Sunday, May 3, 2015

Bricfeasta na hAoine - my own 'grá' for our native language


Inné bhí mé ag caint ag Bricfeasta na hAoine, ócáid eagrithe ag Glór na nGael. Bhí slua maith de Ghaeilgeoirí ann. Daoine le Gaeilge ag teacht le chéile ar son phroinn na maidine san ArdChathair.

At Bricfeasta na hAoine in Dublin  I spoke as a guest of Glór na nGael. I spoke of my own 'grá' for our native language.

Tá mé thar a bheith sásta a bheith libh anseo go moch ar maidin. Tá sé chomh maith go bhfuil an oiread seo daoine a bhfuil suim acu i ndul chun cinn na Gaeilge anseo linn inniu.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh as cuireadh a thabhairt dom bheith in bhur measc.

Tréaslaím an obair iontach atá idir lámha ag Glór na nGael. Táim den tuairim go gcaithfear an Ghaeilge a scaoileadh saor ón seomra ranga agus beocht a thabhairt di in achan gné den tsaol.

Beatha teanga í a labhairt. Tugann Glór na nGael go leor dieseanna do dhaoine an Ghaeilge a labhairt i níos mó áiteanna.

Chuir mé féin suim sa teanga nuair a bhí me ag freastal ar bhunscoil Naomh Finian De La Salle ar Bhóthar na bhFál.

Ach nuair a chuaigh mé go dtí Scoil na mBráithre Críostaí chuir mé tús le gaol leis an teanga a mhaireann go dtí an lá atá inniu ann.

Cuid mhór de sin ná an Bráthair Beusang a d’eagraigh turasanna chuig an Ghaeltacht i dTír Chonanaill.

An chéad deis eile a bhí agam mo chuid eolais ar an Ghaeilge a leathnú ná sa phríosún.

Chruthaigh na cimí polaitiúla, go háirithe sna cásanna sa Cheis Fhada, pobail bheaga Gaeilge – botháin Gaeltachta – áit a raibh an teanga beo gach lá.

Agus mar gheall ar an stádas polaitiúil a bhí againn bhí cead leabhair Ghaeilge a bheith againn.

Sin an áit ar fhoghliam Bobby Sands a chuid Gaeilge.

Bhí Prionsias Mac Airt, seanPhoblachtánach, amhránaí ar an sean-nós mar mhúinteoir aige.

Múinteior eile as Luimneach a bhí ag múineadh ná Coireal Mac Curtain.

Ansin, nuair a scaoileadh saor na cimí, lean siad ar aghaidh ag obair ar a gcuid Gaeilge sa phobal.

Bhí pobal Gaeilge láidir ann i mBéal Feirste roimhe sin le Gaeltacht Bhóthar Seoighe agus Cumann Chluain Aird.

Níos déanaí nuair a tháinig na Blocanna H in áit na gcásanna, agus nuiar a bhí an Ghaeilge mar ghnátheanga laethúil, bhí tionchar ollmhór aige seo ar dhaoine óga ó na ceantair náisiúnach agus lucht oibre sa tuaisceart.

Ag an tráth sin fosta, cuireadh lasair síos i measc an phobail mar gheall ar na stailceanna ocrais.

Nuiar a scaoileadh saor na daoine sin a bhí sna blocanna, thóg siad na scileanna sin amach chuig an phobal. Chuir said ranganna ar siúl i bpubanna, clubanna, ionaid phobail agus i dtithe.

Inniu i m’áit dhúchais in iarthar Bhéal Feirste thig liom dul isteach chuig mo shiopa lóganta agus an nuachtán a cheannacht trí mheán na Gaeilge.

Thig liom dul chuig an bhairbeoir aitiúil agus bearradh gruaige a fháil le comhrá fada as Gaeilge.

Thig liom dul chuig an chaifé lóganta agus cupán caifé a ordú trí mheán na Gaeilge.

Tá pobal Gaeilge atá beomhar ar Bhóthar na bhFál agus tá Ceathrú Gaeltachta againn.

Tá naíonraí, Gaelscoileanna agus Meánscoil Feirste ann.

Tá na mílte páiste dulta agus ag dul faoi láthair trí oideachas le Gaeilge.

Ó mo cheantar féin, Baile Uí Mhurchú fuair dhá mhíle páiste oideachas trí mheán na Gaeilge le déanaí.

Tá seo uilig an-tábhachtach.

Nuair a chuirtear teanga faoi chois boilg éilíonn an pobal cearta teanga,

Céad bliain ó shin chuidigh athbheochan na Gaeilge, an cheoil, na litríochta agus na drámaíochta dúchais, borradh a chur faoi dhaoine saoirse na tíre a bhaint amach agus ar ndóiche lean sin ar aghaidh go dtí Éirí Amach 1916.

I 1987 i Soweto san Aifric Theas nuair a bhí mic léinn ag iarraidh oideachais ina dteanga dhúchais féin chuir said tús le rud an-tábhachtach.

Bhí an Stát in aghaidh athrú agus d’éirigh na mic léinn amach.

Rugadh spiorad iontu. Sheas siad an fód.

Cosúil le cóilíneachtaí eile bhí an teanga agus an cultúr faoi ionsaí go rialta in Éirinn.

I ndiaidh na gcéadta bliain de chólínteacht tá a rian láidir fágtha linn in Éirinn.

Rinne Séan Mac Giolla Bhríde, iar-cheannaire an IRA, buaiteoir Duais Nobel agus Lenin na Síochána, cur síos air mar ‘intinn an sclábhaí’

Bhí an dearcadh nó an mheoin sin chomh láidir in Éirinn gur nós leis na húdair agus na filí, tagairt a dhéanamh d’Éirinn le tagairtí casta.

Léirigh siad Éire mar Kathleen Ní Houlihan.

Mar atá a fhios agaibh go maith bhí fáth leis seo.

Má bhí duine ag lorg post bhí an Béarla de dheol orthu.

Go háirithe iad siúd a bhí ag dul ar imirce chuig na Stáit Aontaithe, An Asráil nó Sasana.

Bhí dlí na Breataine an-dian orthu siúd a bhí ag maireachtáil trí mheán na Gaeilge.

Tá sin fós ag tarlú sa tuaisceart mar a bhfuil cosc iomlán ar an Ghaeilge a úsáid sna Cúirteanna.

Ach bhí an scéal mar an gcéanna in Albain agus sa Bhreatain Bheag go dtí gur tháinig an féinriail.

Mar sin is iad an DUP agus an UUP atá in aghaidh Acht na Gaeilge. Ar an lámh eile bhí páirt láidir ag go leor Protastún in athbheochan na Gaeilge cosúil le Robert Shipbuoy McAdam agus féach an obair atá ar siúl san ionad Skainos ar Bhóthar Bhaile Nua na hArda inniu mar shampla.

Maidir leis na Gaelscoileanna a tháinig chun cinn le tríocha bliain, dhiúltaigh Rialtas na Breataine aon airgeadas a chur ar fáil daofa.

Níor chuir sin stop leis na Gaelscoileanna, agus níor chuir sé stop leis na Gaelscoileanna sa Stát seo ach oiread.

Smaoiním ar na daoine a tháinig ón Ghaeltacht chun na cathrach chun freastal ar phobal Gaeilge nua seo agus an nath a bhí ag Máirtín Ó Díreáin “An Charraig agus an Chathair”

Tháinig an pobal le chéile, cheannaigh said sean-bhotháin déanta as adhmaid, agus d’oscail said scoileanna nach raibh go leor áiseanna acu ach a raibh grá láidir don teanga iontu.

Cuireann Sinn Féin an-bhéim ar an oideachas, sin an fáth go bhfuil an aireacht sin againn ó tháinig an Feidhmeannas ar an saol.

Faoin scéim roinnt-chumhachta chinntigh na hAirí oideachais John O’Dowd, Caitríona Ruane agus Martin McGuinness go mbeadh airgead ann don GhaelOideachas agus go rachadh sé ó neart go neart.

Mar sin, i mo bharúil féin, ceann de na dúshláin is mó atá roimh phobal na hÉireann ná díchóilíniú.

Mar a dúirt Máirtín Ó Cadhain ‘Is í an Ghaeilge Athghabháil na hÉireann agus is í athghabháil na hÉireann slánú na Gaeilge’

Sin é an fáth go bhfuil gá ann le hAcht Gaeilge ó Thuaidh a thugann cosaint do chearta saoránaigh an Ghaeilge a úsáid.

D’fhoilsigh an tAire Caral Ní Chuilin dréachtAcht na Gaeilge le comhairliúchán ar siúl anois.

Chuir Caral tús leis an fheachtas 'Líofa', a bhfuil ag éirí go breá leis, agus An Club Leabhar fosta.

Agus sa Stát seo sin an fáth go gcaithfimid deireadh a chur leis an ghearradh siar a bhaineann leis an teanga, níos mó airgid a thabhairt ar ais do Foras na Gaeilge agus airgead ceart a chur ar fail chun Scéim Fiche Bliain a chur i gcrích.

Nuair a bhí mé ag siúl chuig an áit seo ar maidin tháinig gliondar croí orm nuair a chonaic mé go leor pósataer ag tacú le 'TÁ' sa reifreann atá le teacht. Dhá rud a bhí iontach faoi sin.

An chéad rud ná go raibh Gaeilge ar na póstaeir ó go leor páirtithe, ní amháin Sinn Féin. Is linn ar fad an Ghaeilge.

Ní bhaineann sí le haon ghrúpa, aon chine nó aon chreideamh amháin.

Tá sí uilíoch.

Clúdaíonn an dátheangachas gach duine.

Agus ní bhaineann an Ghaeilge le Sinn Féin nó le poblachtánaigh amháin.

An dara rud ná an focal comhionannas a bheith chun tosaigh ar na póstaeir.

Is breá liom na focail a thosaíonn le ‘comhComhoibriú, comhpáirtíocht, agus ar ndóigh comhionannas.

Sin bunús an phoblachtánachais. Comhionannas.

Ba cheart go mbeidh deis ag gach duine saol a chaitheamh le compáird agus sonas.

Tá cearta tábhachtach fosta.

Ba chóir an ceart a bheith againn ár dteanga dhúchais in achan gné den tsaol.

Léigh mé altanna le polaiteoirí eile a shíleann gur masla daofa agus don teanga é nuair a labhraím as Gaeilge sa Dáil.

Caitheann said anuas ar an chanúint is agamsa agus go mbímse ag plé rudaí tábhachtacha as Gaeilge.

Sin an barúil atá acu.

An rud a chuireann isteach orm ná go bhfuil daoine sa Dáil a bhfuil an teanga acu, ach seachas í a úsáid, baineann siad spoc as daoine nach bhfuil an teanga acu.

Nó i gcás an Taoiseach agus An Teachta Mick Wallace is bealach é chun ceist thábhachtach a chur ar leataobh.

Creidim nach bhfuil bealach níos fear ann chun deireadh a chur le meath na Gaeilge ná chun í a úsáid sna hinstitiúdí is airde sa tír.

Tá Teachtaí sa Dáil atá i bhfad níos líofa ná mé féin ach nach labhraíonn smid Gaeilge sa Dáil.

Cad chuige seo?

Ar an ábhar seo creidim nach bhfuil áit ar bith nach féidir an Ghaeilge a úsáid ann.

Ba cheart go mbeadh an Dáil oscailte agus tacúil do dhaoine atá ag iarraidh an teanga a úsáid gach lá.

Le sampla maith leanfaidh na daoine eile.

Mar fhocal scor, maidir le hÉirí Amach 1916 agus an céad bliain.

Níos luaithe labhair mé faoin nasc sin idir an teanga, an cultúr agus an ceol le comhthéacs an Éirí Amach a chruthú.

Tá sé an-tábhachtach agus muid réidh le céiliúradh a dhéanamh ar an céad bliain, go mbeidh an Ghaeilge ina cuid lárnach de na himeachtaí sin.

Arís míle buíochas as cuireadh a thabhairt dom. Tugann sé ardú meanmar dom nuair a fheicim daoine anseo le Gaeilge agus chomh gníomhach. Leanaigí ar aghaidh leis an obair thábhachtach seo.

Translation

I am delighted to be here with you early this morning.

It is great to see so many people active in the Irish language.

Thank you very much for inviting me to be here with you this morning.

I want to praise the work undertaken by Glór na nGael.

I am strongly of the opinion that Irish must be liberated from the classroom and inserted into every aspect of life.

The life of a language is in its speaking.

Glór na nGael gives people the opportunity to speak Irish in more and more settings.

My own interest in the language began when I started primary school at St. Finian’s De La Salle School on the Falls Road.

 However it was St. Mary’s Grammar School run by the Christian Brothers which really bonded me to the language.

A big part of that was Brother Beausang who helped organise our summer breaks to the Donegal Gaeltacht.

My next real opportunity to extend my limited knowledge of the language was in prison. 

Political prisoners, particularly in the cages of Long Kesh, created Irish language communities in prison – Gaeltacht huts – where we lived and breathed the language each day.

And because we had political status we were permitted Irish language text books.

It was there that Bobby Sands learned Irish.

He was taught by, amongst others, Prionsias Mac Airt, a veteran republican, a sean-nós singer and a man from Limerick, Coireal Mac Curtain.

Subsequently, many of these prisoners and others who had been interned continued with their work on the language when they were released.

Later when the cages were replaced by the H Blocks and when the Irish language became the daily language of most of the protesting prisoners at that time, this had a huge impact on the consciousness, particularly of young working-class nationalists.

A spark was lit in the community during the Hunger Strikes.

When prisoners were released from the Blocks, many of them brought the language skills and teaching methods they had learned back into their communities conducting classes in pubs, clubs, community centres and homes.

In my own native West Belfast I can go into my local shop and buy my newspaper using Irish.

I can go to my local barber and get my hair cut and have a long conversation with my barber using Irish.

I can go to my local café and buy my coffee through the medium of the Irish language.

We have a thriving Irish language community n Belfast and on the Falls there is Ceathrú na Gaeltachta.

There are Irish medium nurseries, primary schools and a Meánscoil Féirste.

Thousands of our children have and are going through education using Irish as their first language.

All of this s very important.

Culture and language are catalysts for change and development.

Often the effect is a dynamic.

The suppression of language leads to the demand for language rights.

Just over 100 years ago the revival of the Irish language and of native music and culture, of literature and theatre helped spur the national and republican struggle for independence and laid the foundations for Easter 1916.

In the context of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, the simple assertion of the right to be taught through their native tongue by students in Soweto in 1976 was a key moment.

The state resisted change and the students rebelled.

A renewed spirit of resistance was born.

In Ireland, as in other colonies, culture and language have been a frequent target.

Hundreds of years of colonialism have left an indelible impression on Irish society.

Human rights campaigner Sean MacBride, once an IRA commander, later a winner of both the Nobel and the Lenin Peace Prize, described the problem as being ‘a slave mentality’.

British imperialism and colonialism has been so pervasive in Ireland over such  a long time that in the past artists and writers gave expression to their Irishness only in veiled references.

Ireland was disguised as Kathleen Ní Houlihan.

Of course, as you may well know, there was a sound historical reason for this.

If you wanted a job you needed English.

Especially if you wanted to go to the USA, Australia or England.

British law severely penalised those giving outward expression to Irishness, including our language.

That remains a real issue in the north where, for example the use of Irish in the courts is specifically outlawed.

It was likewise in Wales and Scotland until they asserted devolution.

Therefore it is the DUP and the UUP who are against an Irish Language Act in the north. On the other hand, there were many Protestants active in the language revival, like Robert Shipbuoy McAdam and the  wonderful work being done by Linda Ervine at the Skainos Centre on the Newtonards Road.         

Irish language schools, of which many have grown up over the last 30 years, were refused public funding under British direct rule.

That did not stop the formation of gaelscoileanna.

I often think of those that left the Gaeltacht to come to the cities to nurture these new Irish language communities. The phrase coined by Máirtín Ó Direáin sums up that period "An Charraig agus an Chathair"

Families and local communities worked hard to raise funds, buy second hand wooden huts, and open schools that were short on resources but in which there was a strong love for the language.

Recognising the importance of education Sinn Féin has held the education department in the Executive since it was established.

Under power-sharing, Education Ministers John O Dowd, Caitríona Ruane and Martin McGuinness have ensured funding is provided and Irish medium education grows from strength to strength.

So, one of the greatest challenges we face today is the decolonisation.

As Máirtín Ó Cadhain rallied: ‘Is í an Ghaeilge Athghabháil na hÉireann agus is í athghabháil na hÉireann slánú na Gaeilge’

That is why an Irish language Act is needed in the north that protects the rights of Irish speakers. Caral Ní Chuilin has published  a draft Irish Language Act.

Caral initaited a great scheme called 'Líofa' which is flourishing, and a scheme for Irish language books.

And it is why in this state we need an end to cuts affecting the language, a restoration of funding for Foras na Gaeilge and finance for the implementation of the 20 year strategy for the Irish language.

When I was walking here this morning I was uplifted when I saw many posters that were supporting a YES vote written in Irish.

Two things about that I found fantastic.

Firstly, there were signs in Irish from most of the parties, not just Sinn Féin.

We all own the Irish language.

It is not confined exclusively to any religious, ethnic or racial group.

It is inclusive.

And developing bilingualism includes everyone.

Nor does the Irish language belong solely to Sinn Féin or Irish republicans.

The second thing that uplifted me is that the word Comhionannas is to the fore on all the posters.

I like words that begin with comh ; comhoibriú cooperation, comhpháirtíocht solidarity.

And of course Comhionannas.

That is what is at the heart of Republicanism.

Equality of condition for all citizens.

Rights are also at the heart of Republicanism.

We should have the right to speak one’s native language in all facets of our lives.

I have read articles by other politicians who seem to think that my using the Irish language in the Dáil is an affront to them and to the language.

They make fun of my Ulster dialect and Belfast accent and are critical of the fact that I try to discuss ‘important’ matters through the medium of Irish

That’s their opinion.

What I find frustrating is that so many of those in the Dáil have the language and instead of using it they poke fun at those who try.

Or as in the recent case of the Taoiseach and Mick Wallace it becomes a means of dismissing the concerns of a Teachta Dála on an important issue.

I believe there is no better way to show commitment to the reversal of language decline than using the language in public in some of the highest institutions.

Thre are Teachtaí in the Dáil far more proficient in the Irish language than I am, yet they don't utter a word as Gaeilge in the Dáil.

Why not?

To this end I believe it is important to show that there is no forum unsuitable for using Irish.

The Dáil, more that any other institution should be openly and enthusiastically encouraging the use of the Irish language every day.

If we set the example then others might follow.

Finally, a word about the centenary celebrations for 1916.

Earlier I remarked on the importance of the language and culture and music and literature in creating the context for the Rising.

It is very important that as we plan to celebrate the centenary that this aspect of that period in our history is given expression.

That may be something you have already discussed in this group.

So, congratulations for liberating an Ghaeilge and bringing it to the breakfast table. I commend the work of Glór na nGael for providing practical and living examples of  how the very essence of Irishness can be part of our lives.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

A scandal at the heart of government

Following the economic crash eight years ago two toxic banks in the 26 counties – Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide - were amalgamated into the state owned Irish Bank Resolution Company set up for that purpose. The then Fianna Fáil government handed it the responsibility of managing a range of loans that were in serious trouble. Redeeming them if possible or where necessary selling then on and getting the best price possible for the taxpayer.

On the 18 April 2012, Sinn Féin’s Finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty received a reply from Minister for Finance Michael Noonan to a question he had asked several weeks earlier about a deal just undertaken by IBRC concerning loans to a company called Siteserv.

Siteserv had borrowed €150 million from Anglo Irish Bank. The company was broke and appeared set to close. The deal, agreed by IBRC involved the acquisition of Siteserv by Millington, a company owned by businessman Denis O Brien, for€45.42 million euros. Seventy per cent of the money it owed IBRC was written off. The tax payers lost €105 million on the deal.

There was another sting in the tail. Shareholders, including chief executives at the company, received €4.96 million. For a company that was busted.

The taxpayer took a hit of over €100 million, and the shareholders walked away with millions.

So Pearse asked the Minister what exactly was going on. And Minister Noonan responded with one of those gloriously obnoxious lines that could only be thought up by a Fine Gael, Labour or Fianna Fáil minister: “Notwithstanding the State’s ownership of the bank, IBRC operates at an arm’s length capacity from the State in relation to commercial issues.”

Basically – ‘even though we own the bank, we don’t take any interest in what is going on’.

And that’s the line the Irish Government has been running with since Freedom of Information requests by independent TD Catherine Murphy brought a renewed focus onto the Siteserv deal. Political anger and media interest has now put the spotlight on a host of other deals involving IBRC and the writing off of hundreds of millions in taxpayers' money.

In respect of Siteserv we now know that as well as shareholders getting a sweetener of €5 million to ensure the deal went ahead, the same legal advisers acted for both the purchaser and seller.

We also know that Denis O'Brien’s company was not the highest bidder but yet emerged as the successful bidder. We know the Minister for Finance was briefed by Department of Finance officials on serious concerns over this transaction and briefed equally on broader concerns over other transactions and the modus operandi of IBRC.

The Minister claimed that IBRC reviewed the Siteserv sale. Mr. Noonan – a former leader of Fine Gael – sat down with Alan Dukes the Chairman of IBRC and also a former leader of Fine Gael and Fine Gael Minister for Finance- and accepted his verbal assurances that IBRC was behaving properly. The concerns of Departmental officials were ignored.

The Siteserv deal is not the only one that saw debt written down. More than €64 million was written off for Blue Ocean Associates before being purchased by a consortium, also involving, as it happens, Denis O'Brien. There was an almost 50% write-down of €300 million in debts in the purchase of Topaz. Mr. O'Brien is also involved in this.

The Sunday Times ran this story on its front page on Sunday April 19thbut two days later when challenged on it in the Dáil the Taoiseach said he had not read the reports. He then appeared to pluck out of the air a suggestion that the Comptroller and Auditor General could look at the circumstances surrounding the deal to determine whether the taxpayer had got value for money.

This was the government trying to kick the issue to touch. Last week in the Dáil during Leaders I asked the Taoiseach three questions. The first was why the Minister for Finance failed to ask the IBRC chairman, Alan Dukes, to conduct a full and independent review of the sale as recommended by Department of Finance officials. The second was what were the other large transactions conducted by IBRC? The third was for him to establish an independent Commission of Investigation of these matters. The Taoiseach failed to answer these questions.

As it happens it quickly emerged that the Comptroller and Auditor does not have the authority to investigate Siteserv. The Taoiseach is bound to have known this – so a different approach was needed.

Desperate to avoid a Commission of Investigation the Minister for Finance then announced that the special liquidators, who helped close IBRC down, would be asked to review all transactions at IBRC over €10 million. The liquidators are also from KPMG, one of the four big world auditors, and we know that when the Siteserv deal was being done, the sales process was overseen by KPMG and stockbrokers Davy.

Alan Dukes was not amused and held a press conference at which he said that the Department of Finance was kept abreast of the sales process at all stages. He also said that the IRBC board never had a review of the Siteserv transaction. This contradicts Minister Noonan's claim that there was a review.

Last Sunday new Freedom of Information reports revealed that share activity in Siteserv significantly increased in the month before it was sold off by IBRC and that the share register, which contained the details of those who bought the shares, was given to the liquidator in July 2012.

The following day, and in an obvious attempt to defuse public concern about the involvement of  KPMG and to avoid having to establish a Commission of Investigation, the government announced the appointment of a retired High Court Judge Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O' Neill to oversee ‘any actual or perceived conflicts of interests.

Murkier and murkier. The twists and turns of this story have stayed in the media headlines now for two weeks and there seems to be little prospect of the story going away.

Of course, there is a much wider political issue here centring on Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil’s refusal to ever accept accountability for events that happen on their watch.

It’s also all about the relationship between the parties and big business and their compliant attitude to the elites – the Golden Cicrle – in contrast for example to struggling households and working families.

But IBRC was not the only government owned agency handling massive debts arising from the economic crash. NAMA took over much of the debt arising from the collapse of the construction industry and is handling billions in taxpayers' money. Minister Noonan has ordered NAMA to wind up faster than its 2020 remit demands – meaning NAMA is rushing sales processes and there is a lack of transparency there too. Last year, it sold off it’s entire loan book for the north at a €400 million discount - €400 million the Irish taxpayer will never see again.

Irish taxpayers’ assets are being disposed of by NAMA at a rate of hundreds of millions every month – and we don’t know if we’re getting full value for money.

We do need an inquiry into what happened in IBRC- during its operation and its liquidation. And that inquiry should include NAMA. The public good and taxpayers interests require that all transactions, including the acquisition of assets by NAMA be subjected to thorough independent scrutiny in a Commission of Investigation.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Rambling On Rathlin


 

 
A view from Rathlin
 


 
Rathlin Island, off the coast of County Antrim, is our most northern off shore island. I was there at the weekend. The journey over in the ferry from Ballycastle was sublime. It teed up our expectation and anticipation of a wonderful day to come on one of Ireland’s last inhabited islands. The sky was clear, the sea was relatively calm, though still a bit bumpy in parts for those with shaky sea-legs, and the view was breath-taking. 

We were greeted as we stepped ashore by the friendly faces and good natured banter of islanders and visitors alike. We were all there to take part in the Rise Foundations Rathlin Ramble to help raise money for a wonderful charity. The Foundation was established in 2009 by the singer and activist, Frances Black. The Black family have deep roots on Rathlin. Their father was an islander. 

 
Santana, Frances agus Mise
Rise stands for ‘Recovery In a Safe Environment’ and its mission is to support families who are impacted by a loved one's addictive behaviour through awareness, education and therapy.  They are dedicated to working towards helping family members to free themselves from the stress, anxiety and worry of having a loved one with addictive behaviour.

Rise helps family members understand the nature of addiction and how it impacts on relationships. In this way it hopes to aid families as they work to recover from the effects of the addiction and to support and strengthen families through a very difficult period in their lives. 

Two years before the charity was established Frances contacted me and outlined her hopes of establishing an organisation that would help families faced with addiction. Part of her vision for what became ‘Rise’ was the opening of an addiction, education and awareness centre for families on Rathlin Island. 

I thought it was a great idea and asked Conor Murphy, who was then the Minister for Regional Development to see what help and advice he could provide for the project. Conor quickly moved to ensure that part of this engagement with Rathlin would explore opportunities to reverse the years of underinvestment and neglect endured by the islanders.

Eventually out of this emerged a new government policy toward Rathlin. But equally importantly for the Rise Foundation the Commissioner of Irish Lights agreed to let the Foundation lease two houses at Rathlin’s remote East Lighthouse. Both are in need of work and Saturday’s ramble around Rathlin is one of the fundraising efforts created by Frances Black and her dedicated team at Rise.

The ramble covered 7 miles (11.2 km). Rathlin has spectacular scenery and a long history that takes it back to the Neolithic period. It currently has a population of 120 hardy souls. Locals claim that Rathlin was probably the first of our islands to become inhabited. Standing on the north cliffs you get an amazing view of the islands of Scotland and the Mull of Kintyre. 

Rathlin has a long association with mythical and historical figures from the Tuatha de Danaan to St. Columba. It is also said in the Annals of Ulster that Rathlin experienced the first Viking raid on the island of Ireland. However, one of the best stories told is of the Scottish King Robert the Bruce who hid in a cave – imaginatively named Bruce’s cave - on Rathlin after his defeat by English forces in 1306. Bruce was deeply depressed at his defeat but in his despondency he watched a spider valiantly try seven times before succeeding to bridge a gap between rocks.

English soldiers searching for Robert did not search the cave. When they saw the spider's web they concluded that he could not be in the cave without breaking the web. For his part Robert concluded that If the spider did not give up then he should persevere also and off he went and retook his throne.

The Saturday of the Rise Ramble was a beautiful day but in bad weather the treacherous tides and the high cliffs of the island have seen their share of boating tragedies. There have been many Ship wrecks. As a consequence Rathlin had three lighthouses, one of which is the East Lighthouse where the Rise Foundation is hoping to establish their centre.

 
Our task on Saturday was less formidable than that of Robert the Bruce but nonetheless very challenging. Our walk along Rathlin’s narrow roads and the stunning views gave us plenty of time to look at the local fauna and admire the many varieties of wildlife that inhabit Rathlin. There is an amazing diversity of birds, from peregrines, and skylarks to lapwings. Along the cliff faces battered by the wild Atlantic there is a huge seabird colony of puffins and others, like guillemots and razorbills birds. They gather in their thousands in the summer months to breed. The uniqueness of this small island is reflected in its recognition as a Special Area of Conservation and the existence of a RSPB nature reserve.

 Rathlin also has a great song and music tradition, influenced by the Scots Gaelic heritage. It is a special place. When we arrived back to Bruce's Kitchen for soup and sandwiches a music session was in full swing. Four fiddlers and a box player jigged and reeled us all into The Drawing Of The Raffle organised by the formidable Cathy Farrelly, I didn't win anything. But RISE raised over 7000 euros. Well done to everyone involved. 

Later that night there was a ceili. And a sing song. Unfortunately I had to leave before this.  But the voyage back to the mainland was shortened by more lively ceol as some of the musicians travelled back with us. 

 So, well done Frances Black and the Rise Foundation. Thanks for all your work and thanks for a great day out. For more information on Rise check out www.therisefoundation.ie.

 




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