Gillian Barry’s 4th place result in the U64kg class at the European U23 Weightlifting Championships last month marks a highpoint to date for Irish women in international weightlifting, but the Wexford woman is accustomed to pushing herself and women’s weightlifting forward. 

Gillian was the first Irish woman to Clean & Jerk 100kg at an EWF or IWF international competition; she is the youngest Irish woman to Clean & Jerk 100kg or more; and is the youngest Irish woman to compete in a European Senior Championships. 

Her advice to anyone thinking of taking up weightlifting is “don’t think twice, try it” – and not just for the scientifically proven health benefits. 

“There are very few sports quite like ours where you get the chance to push your mind and body to the max. As a weightlifter you get to engage in a challenging sport, while meeting like minded strong women (and men) along the way. It’s an individual sport which forces you to trust yourself and your own judgement pretty much all of the time, and I think that’s an important skill that translates into life outside of the gym”, Gillian said. 

Like a lot of Irish women, Gillian was introduced to weightlifting through CrossFit. Her father Aidan taught her how to Clean & Jerk on a 20kg bar when she was 13. A 15kg weightlifting bar, which is used in women’s competition & training, was a rarity in most gyms in Ireland then. 

Women’s weightlifting was still only beginning to develop in Ireland and it would still be another two years before the first Irish women’s team – Alexandria Craig, Emma Alderdice and Sinead Ryan – would compete at the European Senior Championships in Tel Aviv in 2014. 

When she was 16, Gillian did well in a “max Clean & Jerk” event at a CrossFit competition and was advised to consider competing in weightlifting as well. She says that her first introduction to Weightlifting was a little stressful. 

“My first competition was the Dublin Open 2016, it was on a Friday evening after school. I weighed 61kg in the 63kg class and I was so scared I wouldn’t make weight that I only drank green tea all day. I Snatched 50kg and Clean & Jerked 70kg”, Gillian said. 

The competition was in Capital Strength Weightlifting Club and she joined the Club two years later after she finished her first year in College in UCD where she was studying radiography. In the meantime, her primary focus was still Gaelic Football and CrossFit. 

“I played football for my home club Fethard St. Mogues, for my school St. Mary’s and for Wexford. I won two gold all Ireland medals, one U16 and one Minor, playing wing back” Gillian said.

She gave up Gaelic football to focus on weightlifting the year she turned 20 and since then her competition results have continued to get better and better.

At her first European Junior Championships in Bucharest in 2019, Gillian lifted 159kg in total in the 64kg class – at the European U23’s in Albania last month she totalled 180kg in Snatch and Clean & Jerk. Increasing her total by 21kg over the three years.

Her 4th place finish was the highest of any Irish woman to date at this level, but Gillian says that strength is much more than just a number to her. 

“I feel lucky to be involved in this sport because I’ve been able to channel strength through all aspects of my life. I’ve become physically, mentally and emotionally strong through this sport. Being strong has given me the feeling of confidence and an unwavering support for myself to the point where I’m entirely happy with who I am and where I am in my life”.

Journalist : Harry Leech

Gillian Barry at the European Senior Championships / Albania – 2022 | Photo : Hookgrip