasured opportunity to meet and be photographed alongside the great John Hume,” Elsie said.
Having studied and worked in Dublin for eight years, she headed off on an around-the-world travelling experience.
“When I returned from my travels I fancied a new scene though I was keen to stay relatively local. I decided to give Belfast a try, planning to stay for one year but I got the bug for this place and soon knew I would never leave. I’ve lived in South Belfast for 17 years now.
“A number of years later I met my would-be husband Tim, a Belfast man, though not based here at the time. I anchored him home and we’ve been married for 11 years now. We have three children, Patrick (10), Charlotte (8) and TJ five-and-three quarters as he would tell you himself.
“Having worked in leadership roles in marketing and communications in both commercial and not-for-profit sectors, I deprioritised my career to be a full-time mother for five wonderful years, before returning to my current role in communications, corporate and public affairs for the Public Health Agency,” said the SDLP candidate.
Elsie will be on the SDLP ticket alongside sitting MLA Matthew O’Toole and hoping to take a seat in the 5-seat constituency. At present the South Belfast constituency has five MLAs from five different parties: Sinn Fein, SDLP, Greens, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Alliance.
So what drew her to get involved in public life?
“The SDLP’s Claire Hanna, our MP for south Belfast, has been a shining light on our often bleak political landscape here. Claire and I first crossed paths more than 10 years ago, she was embarking on her political career as a Belfast city councillor and I was lobbying for local traders on the Lisburn Road on issues around rates, parking, shopfronts etc. – that was my first foray into activism,” Elsie said.
“I became very inspired by Claire, seeing first-hand how her pragmatic inclusive style truly serves our diverse communities, both for their everyday needs and for their longer-term opportunities.
“I, like so many others, canvassed extensively for her stomping successful general election campaign in 2019. Having had a lived experience of this constituency for the past 17 years I can clearly see the key issues here. I see the wonderful positives and the glaring negatives through many touch points.
“Education is a big one from dearth of school places for a spurting population, to transfer inequities, to shameful delivery of special educational needs.
“Real issues which impact so many local families such as the cost of childcare, inequality and poverty that plagues our still divided society, the worrying trends in violence against woman and girls, and a health service underfunded, under appreciated, and crippled by disgraceful waiting lists.
“It has become blindingly clear that we need a different set of people to lead us, the status quo which we have endured for too long is not serving us,” contended the SDLP candidate.
She gets back to Laois on a regular basis. “I have a large family network there and a lively network of friends. Our farm is still home, my mother lives there, sadly my father has passed away.
“My brother Henry runs the farm on a full-time basis, while Patrick runs my grandmother’s farm nearby. On long summer’s evenings there, I’m often slightly envious of the lives their kids now lead. There is something untouchably special about that childhood,” she concluded.