July 9th 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.
This was easy. The Italian couple, Marco and Simona, who had brought me to Achill island the previous night, were going to Sligo today, and so was I. All I had to do was stand in front of them and put my thumb out. Happy days!
We set off early as the sun promised another day of hay making for farmers and happiness for our sun starved nation. We stopped at a petrol station and I asked about a local castle that I had previously visited.
Three or four locals gave me mixed responses, ranging from ‘it doesn’t exist’ to ‘it’s down towards Achill’. None of these were accurate and it took the intervention of a Scottish man to point us to the location, a simple 10km trek down the road. Sometimes Irish people know more about Australia than what is in our own backyard. At the castle we tried to get the key from the castle owner, as I had done years ago, but nobody was home. Our castle occupation would have to wait for another day.
Off we went to North Mayo, through the wild bogs of a national park, and up into Bangor where oil country begins. We took the new ‘oil road’ towards the near complete gas terminal and apart from the odd few ‘Shell out’ signs it looked surprisingly peaceful despite 10 years of tensions. We drove around and passed a protester, security men, work trucks and locals but all in all things looked pretty calm as construction continued on the pipeline that would take the gas inland from the sea.
I had heard there were several arrests a few days previous so I decided not to assume everything was as quiet as it seemed. One thing for sure is that this is a rare and supposedly protected area of breathtaking natural beauty that has now been compromised forever by big industry and bad planning. Whether the jobs and economics of the project add up as promised remains to be seen but either way a legacy of hurt and destruction has been left in this quiet Gaelteacht community that has been changed forever.
As we passed the Shell compound Marco talked about an Italian industrialist called Enrico Mattei who in the seventies had an alternative vision for Italy’s energy supply. He said he met huge opposition and was killed in a mysterious plane crash which Marco attributed to a kind of global industrial mafia that wanted to see the oil and gas status quo maintained. He said that during the Cold War Italy had been forced to side with the American world order, which he said was preferable to the Soviet one but still didn’t equate to freedom and independence. Energy supplies was a key part of this order.
We talked about how idealists, dreamers and revolutionaries who seek to expose or change unjust systems often meet an early death. We talked about Martin Luther King, Gandhi, John Lennon and JFK. I was reminded of the Bob Marley lyrics ‘how long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?’. I thought about Edward Snowden.
Marco talked about the beauty of Ireland, and the enormous green space we have compared to most European countries. He s aid Irish people were among the friendliest he had met but he wasn’t so keen on the Irish drinking culture nor the lack of music on the radio.
On the pristine mullet peninsula we went for a swim and checked out a stone henge-like feature, which turned out to be an art installation despite our initial excitement at our unexpected ‘discovery’. Back in Belmullet we got some lunch and I did a phone interview with the Irish Times that was a bit too rushed for my liking. I just hope that the finished article represents what I said as sometimes media articles don’t always capture the meaning or essence of what you were saying or trying to say.
In the middle of all the coming and going I was getting emails and texts from the Sunday Times, TheJournal.ie, Highland Radio, Ocean FM and BBC Radio Foyle in Derry, all of whom wanted interviews. This was great but getting a bit crazy. I had limited phone reception and my phone battery kept dying. Eventually I told the BBC I’d just hitch to their Derry studio the next day rather than try to figure out a phone signal.
As we prepared to leave Belmullet and the car’s CD player blasted out another rendition of the fields of anthenry I decided that I had had enough. I jumped out of the car, into what turned out to be a stationary and toy shop, and somehow ended up back within 2 minutes with a free copy of a Mumford and Sons CD, one of the biggest global bands which it turns out the lads hadn’t heard of before. Goes to show you the English speaking world isn’t the only world out there. Thanks to this great shopkeeper for the CD!
On the bumpy bog road to Ballina I opened my laptop and tried to catch up on some work. Not easy when the music was blaring, wind was blowing and cigarette smoking flying backwards. However needs must as there was some writing to be done.
As we entered Ballina I remembered that a young activist had been in touch via Twitter telling me to contact her if passing. I didn’t have her contact details but sent her a tweet to which she immediately replied. I asked my Italian friends if it was ok to stop for a quick interview and 15 minutes later (at the back of a fire station) I was recording the confident and passionate reflections of 23 year old Louise Henegan, who I had never met before. Off we went, no time to hang about. On to Sligo we went with Louise’s words of hope and optimism ringing in my ears.
At the foot of Knocknarea, the hill of the kings, we spent time at the magical megalithic burial site at Carrowmore near Sligo. The Italians were falling in love with Ireland as I sat looking on like a proud parent while the farmers in the distance made their hay.
In Sligo town the Italians checked into a hotel for the night and I prepared to meet an Irish Times photographer who was chasing me for a photo for Saturday’s paper. I cleaned myself up in the hotel bathroom and texted Rodney Lancashire, a fine trad musician I knew from Cavan who lives in Sligo. Rodney happened to be in town and popped over to tell me about impending fatherhood and why the future of Irish traditional music is so bright. ‘There are 10 year olds playing like 70 year olds’ he said.
I said my goodbyes to my friends as a curiously named photographer called James Connolly (Jame’s Connolly being a famous 1916 rebel) picked me up for a staged photo shoot in the hills around Sligo. I never thought I’d be staging a hitchhiking photo in Sligo but this trip is turning out to have all sorts of twists and turns.
James dropped me on the Bundoran road at 9pm and I hoped for a lift to stay with my 89 year old Gran before heading on to Derry the next day. The road was quiet and I started to worry a little. At one stage a fellow hitcher appeared out of nowhere and broke the key ethics rule of starting to hitch up the road in front of me. Shameless I thought. He didn’t last long though and up he walked, avoiding eye contact with me. A hitching war was avoided.
I finally landed in Bundoran at 10pm after a music filled sunset drive past the beautiful Ben Bulbin mountain overlooking Donegal Bay. In Bundoran I went for a cliff walk with my uncle Daniel and we chatted about how lucky we were to live in such a beautiful country. Despite the various challenges we have both faced in recent years, we had that moment of gratitude, of appreciating the gold that is sitting in front of us.
I landed at my Gran’s house at 11pm. I had previously lived there for 6 great months in 2003 after moving home from Canada. It was where I started a lot of my activism and cooked up plans for SpunOut.ie. I chatted to my Gran for a while before sitting up until 2am on the laptop trying to catch-up on my online work. The online world was starting to drag me down. I have created too much expectation for myself and my sleep, rest and quality time with people was being compromised. I think this is one of the key challenges of our age – how do we manage our technology usage in a healthy way without it controlling and compromising us?
Something to sleep on and figure out another time. All in all it was a great day, a pleasure to share it with the Italians and to meet so many fine people.
Off to bed I went, ready for another early start and another day hitching for hope.
Thanks for all your support.
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, DonegalDaily.com, RTE Radio One Mooney Show, the Irish Times, theJournal.ie.
Links to media coverage