A Dublin woman who has turned her life around in a matter of months has been producing paintings inspired by Northern Irish artist Terry Bradley for her cross-community boxing club in north Belfast.
osie Bradley is coincidentally no relation to the famous Belfast-born designer, but she has been paying tribute to him through her own artwork, which she said along with Building Bridges Community Boxing Club, has been her “therapy” since being released from Hydebank women’s prison in 2020.
“I’ve been in prison on and off nearly all my life. I met Terry Bradley years ago. I only ever learned how to copy other paintings [like his],” she told the Belfast Telegraph.
Rosie has created portraits of renowned boxers for Building Bridges – Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and even fellow Irishwoman, current undisputed lightweight champion Katie Taylor.
“The big ones in the club – one took about a week. That’s me spending six or seven hours a day on it, but I love it,” the aspiring artist commented.
She has even received praise from the PSNI, who posted photographs of her work on their North Belfast Facebook page on Thursday after visiting the club to discuss upcoming events with the local youth providers.
Rosie said she suffers from many addictions, including gambling, but now that she is home from prison nearly a year, she “hasn’t even had a drink”.
“Art would be the main thing that helps me, but the boxing club also has given me so many opportunities, even for when I am ready to go back to work and stuff,” she added.
She said a six-week prison boxing course that Carl Frampton helped with last year gave her the idea for getting involved in the sport.
Building Bridges was established in August 2020 to reach vulnerable children in the Duncairn Gardens interface area of the city, which meets between Tiger’s Bay and New Lodge.
As well as providing boxing classes for kids, the club also runs a women’s class and a programme for at-risk teenagers, which is being co-facilitated by Extern, a local charity that helps combat homelessness and mental health issues.
Rosie hopes that through the club, she can “help even one kid” not go through the same experiences she has.
“I’ve had a really horrible life. I treated myself really badly for nearly 22 years. Most of my life has been in prison, and I’ve learned enough about myself through psychology now.
“If I can help a kid, even one kid – which we are doing at the minute, there’s quite a couple of kids who are notorious on the interface and we have them engaged.
“It’s fantastic to see them engaged, coming in and taking the lead with the juniors. Even though I don’t coach per se, they would talk to me and ask me about my life, so I tell them.”
The 38-year-old started using hard drugs from the age of 14 after her father died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), a rare and fatal condition that causes brain damage and worsens rapidly over time.
“My father was the first recorded death of CJD in Ireland,” she said. “From that, my drug use never stopped, up until the last year and a half.
“I’d say over the last 14 years, I’ve done nine or 10 of them in prison. Trying to get help was very hard.”
The Ballymun native has a lengthy criminal record, mostly for shoplifting, with some cases of drug possession, but after serving her last sentence, she was recalled on licence, meaning she was returned to prison for not following licence conditions.
The commissioners then highlighted that she had never been given mental health assessments when serving time in the past.
“Six months of psychology and I’ve turned my life around. They did help me find a place to live in, supported living right across the road from my mum,” Rosie continued.
“Every day is like learning to live again. Even a little thing like going shopping or socialising, I find hard, my anxiety would get the better of me quite a lot.
“They gave me a good opportunity down at the [boxing] club. It gets me out. I’m hoping for the future to be able to go down myself and maybe take or coach a class.
“At the minute, I don’t think I could, but I’m getting there and in a couple of years, hopefully I’ll be a lot better. I’m still working with mental health services.”
Rosie also hopes to create her own original masterpieces in the future, but for now is content with reproducing similar versions of Terry’s Bradley’s canvases.
“I’m not really interested in selling my art, it’s more for therapy,” she said. “Even doing the stuff for the club, it took me a while to decide to do that.
“Hopefully in a few years I will be producing my own stuff. My one original piece is very similar to Terry Bradley’s work, but it is all my own.”