July 14th 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.
The alarm howled out at me like some kind of unwelcome wild animal waking me in my hibernation cave. I wanted a day in bed. No chance. Up, dress, march, left, right, get the suit on, and jump in the car. Yep, no hitching to Áras an Uachtaráin, the President’s house. Hitching in Dublin city is hard enough but trying to get somewhere in a hurry is next to impossible.
I landed at the Áras in good time, surprised again that they let me through the gates despite the dozens of times I’ve been there now. As a member of the Council of State some people have argued that I’m now ‘part of the establishment’. I find that a bizarre consideration as I’m quite sure members of the establishment have money to pay their rent and don’t find themselves hitching around the country. Or maybe they do. Perhaps I’m being judgmental.
The President himself is technically the top of this establishment but I also see him as the man who grew up in poverty, whose Dad was marginalised for fighting on the losing side of the civil war. His parents gave him over to relatives to raise, and who has used his intellect, passion and poetry to rise to the top of the ugly game of politics. I know him as the man who isn’t afraid to rattle the cage, who isn’t afraid to hug, and still knows how to smile despite the madness of the matrix that surrounds him. Anyway, enough about that.
In the Áras I met Sally Mulready, a fellow member of the Council of State who is based in London and works with older Irish emigrants and advocates for those who spent time in the Magdalene Laundries. Sally has been a tireless campaigner for justice and a much-needed voice for our forgotten emigrants, many of whom were forced to leave the island they love.
I also got chatting to Gerry, one of the house staff who told me about his early days in Dundalk, about joining the army, about his love of campervaning and his life meeting Presidents and Prime Ministers, Kings, Queens and all sorts. He’s an older man with a sparkle in his eye and I’m sure a good book in him if he ever writes it.
Off we went in an army van over to the royal hospital in Kilmainham for the national day of commemoration. This was a world away from the life of a hitchhiker. Inside we mingled with dignitaries and clergy and watched as the who’s who of the political world converged for this multi-faith ceremony to honour those who died in past wars, including during 1916 and in UN service.
I looked around, with Minister Alan Shatter beside me, and realised that these people all knew each other. I was 20 years younger than most and I’m sure stood out like a sore thumb. Still, it didn’t bother me. If I could hang out at an orange march the day before, then the diversity of this crowd wasn’t going to phase me. In saying that, I’ve never had much of an appetite for networking and mingling and ended up talking to the wives of those out pressing the flesh.
I’m sure in so many ways it is those same wives that keep the show on the road in more ways that one. I remember Ian Paisley’s wife once saying ‘he might be the head of the family but I’m the neck and the neck controls the head!’.
Out we marched, Council of State before ministers, into the court-yard and out in single file before the several hundreds of army, clergy, media and general attendees. We sat right up front, right behind where the Taoiseach and President ended up sitting, and myself and Sally looked at each other as if to say ‘what are we doing here?’.
We were there to learn, to observe and to tune into a different experience and to commemorate those before me that have struggled for this nation before me. Regardless of rank or status it didn’t matter where I was seated, I was there to hold the spirit of those I work with, the young people, those in the community, the campaigners for justice.
The ceremony started with the Imam reading from the Koran. I’ve always liked the chant-like sound of Muslim prayer. It wakes the senses and it feels like you’re tuning into something deeper beyond words. However I was never keen on the 5am wake-up call in Morocco, Turkey or Zanzibar, when the loud-speaker would call you to prayer when all you wanted to do was sleep. I admire their discipline, but the option to sleep or opt-out is good too.
The Taoiseach, various Christian leaders and a Rabbi all read prayers and reflections, before the President laid a wreath in remembrance. The ceremony was very militaristic in ways and the formality was probably necessary in order to be respectful, but I also felt it might be dated in ways. I wondered about the lack of people under 50 present. I’m sure they had other things to do, but I don’t think many would have even known about it never mind be invited. I also wondered about the possibility of allowing for the honouring of the dead for those who practice no religion but share the same values and intention.
Afterwards the crowd gathered in a large hall for free wine, beer, tea, coffee and nibbles. The President was in his glory as he met people from all walks of life. He seems to have a never-ending patience for listening, talking, greeting and welcoming. In this way he truly is a people’s President. I noticed the large amount of Northern Ireland accents and got chatting to a few of the visitors who told me about their service in the British Army or in the Royal Ulster Constabulary. It seems the theme of President McAleese’s ‘building bridges’ work is continuing in that regard.
Uncomfortable with the push and squeeze of the mingling I took to the fringes of the room. Often you get chatting to others who are seeking refuge on the fringe. I wondered who I might meet. The last time I was at a similar function I got chatting to the Swiss ambassador who told me that we Irish need to better manage our money. If only it was that simple. If only we had their gold deposits!
Within minutes a woman called Mary approached me and apologetically asked me if I was a member of the Council of State. I said I was. She said her friend dared her to ask me why or how I had been appointed. I said the President appointed me. She wanted more info. I said I was a community worker and I suppose he wanted a younger perspective given 50% of the population is under 40. I told Mary that given I had helped her out that she’d now have to help me.
So I interviewed her about why she was there. Here’s the interview:
I didn’t have time to meet and greet more or to chat to the President because I had an appointment to attend. My back has been giving me trouble for 2 years now and I was worried about setting off on this trip with a backpack given the pain I was having. It was a Russian massage therapist called Vasile that I met at the Body & Soul music festival that had given me some hope for my back. I also had a good chat to him about his 12 years in Ireland, life in Russia, and how they compare. He is truly in love with Ireland.
He said he could see what was wrong with it and helped me out before I left on my trip. So here I was half way through the adventure, having a pit stop with a mechanic, getting ready for the second and southern half of the trip. Back at home that evening I decided to just chill out with Susan and get ready for another early start at the Newstalk radio studios.
Thanks for all your support.
Places I have visited so far
Galway City, Spiddal, Moycullen, Oughterard, Cleggan, Inishbofin, Clifden, Mam Cross, Leenane, Westport, Croagh Patrick, Newport, Achill Island, Rossport, Belmullet, Mullet peninsula, Ballina, Sligo, Bundoran, Donegal Town, Mountcharles, St. John’s Pt., Letterkenny, Derry, Leixslip, Dublin, Aughrim Co. Wicklow, Gorey, Kilmuckridge, Wexford Town, Baldwinstown, Kilmore Quay, Hook Head, Ballyhack, Passage East, Dunmore East, Cork City. (Updated July 21st).
Thanks to 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, Newstalk (Breakfast show), Today FM (KC show), TV3 Morning Show, 98FM late night talk, Shannonside Northern South, Flirt FM, South East Radio, Cork Evening Echo, The Sunday Times.
Links to media coverage