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Proud parents visit Barbara's charity school

A proud and poignant first visit to Africa by an elderly Irish couple will result in more children getting a chance to escape poverty.

Bill and Margaret Gill will make the long journey to Eritrea to visit a school built in memory of their daughter Barbara Gill whose passion to help the poor inspired a huge charitable response after her tragic death.

Barbara (49) was killed on Dublin's quays when struck by a lorry while cycling her bicycle.

She was a college lecturer who spent years educating teachers on Third World development issues. She visited Ethiopia shortly before her death and had decided to raise funds to build a badly needed school in a poverty hit region.


After her death, the Barbara Gill Memorial Fund raised well over €100,000 to build a school for 1,200 pupils. In October, her parents will leave their farm in Clonbullogue, Co Offaly for a week to visit the new school.

The couple intend to hear about the further needs of the local population during the visit. They believe the memorial fund may have enough money to help build a second school in the region and maybe a residence to encourage teachers to move to the area.

Bill Gill (77) told the Herald: "We just have to see the school that Barbara had wished to build. Barbara was planning to run a marathon to raise funds. People were brilliant after she died and helped raise a lot of money.

"Helping to make her wishes come true in building the school has been a comfort," he said.

Barbara and her life-partner Ruth O'Dwyer, who lived in Damerstown, Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny, had rejoiced in the birth of their baby son Stephen not long before her death. Bill and Margaret are reunited regularly with Stephen and Ruth.

The couple will travel to Africa with their daughter Sandra Wilson and their granddaughters Clara Wilson (15) and Kate Vallelly (16).

Barbara had travelled to Eritrea with the charity Self Help International. Today, the Irish charity merged with a British charity Harvest Help to form a new entity named Self Help Africa.

Speaking at the launch in Dublin today, chief executive Ray Jordan said that grassroots food production must be put at the heart of international development efforts.

"There is a growing acceptance that farming and rural development is the key, if Africans are to break free from hunger and poverty," he said. "Up to 80pc of Africans rely on agriculture for their livelihoods. It must be at the heart of what we do."