Our hearts were heavy when we heard this morning of the death of Traveller Primary Health Care Worker Sheila Reilly. Our sincere condolences go to her immediate and extended family. 

Sheila was a huge part of Pavee Point Traveller & Roma Centre and was one of the first to get involved in the organisation.  She was committed to bringing positive change for Travellers and never faltered in her dedication.  

Sheila speaking out about screening for breast cancer in 2016. Photo Derek Speirs.

She was among the women who identified Traveller health as the area that needed to be addressed.  She was part of the first Traveller Primary Health Care Project set up in 1994 with the objective of setting up a model of Traveller participation in the promotion of health.   This project was groundbreaking and won a World Health Organisation 50th Anniversary Award in 1998.  In 2001 the project won the Guinness Living in Dublin Award for Community Development and in 2014 won the Traveller Pride Award for Enterprise and Employment as well as the overall Traveller Pride Award. 

Sheila Reilly protesting against trespass legislation in 2002. Photo Derek Speirs.

In her years working in her community, Sheila built up the trust and respect of Travellers in her area and was able to help bring about major changes in the area of health education, women’s reproductive health, child health, vaccinations and screenings. This trust was vital in the success of the All Ireland Health Study –  the research for which was carried out by Traveller Primary Health Care Workers in 2008. This study continues to provide the baseline data on Traveller health. 

Sheila Reilly celebrating the recognition of Traveller ethnicity at an event in 2018.

Sheila was also a great communicator and had many stories and songs and insight into the traditions of Travellers going back the years. 

Sheila lost her husband James Reilly when he was a young age, and went on to raise their seven children.  

Sheila will be fondly remembered and sorely missed and we send our thoughts and prayers to all her family.

Main photo: Sheila Reilly on a Pavee Point trip to Salthill, Galway in 1989. Photo by Derek Speirs.