July 8th Hitching For Hope blog. Ruairí’s Hitching For Hope national listening tour is a one month project to hear, document and promote the visions and visions of the people of Ireland in advance of speaking at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties on July 29th & 30th . More info
Blogging from the road, please excuse errors and sound quality issues etc.). Press the orange play icon on sound files to hear audio.
I’m writing this blog from the back of a car. I haven’t been able to find time or space to catch up on my writing so needs must. The sun is beating down and a shop keeper has just given me a copy of a Mumford and Sons album to break the monotony of the folk covers CD my Italian companions have been relying on. There’s only so many times you can listen to the Fields of Athenry before you start to crack up.
Yesterday I woke up in a cosy bed in Godmother’s cottage in the lovely village of Newport, Co. Mayo. I had arrived there via Westport the previous night and sat up chatting about the Cavan McKiernan clan and all the various births, deaths and marriages over the years.
The chatting continued over breakfast when my cousin Eamon popped over before work. He told me about the challenges of running his small flooring business, the bureaucracy and lack of supports for small business people, and the injustice of those at the top having free reign in the country. This is becoming a theme of this tour as people finally run out of patience with a master class of people who seem to hold contempt for tax payers and the law while the rest of us are expected to behave honourably and obediently.
Eamon told me about the plane load of Achill islanders who are living in Sweden, returning home every 7 weeks to see friends, family, wives, kids and the sports clubs that are dying without them. He said the nearby controversial Corrib gas project had brought much needed work to some of his friends but agreed that it should have been handled much better by all involved. Eamon said the new greenway cycle path from Westport to Achill has brought new life to the area, with bike shops, accommodation owners and restaurants all benefiting from this all too rare innovation. It is great to hear of something positive like this going on and I’m sure this model of clean, green local tourism could be replicated all over this beautiful country.
I spent a few hours on the laptop working on my blog (and feeling guilty in the afternoon for not chatting more) before saying goodbye to Rose. I crossed the road and stood in the glorious sunshine, in no particular hurry. I was heading north, hoping to see some of the gas project and hopefully interview locals and get their views of it.
I got chatting to a Dundalk man on the side of the road who casually told me about hitching from Paris to the south of France 20 years ago, sleeping in parks as he went and loving every minute of it. I love hearding stories that like from unexpected sources. There’s me with my beard, my backpack and spirit of adventure and it turns out the respectful looking older man is every bit the adventurer and more.
After just 10 minutes of waiting I got picked up by Alan Gielty from Gielty’s Clew Bay bar and restaurant on Achill island. Alan was driving a nice big car, I think a Mercedes. Usually the swank cars pass you by. It always seems the poorer people are more generous, and perhaps less fearful spirits, but not always. As Alan cheerfully lashed into a dirty big ninety nine icecream he told me it was his first time picking up a hitchhiker.
He didn’t know why he did. I suppose the sun – and the icecream – was creating positive generous vibes that were rippling across the nation on what turned out to be the hottest day of the year this far. Alan told me about his volunteer role with the lifeboats. He said it is a huge commitment and has been on the scene of numerous drownings but said it was hugely worthwhile. He asked me about my fiance and said she must be a great woman for putting up with me. I agreed. She is a great woman.
He talked about the challenges of running his bar after making a major it reinvestment in it but said there was no use complaining as and trying ‘how’s that going to help anybody?’. He said you just have to keep moving and trying new things. I liked his attitude. He said an older man once told him that if you keep doing the same thing, you’ll keep getting the same results. Good wisdom there, ad something certain economists and politicians could learn from. Indeed something we could all consider when things aren’t working out.
(Typing on a laptop as a car flies over Mayo bog roads with Mumford and Sons blasting out as the driver’s cigarette smoke drifts backwards isn’t that easy you know!)
I got dropped off on the Bangor road just outside Mulranny. Alan told me I’d have a lift within minutes. He was wrong. An hour later I was still standing there looking at the dozens of cars happily spinning by on their sunny way to nearby sunny Achill island.
I wanted to cross over and go to Achill. I was missing out on the sunshine but felt I had to make up some ground, to move on quicker and to get some serious recording done up in what I was calling the conflict zone of North Mayo. I wondered about the few cars that passed me by, did they know where I was headed and assume I was one of ‘them’, the often dreaded outside protesters who often hitchhike this same road to North Mayo.
I knew this was a divided community, still strong in so many ways, but split down the middle by those who wanted to see jobs and development versus those who felt the planning, environmental and economics of the proiect were all wrong.
I was positioning myself as an independent objective observer but I’m not sure such a person exists. It doesn’t in my case. Back in 2005 five farmers from that area were imprisoned at the behest of Shell for daring to peacefully prevent illegal development works on their hard won small land holdings. An imprisonment that is worth considering when we see the apparent impunity of certain bankers, bishops and politicians.
I had researched the project in depth ever since I attended a talk by Sr. Majella McCarron, a returned missionary nun who witnessed Shell’s shameful activities in Nigeria. I had also visited the area and listened to the concerns of local people who I found to be some of the most decent hard working people I ever met.
After the jailing of the ‘Rossport 5’ happened marches took place up and down the country. I was living in Sligo and organised the local march. I wasn’t and never have been in any political party or group but I felt passionately that we must stand behind fellow citizens who stand against injustice. Several hundred people in Sligo felt likewise and we marched through the town in a huge display of support.
In later years the support faded as the campaign lacked strategy and communications expertise compared to the might of Shell, the state and aspects of the Gardai who often ridiculed and attacked the campaign and the community.
I haven’t been involved in that campaign since, and know there are two sides to every story, but I still feel a solidarity with the community, or indeed any person or community, who is treated unfairly. I wondered if my potential lifts knew that, or was I just getting paranoid given all the strange goings on that have occurred in this part of the world.
I decided that part of my listening tour should include listening to myself, or rather my intuition, or inner voice or gut feeling or whatever you want to call it. That instinct was telling me to go to Achill and chill out. So I did.
I crossed the road and immediately got a lift from two lovely Italians, Marco and his partner Simona, who are on a driving holiday in Ireland. They asked me where I was going on Achill. I said I hadn’t a clue. They said they were going to a hostel. I said I’d give that a lash. So we arrived into spectacular Achill island at around 6pm as the sun continued to beat down over the wild mountains and bright blue sea.
We drove around windy roads and got stuck behind sheep and tractors and eventually ended up an a quirky old mansion house called the valley that was now a hostel. The valley resembled a cult house, full of young people from all over hanging out in this remote giant and beautiful building. It turns out most of them were working 25 hours a week there on a scheme called Work X where you can travel the world and get room and food in exchange for part-time work. They seemed to be having a ball.
Marco and Simona decided to tour the island and proposed that I could come with them. I gladly accepted, opting for more adventure and discovery over a backlog of email, blogging and facebooking. Too often I have chosen the safe and boring route, getting sucked in online rather than getting out and about. Time to change that.
We arrived at what’s known as the deserted village, the remains of a famine era village that was decimated during the worst of Ireland’s great hunger around 1850. I sat in silence and pondered the great waste of life at a time when Ireland had 8 million people, many more than today.
I thought about the cause of the famine, the definite influence of the potato blight but more so the injustice of food being exported from the country in order to feed an expanding empire. I thought about the landlords who controlled the land, and the local Irish power brokers who ensured they were well fed while their country men died around them in huge numbers.
This was put into perspective by something Marco said to me earlier. He said ‘we don’t have a crisis now. Until you have no food, no house, or are in a war, then you are not in a crisis’. It was a useful perspective when thinking about the challenges of our age and considering 80% of the world lives on less than 10euro per day.
I reflected on the relative prosperity we have these days but the similarity in issues of power and greed at the expense of the majority. I wondered how long it would take for us to stand up and stop repeating this cycle of misery and inequality.
Sound recording bit of craic with Marco
The three of us later ended up in a restaurant where I chatted with Marco as he translated to and fro for Simona who doesn’t have any English. We had become friends and laughed when we realised we were travelling the same route towards Sligo the next day.
Hitching could be very easy tomorrow I thought. Back at the weird and wonderful Valley hostel we had a couple of drinks, my first alcohol intake in weeks, and hit the hay, ready for an early start. As Simona said goodnight she handed me her chain that I had complimented her on earlier. I couldn’t accept but knew I had to. I smiled and said thank you to my new friend. Learning to receive was something I needed to work on and in this case I did so happily.
Off to bed I went, content and ready for more hitching for hope.
The hitching in hope continues.
Places I have visited so far
Galway City, Spiddal, Moycullenl, Oughterard, Cleggan, Inishbofin, Clifden, Mam Cross, Leenane, Westport, Croagh Patrick, Newport, Achill Island, Rossport, Belmullet, Ballina, Sligo, Bundoran, Donegal Town, Mountcharles, St. John’s Pt, Letterkenny, Derry.
Galway Bay FM, iRadio, the Galway Independent, Mid West Radio, Ocean FM, Tipp FM, WorldIrish.com, Highland Radio, BBC Radio Foyle x 3, the Derry Journal, RTE Radio One Mooney Show, the Irish Times, theJournal.ie.