July 10 – Donegal dreaming

july1012July 10th 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. 

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Latest blog (reviewing July 10th)

Alarm clocks drive me nuts but once again I was woken to the screech of mine calling me into action at 6am so I could get some online work done before an early Ocean FM radio interview. I spent a few minutes outside my Grans house, doing a bit of exercise in the garden my grandfather spent so much time in over the years. After the radio interview and a quick breakfast I visited my relatives next door and had the craic with Christopher who was buzzing from his visit to the President’s garden party the previous weekend.

Christopher and Jesse

Christopher and Jesse

I got dropped off in Ballyshannon by my uncle Daniel who reminded me of his philosophy of keeping things simple and getting plenty of rest as being the key to happiness.

My uncle Daniel
My uncle Daniel

 

Within minutes of starting to hitch I got picked up by a fish  monger who had known my grandparents. I told him I used to visit his fish van 30 years ago and we got chatting about life as a small business person. He said the  greed of the Celtic Tiger years caused a lot of people like him to get out of their depth and he told me about how he was intimidated out of working across the border when gun shots were fired over his van in the seventies.
I landed outside Donegal Town just in time to do a Highland Radio interview from the side of the road. A gang of sheep stared over at me as if to say ‘what the hell are you up to?’. Highland called me to postpone the interview and I decided to give my old friend Keith a buzz to see if he happened to be around for a quick catch-up as it was months since I’d seen him.
I love that the flexibility of this ‘no plan-no agenda’ trip lets me follow my nose like this. As luck would have it he was 10 minutes away and on his way for a swim at St. John’s point. I decided to make the most of the rare sunshine and join him. A swim was just too tempting. I texted the BBC Radio Foyle guys, telling them I wouldn’t get to Derry in time for the 2pm interview and asked if we could do it by phone.
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St. John’s Point is another hidden jewel. An unspoilt peninsula 20 minutes west of Donegal Town. A hidden beach looking out on Donegal Bay and Ben Bulbin on one side and Killybegs and the Slieve League cliffs on the other. It was paradise.
 We ran in for a swim and jumped around like kids who hadn’t had an Irish beach holiday in 30 years. When we got out I  noticed I had a missed call and voicemail. It was the BBC. I had missed by interview by 2 minutes but they were calling  back in a minute. As the phone rang I jumped into Keith’s car and sat in my soaking wet boxer shots as I did a live  radio interview. Thankfully it went smoothly and there wasn’t a web cam looking in on me!
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On the way back to Donegal Town we stopped to visit Larry Masterson, an old colleague who had recently retired from the health service and was setting up Blissberry Social Farm as a way of reconnecting people and communities, and promoting physical and mental health. Larry treated us to a top-notch home-grown picnic lunch and talked passionately about social farming,  a concept that is growing in popularity as people seek out new non medical solutions to life’s challenges.
He told me about some old people with Alzheimer’s disease in Italy that he had met at a social farm there. They did some light work  around a farm during the day and returned fresh to their care home at night where they had a good sleep and their health improved. In partnership with medical professionals they were able to reduce or remove their medication and restore aspects of their health and vitality. It makes sense. Pharmaceutical drugs versus the power of nature, human connection and care, working in community, and clean fresh air. Powerful medicine.
I got a lift to Letterkenny within 60 seconds of being dropped off outside Donegal. Tim caused a bit of a stir on the road when he veered off to pick me up. He said he was a sociology lecturer and a former priest and he was on his way to an alcoholics anonymous meeting in Donegal. Within minutes he asked me if I was familiar with the work of Joseph Campbell to which I
replied that I was reading a lot about his ‘hero’s journey’ theory.
The hero’s journey is something dealt with through myths from many cultures and is present in movies like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. The hero feels a call to action, follows the call, faces great challenges but overcomes them by listening for signs and support that come his or her way.
Campbell suggests that the key to happiness is following your own ‘bliss’ (what you love doing) by pursuing a hero’s journey that will give meaning to
our lives and in the end decrease issues such as alcoholism and other health and social issues. It is a theory that in many ways is behind this trip of mine, a mysterious call to action with mysterious forces paving the way. No doubt Tim is on his hero’s journey too.
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In Letterkenny I had just minutes to wait until my former boss and mentor Janet Gaynor came to pick me up. Over dinner Janet talked passionately about the abortion legislation that was being voted on later that night. She said it was a milestone in breaking the church state relationship and in going some way to empower women in Ireland.
She said she feels feminism is still very relevant today as despite perceived equal opportunities the vast majority of those in power and politics are still men. Women remain underpaid and underrepresented and discrimination and sexual abuse are still rife. She explained how her work with young people has taught her that pornography and body image are serious issues that need attention.
Janet brought me over to visit Anne Sheridan, another former colleague who works with in mental health promotion. Also there was Anne’s husband John who is a banker working for the soon to close Dankse bank, a social worker from Derry called Kate and John and Anne’s teenage daughter Sinead. We spent a couple of hours debating the state of the nation, the concept of the squeezed middle and the ‘new poor’ and how the negative equity and indebted generation are stuck unless radical action is taken.
Later John told us about a men’s group he is involved with and how it offers a powerful support framework for men to come together, discuss issues of common concern, share stories and experiences, and organise events and days out. All this serves to help people in the personal, professional and family lives. We ended the night as Sinead told us about the many 16 and 17 year olds she knows who are preparing for emigration but how she feels Ireland is a great place that she wants to stay to live and work in. She said a hopeful bright future was possible.
Back at Janet’s I sat up until 1am doing some work and hit the day ready for a 6am start. Something would have to be done about this lack of sleep but for now I was doing ok, having a ball and feeling that this trip is turning into something incredibly special. Once again the generosity of people and the insights of the road have provided hope for the journey ahead.
The hitching for hope continues…

Thanks for all your support.

Ruairí

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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.

Media coverage
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

Irish Times
Derry Journal
RTE Radio – Mooney show

About this trip | Hitching blog | Facebook Twitter | E-news LinkedIn | | Donate | Photos

July 9 – oil, gas, and ancient wonders

july1012July 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. 

About this trip | Hitching blog | Facebook Twitter | E-news LinkedIn | | Donate | Photos

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Latest blog (reviewing July 9th)

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!

july085 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Ruairí

july0419

About this trip | Hitching blog | Facebook Twitter | E-news LinkedIn | | Donate | Photos

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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.

Media coverage
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

Irish Times
Derry Journal
RTE Radio – Mooney show

About this trip | Hitching blog | Facebook Twitter | E-news LinkedIn | | Donate | Photos

July 8 – Listening to my gut and making new friends (Achill island)

hitchJuly 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. 

About this trip | Hitching blog | Facebook Twitter | E-news LinkedIn | | Donate

______________________________________________________
Latest blog (reviewing July 8th)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Ruairí

july0419

About this trip | Hitching blog | Facebook Twitter | E-news LinkedIn | | Donate

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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.

Media coverage
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.

Media links

Derry Journal
RTE Radio – Mooney show

July 7 – Lugh v St. Patrick and spiritual Sunday shenanigans

hitchJuly 7th 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. 

______________________________________________________

Latest blog (reviewing July 7th)

This was always going to be an interesting day. Climbing Croagh Patrick is a real Irish experience, something people have been doing for generations and well before it had anything to do with Saint Patrick. It’s an experience that brings you up close with Ireland, where you get to chat to people of all walks of life and hear the full range of stories. It didn’t disappoint.
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Spiritual Sunday
 

I started off the day with a big full Irish breakfast at my bed and breakfast. My mart experience the day before didn’t prevent me eating the pork but it did make me think twice. I got chatting to two women over breakfast who I assumed had just returned from Sunday morning Mass. As it turned out they had just returned from some kind of poetry, breath-work and I think shamanic type workshop with a New York Jewish woman on Achill island. Definitely not what I was expecting to be chatting about! It turned out that one of them had been in a choir at the Possibilities event I helped organise a couple of years ago.
We got chatting about how retreats like this are increasingly popular as people continue to seek out new ways of making sense of  themselves and of the world. One of the women, who were both called Mary, talked about growing up in an Ireland ruled by fear of authority, something she feels is at the heart of our current dysfunction – the fact we don’t stand up to bullies or abusers of power.  Hard to argue with that.
I strolled into Westport to pick up some supplies for the mountain climb. I passed a church that had standing room only. No sign of a church in crisis there. Outside was an interesting plaque to a 1916 revolutionary who had also fought in the Boar war. I wondered what that same revolutionary would make of Ireland today. Beside it was a quote evoking the revolutionary spirit of the time.
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Irish ways and Irish laws
I got a lift within 10 minutes of starting to hitch to Croagh Patrick, my first female ‘pick-up’ for want of a better term! This lady used to hitch all over when she was younger, taking lifts to wherever the driver was going and seeing where she’d end up. She explored Ireland that way and the memories of her hitching days got her thinking about the importance of living life to the max.
‘You’re never too old. You should always be doing something’ she said. ‘Life is tough but you have to get on with it,  make something of it’. She told me that she had lost two of her brothers, one she claimed was killed in a hit and run when he was a teenager. She suggested that it was local public servants who had killed him but covered it up with the support of other agencies as the culprits had been out drinking on the job. She said her parents couldn’t pursue the court case at the time as they were too grief stricken. Given the axis of power that existed (and still does to a degree) I didn’t doubt it was possible.
She said life must go on and you have to find ways to heal. She somehow ended up on the subject of religion, just after she picked up supplies in a shop
and gave me a lucozade for my walk. ‘I’m just back from Africa and there’s evidence mankind has been around tens of thousands of years, way more than claims of the God people seem to worship was invented.
It’s about control and brainwashing, bishops and popes with robes that cost 40,000 euro while the poor remain poor.’  She said that the only religion that should exist is the sun as it’s the only thing worth worshipping. She said that Croagh Patrick was an ancient pilgrimage site that has pre christian origins and is linked to various local sites and stones that were used for solstice and other key point ceremonies.
 I told her that the last time I was at Croagh Patrick was 5 years ago. I had made an impulse purchase of a camper van and I was driving around Ireland (in the rain!) and stopped at Croagh Patrick. Before I started the climb I read a little of my guide book which claimed the Irish God of Lugh, who Lughnasa is named after, was the sun king and that Croagh Patrick was apparently his mountain, meaning this was a sacred mountain for sun worship in the same way the Incas and so many other cultures worshipped the sun as they believed  it was the most fundamental source of life on earth.
The funny thing was that I had wooden statue of Lugh, carved by the amazing Michael Quirke in Sligo, in the van and I decided to bring him on a bit of a ‘reclaiming the reek’ adventure. Up I went with Lugh, giving him a seat beside the statue of St. Patrick and knowing that anyone looking on was probably thinking this fella is a bit mad. Still, not as mad as not acknowledging all our history and culture, not just the Christian bit.
I took Patrick as a confirmation name when living in Australia at the time (aged 12) and have in recent years been intrigued by his role in history. I wondered if he was really a slave as claimed, a Roman missionary, or a tax collectors son, which have been different versions I had heard.  Christianity was around before Patrick and that the feats he is credited with are most definitely a little generous in terms of the truth.His presence in Ireland was at a time of mass change, where Rome was on the march throughout Europe, and where sainthoods were handed out generously for those who played their politics the right way. Religion tended to be linked with control, control was linked with politics. Both were concerned with power over rather than power with the people. Some things don’t change much in that regard.

Getting rid of the snakes wasn’t something Patrick did (the ice age took care of that) but maybe his era did say goodbye to the druids and pagans who saw the snake figure as a symbol of healing and regeneration, hence it’s use to this day outside of pharmacies where you often see a snake symbol. The snake is celebrated in cultures worldwide for this symbolic link.
snakeI’ve been thinking recently that we celebrate St. Patrick’s day as a keypoint in our cultural year whereas Patrick himself may be responsible for the loss of Irish culture. Could it be that  Croagh Patrick became ‘Patrick’s holy mountain’ after being a sacred site long before, hence bringing people into a new faith while keeping aspects of their old places and beliefs?
It may be that St. Patrick’s Day in itself is  a transplanted day that super-seded the Spring Equinox festival (where light and dark are equal) in the same way Christmas took over the Winter Solstice (the re-birth of the sun – of God),  St. Brigid’s Day took over the Imbolg festival,and All Saints Day over Samhain, which in turn became halloween? The same way holy wells and other sites were pagan sites before them.The wheel of history keeps moving and history is written by the winner (and the literate) they say.I wonder how much of Irish history was oral and how those who lost power, for whatever reason, have not had their stories and their ways documented and appreciated. How is it that we see Christianity and Catholicism as something Irish where it is in fact foreign. Not saying this is a bad thing but it would be good to see more awareness and discussion around our heritage.

And we’re off – up the mountain 

Starting up the mountain I took my time to look back on the spectacular view of Clew Bay and it’s 100s of islands. I noticed that it seemed there were lots of young families and young couples doing the walk, as well as older people, some of whom were on a fundraising walk for a local playground. I love the Irish fundraising spirit for charities but I really wish we had a state that provided playgrounds, hospitals and schools, rather than leaving people to fundraise for these basic essentials. Still, it’s great to see people doing it for themselves, a D.I.Y culture that is empowering in so many ways.
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Fairly soon in I decided I’d have my first punt at interviewing someone. I looked around…no…maybe this one..no, I kept looking. It’s a strange process deciding who to stop and how to approach them. I never want to interfere and it can be hard to explain what I’m up to. I approached a youngish couple taking a break by a stream. They were Dutch and looked at me with caution. ‘We’d prefer keep walking’ the lady replied. Fair enough. I decided to reconsider. Maybe people deserve to be left alone on this walk, to have their time alone, or with friends and family to connect without having to think about life or the country. Sometimes it’s good to let the brain go silent.
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New York Irish
 

The first half is the toughest going on the reek. As the sun bet down on me I got chatting to a northern man who has lived in New York for 27 years. He was climbing with his 3 teenage sons who are all immersed in Irish culture in the U.S. They were home playing Gaelic football. He described life in the GAA in New York and his work in the construction industry. He talked about how he feels Obama is getting his pay back for hundreds of years of oppression by ensuring black people are in key positions in government.
I don’t think I agree with him on that one and have often found elements of Irish America to have a racist undercurrent, which is ironic given the discrimination the Irish faced when they first arrived. Surely those who arrived as slaves and are trying to work their way up would be allies by nature rather than seen as a threat. There’s a book on that called ‘how the Irish became white’ and it documents the Irish journey to start looking and acting like the people who kept them down. Still, I’m on a listening tour, so I listened and didn’t debate. Good to hear these perspectives.
Another thing he said was that he feels the people in the republic keep getting shafted because they don’t stand up for themselves, in the same way northern people have had to. No argument there.
My northern friend got chatting to all sorts of people as we walked and it turns out he could make connections with people from any county
he encountered. He knew footballers who had emigrated or spent time in New York, many of them working with him, and it gave me a connection into communities throughout the land, something that I don’t have. There this man was, from the north of Ireland, away 27 years (Since he was 19) and in some ways he was more Irish than me.
The view from aboveAt the top of the mountain there was a general euphoria among all who had made it, a collective celebration of our common effort, despite the many motivations for climbing this 2000 feet sleep and rough climb.

Some were true pilgrims, most were Irish day trippers, holiday makers, young couples (one with 2 small babies), and there was the odd runner who sprinted up the mountain in 45 minutes compared to the 2-3 hour climb for some.
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I sat around, ate my sandwiches and enjoyed the view at the top. We were in the clouds and the mist came and went as people seemed to spent more time texting, calling and photographing than any visible sign of praying. There was also a fair bit of rubbish, something I’ve noticed a lot of around the country. I’m miffed as to why people would rubbish their own country and especially a mountain they took the time to climb. Bizarre.
I decided it was worth a shot at interviewing someone. I approached a group I had taken a photo for previously and a man called Lorcan happily obliged.
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He told me about the joy of climbing the mountain and how he had been made redundant two years previously. He said he had retrained in the culinary arts and wants to be part of a new vision for Ireland that sees local Irish food at the heart, thereby bringing tourism, feeding exports, and creating jobs.


Into the zone

As the sun came out on Lugh’s – and Patrick’s – and our – mountain I wandered off to the back of the chapel area and found a quiet spot to try some meditation. My mind was more interested in taking photos than calming down but I gave it a lash and managed a few moments of tuning in and feeling the great calm from sitting in peace at the top of this great mountain.

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Just as I decided to leave I heard a type of chanting which turned out to be a group from Claregalway who were praying and saying the rosary. I stood beside them and recorded the sound, knowing these were prayers my parents, grandparents ancestors prayed and that we are at a turning point in history that makes praying like this rarer and rarer.
Poor quality sound recording but some sounds if you skip to 2nd half:
A young woman among the group of mostly older people called out prayers for those who have emigrated, for those who are unemployed, for those who are new to our communities, and the group responded in unison with prayers of hope. The sound of the chant like rhythms reminded me of mantras I’d heard in India or what could be chants from any other culture around the world. There seems to be something about people coming together and creating a sound vibration to uplift hearts, minds and souls, regardless of your spiritual or non spiritual beliefs.
Catholic insights
On the way down I got chatting to one of the pilgrims. Phil  is a retired teacher who had witnessed extreme poverty while working in Fatima Mansions in Dublin in the sixties. He later became involved in community development with Galway VEC.
I asked him about the prayer group and he said it was a parish council that is about giving more power and taking more responsibility for citizen action within the church. The group organise events and welcome newcomers to their commuter-belt area and generally work to keep their community alive beyond just their religious brief.
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I asked him how he maintained his faith given all the abuses of the church. He said his son was a priest who had left the Philippines after his colleague was murdered for inter-faith work, and that he knows there are still good priests in the church and that the church is made up of people, good and bad.
He spoke about it in a very relaxed way, as if his faith was a simple private thing for him and I felt his values were his driving force and that the church gave him some expression for those. Like most people I met he said his ‘blood boils’ when he thinks of the banking corruption, how he has no faith in career driven enquiries and tribunals, and how he wants to see justice.  He said he worked hard all his life, paid his taxes, and now is pension keeps being attacked because of the fraud, negligence and corruption of others.
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Phil took a huge interest in my trip and said he admires idealism, something that should be encouraged. I told him that I take the view that we have to be idealistic to progress society but that it can be hard at times when you have no money and no obvious prospects for getting a mortgage or a house. He said that life should be about living it to it’s fullest and how he travelled to China and elsewhere.
Minutes later we said our goodbyes but not before he turned around and gave me a 20 euro note as a contribution towards my trip. Pure generosity.
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A well earned pint
 

At the bottom I treated myself to a lovely pint of Guinness in Campbell’s pub and chatted to some of my fellow hikers who were all looking pretty pleased with themselves. The menu was standard pub grub and lacking in healthy options but I figured my afternoon activities allowed me to tuck in guilt free to a burger and chips. Chatting to a young Irish family who were travelling around by camper van, we discussed the beauty of the west of Ireland, how Croagh Patrick might be one of the last free activities in Ireland, and how important it is to get out and experience life beyond just the daily grind of work.
Within 60 seconds of hitching I had a lift into Westport to collect my bags and chatted to the lovely Galway based couple who took a great interest in my trip. Sadly we didn’t have enough time for me to hear more from them but I promised them I’d publish their photo and remind people that Irish people, just like them, were essentially kind and generous by giving lifts to people like me.
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The taxi man tenner

After 40 minutes standing at the side of the Newport road I was starting to worry. It was 9pm on Sunday night, my legs were tired,  and there was next to no traffic on the road. Susan phoned me and suggested I get a taxi. I didn’t want to spend the money but shouted over at a taxi guy who was parked across the road with a trailer on the back. I didn’t expect he was free but he said it costs 15 euro but would do it for 10.
He told me about how trying to make a living in Mayo but said Dublin had it worse where taxi volumes have gone from 2,500 taxis to nearly 14,000, meaning there are more than in Manhattan. More evidence of a lack of regulation in Irish economics. We chatted away and he dropped me off near my aunt’s house in Newport before asking if my ask was Rosaleen. I said she was indeed and he immediately asked ‘are you Ruairi?’. I was stumped.
Maybe he had heard me on the local radio several days before saying I would be visiting. But no. He said he remembered meeting me as a child and remembers my big head of hair. We had a good laugh and I offered him the ten euro. He wouldn’t accept. He didn’t know about my hitching for hope and despite the hardships of taxi work he just wanted to give some goodwill to someone he met maybe 25 years ago. The goodness of people.
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Loneliness and generosity

At Rosaleen’s house we chatted until midnight and talked about the busyness of life and how things have changed. She said she doesn’t get many visitors any more and to my shame I realised it had been 5 years since I had visited. She was right, things have changed in terms of putting value on friends and family beyond just facebook interactions. These changes fuel isolation and loneliness, especially among older people, and I was part of the problem in ways.
The day had once again brought me back to a simplicity I had lost tough with in the busy urban digital world. It had reminded me of an older Ireland, a more generous Ireland, and a people that I am proud of.
The hitching in hope continues.Ruairí

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July 6 – Farmers, freedom, wolves and a banker

July 6th 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 (late at night), please excuse errors and sound quality issues etc.). Press the orange play icon on sound files to hear audio. 

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Latest blog (reviewing July 6th)

july0424I expected to be at the ancient pilgrimage mountain ‘the reek’ (or Croagh Patrick) today but instead ended up at a cattle and sheep mart. You really never know where you end up when you go with the flow!

An early ferry back to ‘Ireland’ and goodbye again to beautiful Inishbofin. I got a lift with Damien Dempsey’s Cork friends Tony, Martina and their grandson and the craic was so good in the car that I completely forgot what road I was supposed to get off at.

I finally woke up to the fact that I was supposed to be going in a completely different direction and finally hopped out in Maam Cross. Several days on the road and I haven’t even left County Galway! Not looking good for the other 31 counties but they do say west is best. Still, I’ll need to get my skates on.

Maam cross was like going back in time to hardier time when people lived off the land, when men looked like men and where fellas like me with a teddy bear on their backpack get strange looks. Dozens of hardy looking men gathered around stalls selling chickens, machinery and work clothes while lads mingled and drank tea by the gallon at the side of a chip van. I realised a farmers mart was in full swing across the road and decided to have a gawk.

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I hadn’t been in a mart in about 25 years or so. They seem to be a thing of the past, a once central meeting point of commerce and community during a time when Irish communities were centred around farming. The mart in my hometown closed a long time ago and the closest I’ve been since is Tesco, or maybe a local butcher now and then.

july044Inside was another world of sheep, cows and shrewd looking farmers ready to seal deals as buyers or sellers. I chanced my arm straight away and approached an older man to ask him for his views for my project. Not a chance. ‘Oh you’d be much better talking to one of the men inside’. So in I went. I hovered around like a rookie, trying to look rural and not like a Dublin RTE guy trying to get the latest. I was aiming for authentic but I didn’t exactly have the man of the land vibe going on. Maybe the beard would help.

Eventually I worked up the confidence again. I approached two other men who looked chatty. ‘And what is it for?’. ‘Ah sure the country is fecked’ one said. ‘I know that but what is the way forward do you think, from a farming perspective?’ I asked. ‘Ah you’d be much better talking to someone else’. No joy. My confidence falling again. I spotted two teenage lads. Over I went to hover. They were speaking in the Irish language, lads from a world apart from mine. I chanced my arm. ‘Ah you’d be better talking to one of the grown ups’. And again I tried. ‘Excuse me, I’m doing this…’.

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‘The country is fucked. It’s gone. It’s over. That’s all I have to say about it’ and off he stormed. Heavy stuff. He certainly made his point. Another man replied ‘does the solution have to be peaceful?’ and then walked off. Point made again.

I wandered around for another bit. I couldn’t help get distracted by the sounds of the animals. Were they screaming in distress? Surely not, ‘they’re just animal sounds’ I thought. But I looked closer. I looked into the eyes of sheep and cows and saw them manoeuvre around in panic, knowing they were on the next leg of a death bound journey. There was no doubt, they were suffering. I didn’t want to go there. I’m a meat eater. I’ve never really connected with the animal rights thing except in theory but this was real. Food for thought.

Inside the main pen area was like a parallel universe. An MC man rapped out the credentials of various animals who wandered around frightened in a mini stadium of buyers and sellers.

It was an auction house afterall and it reminded me of auction house or horse racing commentary, high paced action that was beyond my simple understanding. I chanced my arm with a few photos but started to feel disrespectful, an urban tourist ‘taking’ from a raw real world of hard work. I got out of there.

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Outside I chanced another man. ‘Ah no thanks. I’m not good at that sort of thing’. Was it a case of farmers not trusting others, of being private shrewd movers, or was it me and my amateur tactics? Or could it be that they are simply not comfortable expressing themselves into a recording device or articulating a vision for Ireland beyond stating everything that is wrong? I didn’t know.

july045As I started to pack up my bag and consider defeat I looked up and saw a chatty man on a mobile phone. He finished up his call and I told him what I was at. ‘We need a revolution’ he said. ‘Can I record you?’ I asked. And so began a fairly hard hitting commentary on the seriousness of what farmers are facing, the true hardship and suffering, the anger they are feeling with the power brokers, and a real feeling that we have sold out to Brussels, making the last free Irish men a thing of the past.

No more fishing, farming, hunting, working the bog. He regretted leaving England and would encourage his kids and all kids to emigrate. He won’t be voting Fine Gael, nor Fianna Fail, nor anybody again. He has no faith in the system. He said England was a place that valued the working man, that didn’t sell out its own. After we finished the recording he told me about a farmer who had a visit from the inspector and afterwards went out and shot his 60 cattle and them himself. He told me of another 32 year old man who killed himself and said the suffering is real and all around him.

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I wanted positivity but I was not going to force it. If this was life then so be it. However it was when I got a bit more personal and asked him what he did to keep himself together that he lit up. He came alive with passion and a smile came over his face. ‘Music, I play music’. He talked with pure joy about playing the concertina, about the amazing spirit of traditional music, the friendship and craic. Culture I thought, was a refuge from it all, connecting with something beyond mind, money and politics. Music takes us to the soul, the place the politicians can’t get you.

july0414As I was heading out a younger farmer who I’d said hello to earlier approached me. The 37 year old was there selling the last of his brother’s animals. He had sold all his earlier in the year, as well as his jeep and other machinery.

He had moved back in with his mother and had split with his partner over money issues. All his peers were gone, there was no more work as a stone mason, and he couldn’t emigrate because of his love for his children, the older of whom is already talking about emigration. I asked him how he copes. ‘Anti depressants’ he told me. I asked him where he got his hope ‘It sounds corny but from my young child’. He talked about having protested the Iraq war while working in Canada, and the need for Irish people to come together. His interview is really worth a listen.

He was a strong fit good looking fella with the world at his finger tips but he was trapped in a land that doesn’t allow him anything to work for each day. ‘You’re better on the dole’ he said, and described the isolation and depression that is everywhere in Connemara. I wanted to help him. I wanted to do something for him but I could see this lad was tough. He was a survivor and I hoped fortunes would change for him.

closed down petrol station

closed down petrol station

I spent the next couple of hours in a cafe nearby tapping into their wifi, catching up on some emails and processing the hard hitting experience of the mart. I was upset and moved by what I had heard. I felt helpless.

I got on the road again in the afternoon. The weather was miserable but I had heard reports the rest of the country was basking in sun. More suffering for Connemara. An hour later and no lift. I decided to backtrack towards Clifden, the way I should have gone earlier that morning. If I had have gone the right way then I wouldn’t have been at that mart. More than often chance is something that is bringing you where you need to be.

I crossed the road and within minutes chance gave me my next interview. Two Polish people who are living in Galway and on their way out camping with friends whilst trying to grapple with the weather despite 7 years of practice. ‘I wouldn’t have anything to say about politics and things’ the girl insisted. The guy was driving and a bit quieter. I didn’t believe her. I wanted a Polish perspective. I chanced an interview. ‘Ok but I don’t have much to say’. ‘Everybody does’ I said.

She explained she was a psychologist who worked with people with special needs and how she doesn’t engage with politics, media or current affairs because it’s harsh, aggressive and negative and that ‘you have to mind yourself’. The interview wasn’t going to deep but then ended with a cracker that defied any notion that she had nothing to say.

She described her own philosophy as based on the native American myth of the two wolves. In this myth a grandfather tells his grandson of the two wolves that fight inside our minds and souls. One is filled with evil, anger, sorrow, regret, greed, self pity and false pride. The other is good, joyful, loving, peaceful, humble, kind and full of faith. The grandfather described that the fight between these wolves goes on inside us all and that the wolf that will win is the one we feed.

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Twenty minutes in the rain until my next lift and I got to Leenane with a lovely Cork couple holidaying in Ireland for their first time in years and loving it. They were happy to have their photo taken when they dropped me off but insisted on the Cork registration plate being in it. You gotta hand it to Cork people and their pride of place!

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In the beautiful village of Leenane on the Mayo-Galway border I started hitching towards Westport. I had been offered a couch via Facebook but hadn’t replied because I wasn’t sure where I would end up. I wasn’t sure where I was going to sleep but decided to let the evening decide. An old drunk farmer said he’d give me a lift later (maybe when he drank more!) and then Susan called me for a chat. I told her I’d call her back in 5 minutes when I crossed over to the local pub and got a cup of tea. The 5 minutes was to drift into another time zone.

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In the pub I sat down and an older northern man asked me if I was walking the western way. I told him I was going around the long way. We got chatting and before long half the pub was engaged in my hitching for hope tour. The local character decided to hold court on it all but I wasn’t having it. I ended up having a great one hour with Edward (79), his wife Helen and their daughter Linda. It turns out Edward was a senior figure in the banking world and during the troubles he had been one of Northern Ireland’s most successful business men.

july0422He explained how the greed of the banking world had cost him the bulk of his life’s savings and his children’s inheritance and why regulation is needed to prevent greed in all it’s forms. He talked about the great hope he had for the north and his belief that the border shouldn’t necessarily exist.

He credited his apparent health to the love and support of a loving wife, hill walking, Guinness, his involvement in cricket and rugby, and his faith in God. He said people without a spirituality are like a stool with three legs. Before he left (and off the record) he told me an incredible story worthy of a documentary of film, about how upholding his principles has cost him dearly in life. We parted as friends and promised to stay in touch.

Linda and Edward interview. Edwards starts at 8 minutes, 30 secs

Off I went to Westport. After twenty minutes hitching, and enjoying the time in the open air, I got picked up by a butcher from Westport who lived in Clifden. This being Ireland where everyone is connected, it turns out it was the same butcher I had seen Adrian HerlihIy visit in Clifden the day before.

Des talked about living in England for 10 years, his feeling that Irish people have lost their backbone to stand up for what’s right, the greed of the supermarkets in killing small business and good quality food, the health dangers of microwaves, and how he beliefs the political system is ineffective, feeding greed and power. Des believes the food industry can offer Ireland great hope and said the country is the best country in the world ‘if we had better weather and if the people would open their eyes and see what’s going on around them.’

In Westport I wandered around looking for a bed for the night. After half an hour walking it appeared everywhere was booked out. I eventually found a bed and breakfast, caught up on some online work, and hit the hay, ready for more hitching for hope in Mayo.

I was particularly moved by my conversations with the 37 year old farmer and the 79 year old ex banker. Their humanity really touched me and gave me hope but I can’t shake the despair I encountered at that farmer’s mart, the real feeling of abandonment that an old way of life is being destroyed by short sighted policy makers. Ultimately though my day uncovered hope through love, through music, through the principles and ethics, and through faith. I am grateful for the four lifts I received, and the generosity of people sharing their stories. There is much to process.

The hitching and hope continues.

Ruairí

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July 5 – Goodbye Inishbofin, hello again Inishbofin, and it’s all Damien Dempey’s fault!

hitchJuly 5th 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. 

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Latest blog (reviewing July 5th)

There was absolutely no hitching done today and it’s all Damien Dempsey’s fault! Well, sort of. I wrote in my previous blog about how I had been trying to track down the inspirational musician for an interview ever since I heard he was on Inishbofin. Alas it didn’t materialise and I was fine with that, no attachment, happy to go with the flow, although a little embarrassed that maybe I was getting into stalker territory by emailing and tweeting him and texting his mate.

Twilight blogging and ready for off

Last night after a great communal dinner in the hostel I started writing my blog and getting photos and audio files ready for publication. I had to wait til midnight for the place to quiet down and it ended up being 3am before I jumped into my windswept tent, getting just 3.5 hours sleep and waking at 6.30am to get ready for the ferry.

I folded up the tent, packed my packs and Brendan once again served up a great feed of porridge and coffee before kindly helping me with my overweight bag to the ferry. Off I went, both sad and happy of heart to be leaving this special little island with such warm people, locals and visitors alike.

Brendan helps with my bag to the ferry

Brendan helps with my bag to the ferry

And we’re off – back to ‘the mainland’, and where’s Damo?

And who did I meet within seconds of getting on the boat? Nope, not Damo but Adrian from the Beach Inn, who I had interviewed yesterday. We got to talking, with me mentioning my Damien Dempsey quest to which he replied that Damo was still around and he would be happy to help sort out the interview if I cared to come back with him on the next ferry just a couple of hours later. I’d then be able to return, yet again, to the mainland (or ‘Ireland’ as some people call it!) and get on my way to Mayo in the evening.

It was when Adrian mentioned Dean from Ballymun that I knew something was a brewing. I had heard Dean speak at a protest march before and knew he was a deep thinking guy, into music, youth work and social change, as well as being one of Damo’s close friends and allies. We had connected on Facebook and were due to meet up but it never happened. The plan to return to the island, just 2 hours after leaving it seemed just about mad enough to be a good idea. If I could interview Damo then happy days, my day would be a success.

The humble leader

july0420I caught up on some online work while in Clifden (thanks to the hostel for the free wifi!) as Adrian did a few banking and supply jobs before picking me up for the return drive to Cleggan to get the boat again. On the return trip we talked a lot about the tourism industry, his ideas for the island, his involvement in numerous community projects, and the challenges he has faced as a young ‘blow in’ business owner trying to negotiate with bureaucracy and politics.

The more I got to know him the more I liked him and could see clearly that the guy’s a doer, someone who gets stuck in and walks the talk. In fact he is walking more than the talking as he didn’t tell me half of what he is up to when I interviewed him, including the fish processing plant, training courses, food festival,an d wine studying that he is involved with. A modest man brimming with enough energy and ideas to ensure Inishbofin has a great future.

The mad fella arrives back

Arriving at the pier back in Inishbofin I could see Brendan there talking with Roisin and her mother Paula, the same people I’d interviewed yesterday. All knew I had departed just 2 hours earlier on the next stage of my tour and poor Brendan in particular was dumbfounded to see me bounce back like a boomerang as he scratched his head.

The look on his face was priceless! ‘What is this fella up to now?’ I could see him think. We all had a good chuckle when I told him what I was at. They suggested I was ‘daft’ to which I responded then I was at the right place, the island colony for daft souls! We’re all a bit daft we agreed in the end.

Ballymun dreamers

Dean was on the pier too, as it turns out, waiting on the boat out, alongside a big tribe of rapper friends who were hanging out for a few days on the island.
I had a chat with him and heard about his dream to bring the concept of peace and reconciliation work for Northern Ireland to the whole island, helping heal the trauma and abuse we have faced as a nation. He dreamt that this was one of the reasons native American Choctaw man Gary Whitedeer had been with them. Being on the island with his friends inspired what he was dreaming up.

Deane Scully with his friend Paulie, AKA 'Lethal Dialect'

Dean Scurry with his friend Paulie, AKA ‘Lethal Dialect’

I interviewed Dean and enjoyed his fresh talking perspectives on the failures of politics and business, and his honesty in saying it’s about finding your own inner perspective to process it all without internalising it, and finding strength in community whilst focusing on the good things in life like swimming.

I don’t generally meet people from Ballymun which is part of the fragmentation and division that affects us all but loved hearing about its community focus, and how so many of the 20,000 residents know each other and look out for each other. As Dean headed off he invited me to join them in Ballymun when I’m back in Dublin and to go for a swim in Dollymount, an invite I look forward to accepting.

Dean’sea audio ‘spinning in the universe’ interview tells more.

Killing the kids

Waiting to chat to me was Leo Hallissey, a school principal and community activist with plenty to say on the need to reclaim and recreate spaces, in the same way that Letterfrack, a place associated with so much abuse and horror, is now becoming a hub for innovation, culture and learning, with a furniture design course at it’s core.

He was fired up about the dehumanisation of education, taking kids away from real nature experiences and into the virtual world, bringing ipads to classrooms that require the blinds to be shut so kids sit in darkened cells away from the living vibrant world outside us. He said it was like the return of the victorian era, only this time they’ve got technology.

Leo struck me as a man with deep knowledge and a passion for change, a fire that isn’t prepared to see his students get lost in system based on numbers and results that are foolishly seen as make or breaks in life.

Hospitality fuels hope

Roisin and Paula had maintained that their offer of a bed in their holiday home still stood, sharing the house with their sister Hannah. At this stage, after a huge day the previous day and going on only 3.5 hours sleep, I was well up that comfort. No more cramped camping for me.

So off I went to get settled in just 50 metres up the road in this lovely little island where it’s easy to get around and there’s no hurry in doing so. As it turns out their holiday home was next door to and owned by Marie Coyne, who I had interviewed the day before. I was among good people.

Cork couple, bureaucracy, and bankers

In the afternoon I popped over to Adrian’s pub for lunch. Upon entering I got chatting to an older Cork couple who are on holidays with their grandchildren, returning tomorrow to host a few Italian language students, something that gives them an extra household income. The husband had realised I was ‘up to something’ and wanted to know more and had plenty to say about the bureaucracy of working in the council.

He told me how some of his colleagues got suspended for doing extra work in a remote location without permission, when they filled in some potholes in a rural location near where they were working. I heard how a small business person who moved from West Cork to France because the local council wouldn’t rent him an empty office.

The couple felt a major national regeneration programme was needed as there are 100,000s of people unemployed and there is no shortage of national community, maintenance and infrastructure jobs that need doing. Like many people they feel there’s too much incentive not to work.

His wife is a cleaner in a bank and remembers hearing the bank staff being told by management to get out there and push the consumer frenzy, and the need for more credit. Now the debt pushers are demanding their repayments from a nation who can just about keep their kids fed.

Her husband reckons there’s a bigger plan beyond what we’re being told, that some global forces are behind the world economic situation and that we’re being kept in the dark about that. Looking at the lost leadership around us, and the lack of vision and direction, he might just be right. There is leadership, it’s just not coming from our representatives, but rather from other forces we don’t know about and certainly didn’t elect.

More power to Edward Snowden and those who risk their lives to tell us what we aren’t being told and need to know. We’re either a democracy and a republic, or we’re not, and sadly it looks like the latter scenario at the moment.

But what about Damo?

As I was leaving the pub Adrian asked me how I was getting on and if I’d met Damo. No says I. ‘He’s gone now’ said Adrian, explaining I had been standing just feet away from him on the peer while interviewing Dean. Oh well, Damo had escaped, a daring get away by boat. No fear though, the hitching for hope tour will find him. He has too much to say that need to be heard.

Paradise island and listening to something deeper

After lunch the sun came out and the island basked in a blissful light that meant it could beat any Greek island in a beauty contest. Pure magic.

I decided to spend the afternoon walking and taking time out from all the listening, or rather to listen to someone else – i.e. myself.

I found a magic little beach with nobody on it, a place so great I wanted to tell the nation to abandon whatever they were doing and occupy the amazing beaches of the country so long as we had this rare sun. On the beach I took time to take it all in and try to process some of the dozens of conversations and downloads of recent days.

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I did some meditation and a hodge podge tai chi effort which helped me relax and feel calmer for the rest of the day. Looking around I saw the beauty of the land and thought about the idea of listening to the land, the sounds of the waves, animals and birds – the other Ireland that gets lost in the traffic.

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Ireland and the land

I got a sense of the land being central to what Ireland is and who we are, but feeling the increasing loss in that understanding, as modern culture continues to drive us away from this connection. If the people are disconnected from that land, if they have moved into towns and cities, if they have no time for nature, if schools and workplaces are increasingly computer based, then what chance do we have to connect with the land?

As our farmers disappear one by one, do we leave the farming bit to poorer people overseas whilst we connect more to facebook than we do the land. Is facebook shaping us in ways the land did in the past, and is this a good thing?

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My thoughts drifted to the 1000s of young people in Ireland who will never see this beautiful island, the kids who are brought up in decaying urban environments, abandoned by planners, developers and policy makers who themselves are rewarded with second homes throughout the country. Surely there must be an equality of opportunity, a birth right to nature?

The theme for the afternoon became about reflection and connection. Not that they don’t have their problems on Inishbofin but this place calls people back to a healthier way, a pace of life, connection to land and community, the simple things at a slower pace.

Slowing down

The pressures to be productive, to be listening, blogging, tweeting, facebooking, emailing, texting, calling, producing – all needed to fade off this afternoon. I’ve been my own boss for a long time and that gives a certain freedom but it can get tough when that boss is as pushy and results focused as he is sometimes. Sometimes I need permission to step back, to doss a little, or to take time to eat, rest and just be.

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Like so many people I can drive myself for results, for outputs, for impact. Fair enough to set a challenge but if I’m not stopping to smell the roses and process the learning then I will replicate the madness I seek to heal. The process of this trip is as important as the destination so it was good to step back and take some much needed time to consider some of what has been happening. Sometimes it’s about relearning the art of doing nothing in particular.

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In the evening I was offered more hospitality and stories as I shared a lovely meal with Paula, Roisin and Hannah. As tempted as I was to head to the pub and enjoy the vibrant traditional music scene on the island, the wiser side got the better of me and I hit the hay, just to be sure I really was going to make it off the island. The rumour mill had started ‘that journalist lad might end up staying here’ but no, as great as that sounded, the show must go on. The hitching for hope must continue.

Thanks (again!) Inishbofin and all the good people I met.

Ruairí 

P.S. It turns out I had spotted Damien the day before and didn’t even realise it. I had taken a photo of a few ‘mad lads’ diving from the pier. Damo was one of them I heard later. Sometimes you are close and you don’t even realise it!

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July 4 – the kindness of strangers, the simplicity of hope (Inishbofin island)

hitchJuly 4th Hitching For Hope blog from Inishbofin Island. 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 

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2am Friday morning, blog before bed review of Thursday July 4th ( please excuse errors and sound quality issues etc.). Press the orange play icon on sound files to hear audio. 

Freezing my ass off and the kindness of strangers

6am Thursday, up with the freezing cold as my new light-weight one man tent took a good bashing from the wind. and rain all night. ‘Feck this’ I thought. Brendan changed that when he appeared from nowhere to open the kitchen and offer me hot coffee, tasty porridge and plenty of stories about life after redundancy and drinking.

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He says he is living the simple healthy life on the island, fishing, camping, and foraging, triathlons and enjoying the company of tourists and locals, before he returns to the mainland in the winter.

Understanding history to understand the present

My faith in the day was restored and an offer of a fish dinner for the evening meant I decided to spend another night on the island. Off  I went following a group of primary school teachers on a heritage week learning tour. I listened in as archaeologist Michael Gibbons talked of history and heritage, colonialism and oppression, and the shifts and wheels of history that can give us perspective of our current challenges in Ireland.

I confessed to him that I had been an imposter on his tour while I interviewed him walking to the ferry. He talked of the current tough times we’re in, his belief that change won’t come from within the system, and his hope that community power can make a difference. Listening to him I was reminded by a quote by Jamaican campaigner Marcus Garvey: ‘A people without a knowledge of their history is like a tree without roots’.

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The search for Damien Dempsey

At the ferry I spotted Choctaw native American man Gary Whitedeer, a fellow friend of the Afri peace organisation that I had met at the famine walk in Mayo only a few weeks ago. Mad stuff. Earlier in the day I had texted a friend looking for Gary’s number as I knew he knows Damien Dempsey (the musician and singer) and I had heard Damien was on the island and figured he’d make an ideal interview candidate due to his talented songs of hope and struggle. As Gary waved goodbye on the ferry he told me that Damien was down in Murrays pub. So off I went. The search for Damo.

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Finding religion

Just 3 minutes down the road I said hello to two lady joggers. One of them called me back. ‘Ruairi, it’s me, Roisin.’ Roisin is a woman in her late twenties I had met a few times through work over the years. ‘What are you at?’ I asked her. ‘Taking time out, after quitting my job’ she replied whilst looking at her mother. I knew there was more to it. There generally is when people quit their job in a recession, as I did 2 years ago. ‘I’m considering the religious life’ she said as she talked about her calling to find the God within and to live a simple life. And so a fascinating interview began.

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Spuds, evangelistic eijits, and bean counters

Off to went to find Damo. No joy in Murrays but I found a young Dublin school teacher working in the pub for the summer. He served me up a tasty feed of roast chicken as I got chatting to a Kildare woman who suggested I might be some kind of evangelist, not something I’d like to be considered as. A missionary maybe I thought, am I a missionary for hope? Erm. I dunno. ‘An eijit’ I suggested. ‘A nice eijit’ said replied. And off she went. In came an artist lady I had chatted to the night before. She told me about her ‘Shirley Valentine’ week of getting time away from work and family to focus on her art and the need to get more balance in life.

She talked about her hours as an adult education art teacher being cut from 12 to 8 per week and the fact the bean counters want more outputs and reports despite her work being more about social development than it does about some bizarre lens of stale statistics and logic. The logic masters want more art outputs. How can she tell that to the woman who is trying art after not leaving her house in 3 years, she thought. The bean counters are running the world. I’m all for productivity and accountability but they are killing humanity with their bizarre logic.

Island view

Up at the top of a windswept hill I looked out on the beautiful island and neighbouring islands, reflecting on how lucky I was to be there, and grateful for the support I’ve received. Thinking about island life I kept thinking about simplicity and community, something that was a clear part of life on Inishbofin.

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Survival amidst abuse

A few minutes later I chatted to a local man who confirmed that indeed life was about simplicity for him but more so about survival. He said he didn’t hold out much hope for his 4 daughters and that the world is run by control masters in economics, politics and religion and that all you can do in protect your own sanity and maintain ways to keep things simple and free from control. A man who knew himself I thought. Hopeful, maybe not, but dignified, aware and confident, yes. ‘We don’t need much to survive’ he said, and he’s right.

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Simplicity again

I stopped two men, one of who was wearing a Norwegian flag on his cap. I wanted to hear about Norway but he was from Cork. All the better I figured. The younger man was Dub, a recently qualified Engineer looking for work. Good luck with that I thought. ‘I’m sailing around Ireland with my uncle’ he said, pointing to the Cork man. ‘Life is about keeping things simple. We sailed here on a few euro worth of diesel. It’s about nature, the simple things’ the Cork postmaster said as we looked out at the sun shining on the bay.

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Tweets of hope

Last night I got a Twitter invite to the Beach Inn pub nearby. This morning the same fella sent me a Facebook message inviting me over for breakfast, hardly 300 metres away. I better go find out who he is I figured. Turns out he is a friend of  my friends from Loughrea. Adrian Herlihy in the Beach Inn had heard about my trip, not via my friend, but from Senator Lorraine Higgins on Twitter. The web is mad at times. Great though. Small world. Tiny country.

A nice free coffee in the Beach Inn and a great chat with Adrian as he told me about his journey working in different hotels around the world and deciding to make a go of this business with his wife who is from the island. They focus on good locallly sourced food (as local as possible), nice accomodation, good music and hospitality. A hopeful man and shining with upbeat positivity.

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Eco dreams

On to find Marie Coyne who set up the local museum. She wasn’t there so up the road I went, first stopping to see a former Dublin solicitor in his garden who moved here to build an eco centre. More dreams of the simple life and no shortage of clarity on the fact that the spectacular fail of capitalism is a good thing, because nobody can deny it. That opens the door to new possibilities, ones that need to be embraced. He’s hopeful!

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Hope and history

Finally made it up to Marie, a lovely woman in her 40s who has lived on the island all her life and has a passion for history inspired by a connection to her ancestors and an appreciation for their struggle and what they gave her. She didn’t have electricity until she was 12 and doesn’t have an inclination to leave the island. She has all she needs. She has written several books, is working on another and gets hope from her young niece who has down syndrome. The simple things.

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Dinner, revolution, and the choice of hope in the air

I had to rush back to make it in time for my dinner invite. Free dinner with good people, there was no way I was missing that. On the way I got a another media query and a message from Roisin offering me a bed in their rented house so I could take refuge from the cold. More kindness.

Back in the hostel the table was set and Brendan talked me out of any prospect of heading off to a house for the night. He arrived with a duvet for warmth and promised porridge in the morning before I got the ferry. Hard to argue with that. Hard to argue with the amazing dinner of fresh fish, veg, spuds and wine that about 8 of us sat down to. An international inter-generational communal effort at it’s best with me providing nothing in particular other than a few offerings of what I was up to and why I think we need to find and elevate messages of hope.

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Later the conversation moved into the bankers, the fact we seem to have two sets of laws in Ireland, and the consensus that justice was needed and needed soon. The country seems to be impatient for change and I’m hoping there is an awakening that we can’t take any more lies and spin. Waking up to lies can be painful but I think it can lead to hope. The line between that and despair is fine though and today’s chats reinforced my sense that whether we end up with hope or despair can often be the simple flick of a switch, the choice of how we see things, what perspective we take as we wake up each day.

Today was epic. No Damo but it was filled to the brim with the good stuff. Inishbofin’s charm has got me and it’s going to be hard to leave but already I’m wondering how I’m going  to make it around the country in just a few short weeks. It’s 2am now. I’ve been awake 20 hours. I can’t get to bed because people keep talking to me to me all day and I’m trying to make time to blog and process some of the day’s footage. Still trying to get into the flow of things. Perhaps listening is a good thing but too much is hard to process. Still, I’m grateful to all these people for sharing their lives and stories with me. I’m now wrecked. It’s been a long day and I’m up at 7am to get a ferry and aiming for Mayo. Off to the tent with me as the wind starts to howl.

Thank you Inishbofin, you’re a beacon of hope in a sea of madness. Thanks also to everyone following this online,  especially to those who have been chipping in funds online and those who shared their stories and their hospitality.

The Hitching For Hope continues.

Ruairí

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