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Celebrated artist designs Christmas cards to fundraise for Women’s Aid

Sara O’Neill has already raised £9,000 for Women’s Aid NI this year through selling the cards.

A Christmas card designed by Sara O'Neill for Women's Aid NI

An award-winning artist from Northern Ireland whose designs have been seen across the world has said it was a “real privilege”  to design charity Christmas cards for Women’s Aid NI.

Sara O’Neill is a celebrated artist whose designs have been seen worn by U2 guitarist The Edge and onstage at the Oscars by creatives from An Irish Goodbye.

Her work is inspired by Irish stories, folklore, history and women.

Ms O’Neill has already raised £9,000 for Women’s Aid NI this year through selling the cards.

Last year she did a campaign with Women’s Aid that raised just under £4,000 but Ms O’Neill said the demand for those cards inspired her to up production for this year’s designs.

Sara O’Neill said her work is inspired by Irish stories (Sara O’Neill/PA)

“This year, I knew that I wanted to kind of expand the whole Christmas card thing because the demand had been so much last year, I thought ‘well, let’s try and get a few volunteers involved and let’s do pre-orders to get a production line going’,” she said.

Women’s Aid is holding a volunteering event on Wednesday to help pack the cards designed by Ms O’Neill and the artist said it was “a privilege” to contribute to their work.

“I think we’ve got about 25 volunteers coming along next Wednesday, we’ve got our pre-orders in, our sales so far are £9,000,” she said.

“So, that was in three days and there’s a few more things to come. I would hope to raise probably over 10 grand, I would say, for this.

“Hopefully it can just go towards making some women and young people and kids’ Christmas just a wee bit better.

“I know that Women’s Aid will spend the money in the best way possible and, honestly, it means an awful lot. It’s a real privilege to be able to help.

“For me, it just makes sense, it’s like, I love what I do and it just makes sense to want to kind of give back, and hopefully just contribute a wee bit more to society.”

There has not been a devolved government in Northern Ireland for nearly two years due to the DUP’s ongoing boycott of power-sharing institutions in protest against post-Brexit trading arrangements.

One of the card designs from Sara O’Neill’s collaboration with Women’s Aid NI (Sara O’Neill/PA)

In the absence of an executive at Stormont the budget for 2023/24 was set by Secretary of State Chris Heaton Harris and senior civil servants have made around £980 million of budget cuts across departments.

Women’s Aid NI is set to have its core annual funding of some £140,000 cut in attempts to plug budget gaps.

Ms O’Neill said the lack of governmental support for Women’s Aid only hardened her resolve to help them.

“That kind of just made me more determined than ever to kind of do as much as I could for them because the whole situation here just makes me very, very angry,” she said.

“It angers me so much that people here are let down constantly by our politics, it really, really annoys me that we have no assembly.

“I don’t think that the assembly, I don’t think Stormont, can fix everything, but I do think it could do something.

“I think that some sectors are in such dire straits that anything that can be done needs to be done.

“I don’t like feeling angry, I don’t like feeling kind of helpless. So, I like to try and channel all that energy into something.”

A Christmas card designed by Sara O’Neill for Women’s Aid NI featuring her character Millie (Sara O’Neill/PA)

Ms O’Neill first became involved with Women’s Aid while she was working on a print called The Dreamer featuring a character inspired by the textile workers of Belfast – Millie – and the character appears on the 2023 Christmas card design.

“It was basically my kind of celebration of the Millies of Ulster, so basically the textile workers, because working-class women often get completely written out of history, they never get included in history in the first place,” she said.

“Obviously, linen and the textile industry was massively important to the success of this place in any sort of economic kind of a way through history, through the last couple of centuries.”

She added: “I wanted to kind of celebrate them, but as well, because obviously working in the mill, it was difficult, it was dirty, it was horrible work. I didn’t kind of want to romanticise that in any way.

“I wanted to create an entire little character for my Millie, so she would have kind of dreams and ambitions.”

The original Millie print went on to be displayed in the Ulster Museum and a sample of the design raised more than £5,000 for Women’s Aid at auction.

Ms O’Neill said nobody expected the sale to raise as much as it did.

“It was kind of testament to how much people loved Millie and so for me, then Millie and Women’s Aid were completely linked because I sort of thought, ‘well, if I am going to be inspired by the women of here to create this character that I want to give back to the women of here’ and that just makes sense to me,” she said.

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