Mutton Island at dawn

Mutton Island at dawn

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Our divided tribal loyalties

The Basque woman five seats down from me was in awe.                
Is there a better game on the planet than a championship
battle between two top hurling teams? 

The stadium was packed. Over 50,000 souls had taken over the place and turned it red.

It was only a ‘friendly’, but the supporters of the ‘home’ team cheered every pass and move with a gusto which was totally out of kilter with the importance of the occasion.

"Why does everyone in Ireland support Liverpool?” she asked me at half-time. “Do you not support your own teams?”

In the city of Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians, and St Patrick’s Athletic, she was shocked to see so many Dubliners come out to support a team from the old colonial power.

In the Basque Country, they have grown up on tales of the Irish fight for independence from the British Empire. Now she was shocked to be in Ireland and to find that all the locals were roaring on a British team.

Her team is a total anomaly in modern professional football. They have a Basque-only recruitment policy, even today, and have finished in the top seven of La Liga for each of the past four years despite this restriction.

In Dublin, she was shocked to see that so many people had paid a minimum of €60 a head to support a team from the other side of the Irish Sea, in a contest which would have absolutely no bearing on the outcome of their season.

She wondered why Irish people didn’t support their own local clubs and how much stronger the League of Ireland would be if they weren’t so obsessed by the world-famous players who line out each weekend in the English Premier League.

Thousands of Irish fans turned up on Saturday to support
Liverpool FC in a friendly game against Athletic Bilbao
I didn’t know where to begin.

My own association with Liverpool FC dates back well over 40 years, before the days when my own city even had a team in the national league.

I ‘picked’ Liverpool as a five year old and my brother chose Arsenal, because younger siblings were not allowed follow in the footsteps of their siblings in 1970s Ireland. He has long since forgotten his boyhood preference for the North London club.

He has completely lost interest, and I'm losing mine, when the players no longer seem to have anything in common with the fans, no loyalty, no passion. And match day tickets are now beyond the budget of many Scousers.

As a squatter in 1980s London, I was lucky enough to see the best Liverpool team in history play on numerous occasions. They were probably the best team on the planet at the time and had a good sprinkling of Irish players, including Mark Lawrenson and Ronnie Whelan.

When, 15 years later, a childhood friend moved to Merseyside, trips to Anfield became regular occurrences. Memorably, between 2001 and 2007, a group of us followed Liverpool FC all around Europe. We had legendary nights in exotic cities which would never have been possible for fans of Galway United FC.

The average home attendance at Eamonn Deacy Park, the home of Galway United, is about 1,400 this season. There are thousands of soccer ‘fans’ in my city and county who have never seen their local team, even though United are producing some sparkling football as they battle against relegation in 2017.

Every Saturday or Sunday during the winter months, a group of them sit in a pub roaring on Chelsea FC. I've heard one of them say he'd rather be tortured than pop down the road to watch live football at Galway United FC.

When people ask me why I support Liverpool, I talk about the Hillsborough disaster, the close friendships I made following the team all around Europe, and the city’s long-established links with Ireland. But, ultimately, Liverpool FC are not “my” team. How could they be? I’m not from Merseyside and I don’t live there.

There was a magical atmosphere at the All-Ireland semi-final
between Galway and Tipperary at Croke Park
I felt a bit guilty about taking up a ticket when the opportunity arose to purchase one 24 hours before the game on Saturday.

But, as I was in Dublin for the weekend anyway, I still felt a desire to attend, to check out the new players who currently line out for my boyhood club.

Liverpool beat Athletic Bilbao 3-1, but the whole experience left me cold. I felt duped to have spent €60 for a game which had no meaning and slightly embarrassed as I tried to explain to the Basque fans why so many Irish people have such an affinity with a club from another land.

Especially while our own clubs are struggling to survive, including Bray Wanderers, who almost went out of business a few weeks ago.

It was hard to care too much about a game featuring players whose pay-packets mean they are totally out of touch with working-class fans, who can no longer afford to attend league games.

Watching 50,000 mostly Irish fans roar on an English club made me squirm a little, as though this was a triumph of hype and marketing over the reality of our lives on the Emerald Isle.

Of course, this is not just an Irish - or post-colonial - thing. I have met taxi-drivers in Bangkok and fishermen from Norway who describe themselves as passionate Liverpool fans. I have met fans from Hong Kong and Malaysia who have spent small fortunes to attend Liverpool games.

I could see that some parents were delighted to give their youngsters a first ever taste of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, the Liverpool anthem which is now famous all across the globe. Dare I say it, though, the game was boring and definitely not worth the €60 admission fee.

I couldn’t help wondering why so many Dubs had turned up to support a team from England on an evening when their own GAA team was in action in front of 80,000 fans just up the road at Croke Park. I felt slightly embarrassed after talking to the Basque woman and slipped away before the end.

Less than 24 hours later, I found myself among my own Tribe.            
Celebrating Galway's victory minutes after the
All-Ireland semi-final in Dublin

Galway were playing Tipperary in front of 68,000 people and the skill levels, the passion, and the speed of the game seemed to belong to another world.

My ticket for a superb seat in the Upper Hogan Stand boasted a fantastic view and actually cost €15 less than my stub for a poor seat in the Aviva Stadium the night before.

As the crowd roared around me, I had to pinch myself to remind myself that these were amateurs, playing for the pride of the county, not professional athletes who kiss a club badge one month before moving on to join deadly rivals the next.

There was a huge tension in the air as two groups of young men battled bravely for a place in the All-Ireland final.

When Joe Canning produced a wonder strike in the very last minute, to decide the issue by the narrowest of margins, we all lost the run of ourselves, hugging strangers and jumping up and down with our fists in the air.

When it all died down, three different Tipp fans approached me to shake hands in the top of the Hogan Stand and wish us well for the final.

Gone was the poisonous atmosphere which marked games between our two counties in the late 1980s and 1990s, and I couldn’t help thinking that fans of Chelsea, Liverpool, or Man United could never sit beside each other in stadia and share our love of a beautiful game.

Neither would they ever imagine being so gracious in defeat as the wonderful Tipp fans I had the pleasure of meeting on Sunday.

The Liverpool game almost put me to sleep, while the hurling match demonstrated so much about what is brilliant about being Irish … touches of genius, passion, skill, and just enough lunacy to keep us all enthralled right to the end.

On a high after the hurling semi-final
Instead of being so obsessed by global superstars, we should learn to appreciate the wonders and home grown heroes who live and work among us.

Such as the two teachers from a Loughrea school who are now preparing for one of the biggest sporting occasions in Ireland. It’s hard to imagine the excitement among the town’s youngsters as they prepare to return to school to see home grown heroes Johnny Coen and David Burke come September.

And it might be easier to explain the pure joy of hurling, surely one of the best games on the planet,  to a Basque woman than to explain why so many Irish people are in thrall to Sky Sports and the major English soccer clubs.


Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. Find his Facebook page at http://facebook.com/ciarantierneymedia

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Healing the wounds on all sides

When I last visited Belfast, the Good Friday Agreement was still a pipe dream.
Honouring hunger striker Bobby Sands MP on the Falls Road

There was an uneasy tension in the air.

The Troubles had ended, the guns were silent, but nobody knew what was coming next and three decades of conflict had left very visible physical and psychological scars.

Nobody ventured into the city centre late at night and it was quite shocking to contrast the eerie silence on the streets around City Hall with the vibrancy of my native Galway, a much smaller city, at the time.

The military bases, barbed wire fences, and ugly lookout posts still scarred the landscape across West Belfast and it would not be an exaggeration to say that parts of the Falls Road looked like towns in Palestine today.

The locals told me they were a people living under siege and they were weary after so many years of turmoil. At night, they stuck to their own area.

Those who did want to go into town had to face body searches at military checkpoints. "Going to town" for  few drinks was not part of the culture as it was in Galway on a Friday or Saturday night.

Naively, after a few late drinks in a city centre pub, I flagged down a taxi on a street two blocks away from City Hall.

It was 1am on a Friday morning and the only other person on the street, apart from my brother and I, was a much older man who hurled a pint glass, successfully, at a passing “paddy wagon”. The Royal Ulster Constabulary officers inside the vehicle just drove on, making me feel that this must have been a pretty regular occurrence in the city.

In Galway, if you tried the same thing outside Supermac’s in the early hours, you would have been chased down by the Gardai and hauled before the District Court for committing the same offence.

My brother reprimanded me gently for being naïve enough to think it was ok to flag down a cab on neutral ground.

This, after all, was the city in which ordinary people were picked up in black cabs, tortured, and killed, just because of their religious backgrounds.

An entire wall in West Belfast is dedicated to those
who were murdered with the collusion of security forces
My brother was considered a “legitimate target” by loyalist killers at the time, given that he was working for the Irish Government in a bunker near Stormont. He used to escape to a completely different world less than two hours away in Dublin at weekends.

Loyalists and Unionists were enraged that civil servants from Dublin were in their midst, negotiating frantically with their counterparts from London and Belfast in a bid to iron out a peace agreement which would somehow appease two bitterly divided communities.

He was only allowed to use one taxi firm, staffed by relatives of security forces, if he dared to venture into the city centre at night at the time.

I remember being taken aback when the driver asked us if we were Gardai as he carried my brother to his bunker outside the city. The only people from the Republic he carried in those days tended to be civil servants or members of the security forces.

Over 20 years later, I thought about that taxi ride to Co Down last week when I spent four hours on a fascinating walking tour of the Falls Road with a former IRA prisoner.

As he brought me on a tour of the area’s murals, with visitors from Germany and Italy, telling us an admittedly biased history of The Troubles, I was struck by how much the psychological barriers remain in place even though so many of the security barriers have been taken down.

Paul Mac An Airchinningh works as a taxi-driver most of the time, when he’s not telling tourists about the Republican conflict and his memories of far more troubled times.

Tour guide Paul Mac An Airchinningh
at a memorial to remember Easter 1916
As we walked towards the ‘Peace Wall’, Paul gestured towards the loyalist community just a few hundred metres away.

The people down there would never dream of coming to the shops nearest to their houses for a pint of milk, because they were on the Falls, he told me.

And he would never dream of drinking in a pub on the Shankill Road, even if it was just a five minute walk from where he starts his tours in the mornings.

In his mind, he has a map of Belfast. The people who take his cab from the depot in West Belfast never, ever ask him to bring them to loyalist areas to the north and east of the city.

Paul himself would not dream of staying in my accommodation across the river for the week, surrounded as it was by Union Jack flags on lamp-posts at the height of the marching season.

For all he knew about the place where I was staying, across the divide, it might as well be Beirut, he told me with a wry smile.

He was 60 years old and didn’t have Protestant friends. He thought it was sad, but didn’t think that was unusual, given his status as a former Republican prisoner who had associated or shared cells with men who died on hunger strike during one of the worst years of the conflict.

In the Sunflower Bar, once the scene of a terrible sectarian gun attack, I found Protestants and Catholics, gays, straights, and tourists, mixing to celebrate their shared love of traditional Irish music.

I even met people from Chile who had come to Belfast for the Irish music and the spectacular scenery along the coastline.

They had no awareness of the fact that the pub had once been sprayed with bullets, and three people died, just because they happened to be from the nationalist community.

Belfast has changed so much for the better.                                    
The Titanic Experience is hugely popular with visitors
from all over the world

The Titanic Quarter attracts tourists from all over the world, the pubs and restaurants of South Belfast are thriving, and people are no longer afraid to venture into the city centre after 7pm.

The horrible security barriers and checkpoints have disappeared and wonderful new hotels have popped up through much of the city centre. Visitors are no longer told that the city’s only hotel is “the most bombed hotel in Europe”.

The barriers have gone, but less visible barriers remain in place.

It still seems striking that in a city of 300,000 people there are still whole neighbourhoods where taxi drivers feel reluctant to venture. In Paul’s mind, his map of his native city is full of grey areas where he has rarely or never driven his cab.

On both sides of the ‘Peace Wall’, wonderful tour guides tell the tourists about the injustices which were inflicted upon them by terrorists or State forces.

Without realising that they have so much in common with those on the other side.

The good people of Belfast have always had
a brilliant sense of humour through troubled times
Belfast is a great place to visit for a few days and it’s brilliant that most of the barriers have disappeared.

It’s going to take some time, though, for the invisible barriers to disappear and for both communities to heal.

Because it’s far harder to hate people when you attend the same schools, work in the same places, support the same teams, and socialise in the same pubs and clubs.

Hopefully someday, in the not too distant future, taxi-drivers like Paul will have a map of the entire city in their heads. Only then can we say that the peace process has succeeded in healing the wounds on all sides.

For excellent guided walking tours of the murals of West Belfast, you can find details at http://coiste.ie/

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. To hire Ciaran for content writing or indepedendent journalism, see http://ciarantierney.com/


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Welcome to the City of Bluster

Did you know there was a "prayer crisis" in my city this week? No?

Well, I guess you might be more familiar with the homelessness crisis.                                  
It's festival season in Galway, but our councillors are
bickering over their pre-meeting prayers

At this time of year, Galway is buzzing with life. The pubs and restaurants are packed, the arts venues are heaving, but every night visitors are taken aback by the number of people they see bedding down in shop doorways.

They can’t imagine what it must be like to bed out in the most western city in Europe during the cold, wet, and windy months when tourists don’t fill the hotels and the rain and winds sweep in from the Atlantic seaboard.

The scenes in Galway this year are unprecedented, reminding me of the alarming level of homelessness I witnessed in San Francisco - where at least the climate is much better - two decades ago.

The problem in Galway has become more and more acute and more visible. Last winter, for example, homeless people could be seen to brave the harsh elements in a shelter in Salthill for the first time.

Photos circulated of the number of people lying in doorways on Forster Street on the morning of the funeral of a prominent campaigner for the homeless in the city. The sad irony was not lost on his family members and friends.

What the tourists don’t see are the women and children in distress, who have escaped from domestic violence in order to stay in safe houses run by charities at locations throughout the city.

Or how those safe houses can be full to capacity at certain times of year, forcing the members of some families to sleep in cars or on friends' couches.

You won’t see them lying in shop doorways, huddling together in sleeping bags, but they are homeless all the same.

On a special Facebook page, people literally beg for rooms and offer favours as students compete with workers to find places for the academic year.

There have been very few houses built since greedy bankers and developers bankrupt the economy almost a decade ago, putting a massive strain on accommodation as the economy continues to recover.

With rents rising alarmingly, and tourism booming, ordinary people feel they are being squeezed out of their own city and the waiting list for local authority homes includes hundreds of families and individuals who have been stuck in a limbo for years.

There is a transport crisis in my city.                                                    
The people who run this beautiful city spent 75 minutes
arguing over whether they should pray at meetings

In their infinite wisdom, city planners built hundreds of homes on the west side of the city for people who would then find work in factories on the east side.

They have planned everything around the car, in a city which was built for pedestrians or horses when it was founded over 500 years ago.

The roads are choked with traffic, to such an extent that friends living in Dublin tell us it takes them as long to get across Galway on a Friday evening as the entire journey from Dublin to the eastern outskirts.

Every morning, we hear about the huge tailbacks experienced by workers stuck in traffic on their way to the city from satellite towns and villages. They all sit, frustrated, in their cars for hours because nobody ever thought about providing decent public transport for them.

They rage against the city planners, because commuting times are comparable to those in cities ten times bigger than Galway. There is no sign of a decent bus service, safe cycle lanes, or the kind of light rail tram which would encourage so many people to leave their cars at home.
                             
The Catholic Cathedral dominates the city's skyline
There is a health care crisis in my city.

People living as far away as Donegal or Sligo have to come to Galway to spend hours upon hours waiting for treatment in our choked up public hospital.

The frustrations of dealing with illness, or visiting close family members or friends who are ill or in need of urgent treatment, are magnified by trying to negotiate gridlocked roads.

When they manage to make it to University Hospital Galway, they find the cost of parking prohibitive – if they are ‘lucky’ enough to find parking spaces at all. They don’t have the local knowledge to try to find a cheaper parking place in a city where the local authority views car parking as a serious source of revenue.

You’d imagine these important issues would be of huge concern to our local representatives, given that Galway is the European Capital of Culture for 2020 and this beautiful city relies so much on its reputation for friendliness to generate tourism revenue.

But, if you look at the local paper, the biggest issue to engage the members of Galway City Council before their lengthy summer break this week was a dispute over whether or not they should have a Roman Catholic prayer at the start of their regular meetings.

Flags flying over Galway City Hall, scene of this week's
enlightening 'debate' over the pre-meeting prayer
Housing, homelessness, or the health care crisis did not get a look in when the councillors managed to spend 75 minutes arguing vehemently over whether or not they should retain their Catholic prayer.

This week, before the break, they only had one thing to talk about – their precious Standing Orders and the prayer. The meeting had to be adjourned twice by Mayor Pearce Flannery (FG), on one occasion to allow the City Councillors to “cool off” during a heated debate.

There were even allegations of bullying and grandstanding among the pious Fianna Fail members of  Galway City Council, who were enraged that their precious prayer was being disposed of.

For non-Irish readers, these are the members of the political party which managed to bankrupt Ireland as recently as 2008. You might imagine they have more pressing issues on their minds.

So, to their shock and horror, the Councillors will no longer have a prayer in Irish before their meetings from September. They will replace it with a short period of silent reflection.

During the course of more than 20 years of reporting on the local authority, I always found it extremely odd that councillors, officials, journalists, and members of the public were expected to join in a Catholic prayer at the start of every City Council meeting.

I even felt distinctly uncomfortable about it during the 1990s, when the Irish people were being rocked by a succession of scandals involving the Catholic Church.

What kind of message did that convey to Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists, Pagans, or people of no religion, to see that those who governed them lived by an ethos of a “Catholic country for a Catholic people”?

Tourists enjoying the vibrant street culture of Galway
The council chamber hardly felt like the most inclusive or welcoming place when one religious group was given preference above all others at the start of every meeting.

Scrapping the pre-meeting prayer was surely a no-brainer in a society which may hope to welcome one million Protestants to a secular, pluralist United Ireland some day. It should have been abolished decades ago, despite the heated – and vocal – protestations of the Fianna Fail representatives.

They actually did not move on to any other issue because the councillors became so animated in their debates over the precious prayer.

If they can get so animated over a matter as trivial as a divisive prayer, imagine how heated the exchanges will be when they get around to solving the city’s housing and traffic problems.

Oh, wait … That’s not actually on their agenda!


Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and Digital Storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. You can find his Facebook page here

To hire a writer or blogger, contact Ciaran via http://ciarantierney.com


Thursday, July 13, 2017

In Ireland, you've got the people ...

What exactly is “home”?                                                        
Boxer Sean Mannion; The film about his life brought
many members of a Galway audience to tears

If, for example, you grow up in the wilds of Connemara, with the backdrop of picturesque but barren mountains, roaring Atlantic waves, stony fields, and the beautiful, living Gaelic language, can you always call it your home?

Even if, as thousands upon thousands have done, economic necessity forces you to leave your native place and to spend your entire adult life hundreds or thousands of miles from home?

The thought struck me, watching the wonderful ‘Rocky Ros Muc’ film this week, that few are connected to their land, their local communities, and the stories the rocks and the stone walls could tell, as the people of the West of Ireland.

Boxer Sean Mannion returned home from Boston for the emotional Galway screening of the new documentary film about his life and it was striking to see how many people in the capacity audience were moved to tears by his life story.

Not because he lost a world title fight, because Sean achieved a level of fame most of us can only dream of when he fought Mike McCallum in a gruelling bout for a world title in 1984.

But because Sean’s story was their story, and this extremely modest man – who in many ways has been his own worst enemy – epitomises the struggles all of us face when the land which produced us fails to sustain us and we are forced into exile, to start new lives in places like Boston, Brooklyn, Birmingham, or Brisbane.

It was striking to see that a man who has spent most of the past 40 years living and working in the US still felt more comfortable speaking “as Gaelige” (in Irish) when it came to a questions and answers session after the film.

Ciaran Tierney with boxer Sean Mannion at the European
premier of 'Rocky Ros Muc' in Galway


All through his life, Sean has been so proud of Ros Muc, the village where he was born and the place he still refers to as “home”.

Yet Ros Muc, through political incompetence or geographical isolation or deliberate neglect, never offered Sean and most of his generation a future and so he found himself bound for South Boston and a new life at a time when he was an Irish junior boxing champion.

In Dorchester, in ‘Southie’, he found a community that sustained him, a place where he could work on the buildings when his 15-year boxing career came to an end, a place where he could enjoy a laugh and a story in an Irish pub, or a game of cards with friends and family members from “home” who would converse in Irish into the early hours.

And yet, after 40 years away, Sean still looks at Ros Muc, and Galway, and Ireland as “home”.

It’s an experience which is so common to so many of us . . . the spirit of adventure, the need to travel for opportunities, the start of a new life, and yet the loneliness and the longing many of us experience for home.

Sean is a quiet-spoken man and yet it’s remarkable how film-maker Michael Fanning and writer Ronan Mac Con Iomaire manage to get him to open up about his own personal demons, which could resonate so much with Irish people scattered all across the globe.

We see how he embraced the new life in Boston, how the close-knit Irish community sustained him, and how his attempt to move home to Ros Muc, the place he dreamed of and was so proud of, ended after a few short months when he compared life in the rugged, wild west with the new life he had made for himself in Boston.

Sean Mannion with Heather Mackey of
the Galway Film Fleadh 
The story of the Irish is one of exile, broken dreams, loneliness, but also a stoic determination to succeed and a story of a people who have always tried to make the most of life, even when the odds were stacked against them.

We sometimes rail against the stereotype when we are depicted as the “drunken Irish”, but even our fondness for a night out and a pint is just a reflection of how much we love to engage with and socialise with each other.

Memorably, in the film, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh talks about his own battle with alcoholism and how it was common to so many Irish simply because they were so lonely for their friends and family members back home.

Walsh grew up in an Irish-speaking household and still refers to Mannion’s village, little Ros Muc on the Atlantic seaboard, as his “second home” even though he grew up in the tight-knit community of South Boston.

Some got into drugs, some drank their lives away, others joined the police or put their children through college and created opportunities which were never available to them in the little Irish villages they left behind.

At one point in the film, we hear that Mannion turned down an offer of $25,000 to wear a sponsor’s logo on his shorts at Madison Square Garden, a figure which would have matched his pay package for the biggest fight of his life.

The prospective sponsor was miffed that someone else had got there before him. What he didn’t know is that Sean didn’t want any money, he wanted the words ‘Ros Muc’ to be prominent on the front of his shorts when his 1984 title fight was beamed live all across Ireland.

It was the only one of his 57 professional bouts in the US to be beamed live across the Atlantic to the Irish people, something which is still a cause of regret for Sean. It meant so much to him to represent his own people, and to do so with pride.

The sponsor wanted to know what product his supposed rival had.          
Ciaran Tierney previewing 'Rocky Ros Muc'
on Galway Bay FM last week

“People,” was Sean’s simple and honest reply. "Human beings."

He was fighting for a world title, before a huge global audience, but he wanted to honour the tiny community which produced him and gave him a love of boxing, and of life.

The wonderful film makes it so clear that Sean’s life has been tormented by regrets over how he lost that fight in 1984, so it was amazing to see a capacity crowd give the Southpaw (now 60) a standing ovation for this fantastic film about his full, but troubled, life.

Sean Mannion would never consider himself a national hero, but in the way in which he has battled with issues such as emigration, loneliness, broken dreams, addiction, and a sense of belonging, he really has encapsulated so much of what is so good about being Irish.

And, of course, the film also has plenty of belly-laughs, because where would the Irish be without humour, even in the toughest times?

Sean has never felt fully settled in the United States and yet, like so many, he’d find it difficult or impossible to return to Ireland after so many years abroad.

The wilds of Connemara didn't offer much of a future
to the young people of the area for decades
Perhaps, though, it’s not so much about the village or the town you are from, but the people you get to know and connect with throughout your life.

His comment about the Ros Muc people reminded me of an Egyptian scuba diving instructor I undertook many trips with a decade ago.

Sabry Awwad taught people from all over the world how to scuba dive in the Red Sea for many years.

Every year, he used to laugh heartily when he’d hear me complain about having to return to the wind and rain of the West of Ireland in December.

He loved meeting people from all over the world, but he had a special regard for the Irish people he met on holidays in Egypt.

“You don’t know how lucky you are,” he used to tell me. “Different countries have different things to be proud of, but you guys are the luckiest of all. In Ireland, you’ve got the people.”


http://ciarantierney.com

Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. You can find his Facebook page here

Read Ciaran's piece about 'Rocky Ros Muc' for Irish Central, published on July 7, 2017: https://www.irishcentral.com/culture/entertainment/the-connemara-contender-an-irish-rocky-recalls-his-career

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Seeing through the Jobstown spin

Has Ireland always been such a divided, class-based society?          
Protesting against Irish Water in
Galway city centre two years ago

Or is it only in recent times that people are beginning to wake up to divisions and prejudices which have existed for generations?

For centuries, our people were united by colonisation. It was far easier to band together when we had a common enemy as subjects of the British Empire, when virtually all of our ancestors were treated as second class citizens in their own land.

It’s easier to unite against your rulers when they bind you into a life of poverty, persecute you for your religious beliefs, kill your language, deny you land ownership rights or force you into exile.

Far more difficult if the “enemy” is within.

A century has passed since the martyr James Connolly warned the Irish people that their struggle for freedom would be in vain if they replaced the British Empire with a new set of landlords, financiers, and capitalists.

God knows what he would make of the Irish Labour Party in 2017.

It’s far more difficult to unite when the corrupt politician up the road is securing jobs for the boys, the dodgy Garda Sergeant is deleting penalty points for the chosen few, or your local banker throws money around like confetti because he’s on a massive bonus for handing out unsustainable mortgages.

It’s the double standards people find most sickening.

We didn’t see bankers being hauled out of their beds at dawn for bankrupting the country or teams of Gardai raiding their homes and offices to find evidence of illegal or immoral practices which cost the country billions less than a decade ago.

It took a protest movement over water of all things, specifically the privatisation of water, to open people’s eyes to the divisions among us.

People asked, rightly, why it took Irish Water to mobilise so many people to take to the streets after years of witnessing the bank ‘bailout’, the IMF-EU ‘troika’, cuts to health and mental health services, a rise in homelessness, or the imposition of the unjust Universal Social Charge.

Celebrating the Jobstown acquittals in Dublin on Saturday
For many, though, Irish Water came as the final straw. They were sickened to see the people at the top on such massive pay scales, the perception that metering contracts were being allocated to the ‘golden circle’, and that yet another unfair tax was being imposed on ordinary people who just couldn’t take it any more.

It was amazing to attend the huge Irish Water demonstrations across the country, even in conservative Galway, and to see people who had never been galvanised before come together at street protests for the first time.

Nobody expected the campaign against water charges to attract such huge support and, clearly, it was troubling to the people at the top of Irish society to see so many people travel from all over Ireland to bring our capital to a standstill.

By the time a group of protesters sat down in front of a Minister’s car at Jobstown, in West Dublin, the State had become alarmed. Irish Water was in a mess, the State wanted a way out, and the Government was looking for ways to smear the protest campaign.

By blocking a Minister’s car or hurling abuse at the President, protesters could be denigrated and labelled as the “sinister fringe”.

And there’s no doubt that some of the abuse directed at politicians damaged the protest campaign as well as scaring more moderate protesters away.

Videos were circulated of people using foul language against politicians which should have no place in the political sphere. Tensions were high, as people accused the Irish Labour Party of betraying the working class in a way which would have had James Connolly spinning in his grave.

There was no excuse for personalised abuse against the then Tanaiste, Joan Burton, but did Gardai really need to raid the home of a democratically elected politician in the dark of night?

No matter what people think of Paul Murphy, he has a mandate to serve the people who elected him and he could easily have been called in for questioning as he made his way to the Dail. It’s not like the Gardai didn’t know where he worked.

A stark warning from James Connolly,
heroic leader of the Easter Rising
Did the Gardai really need arrive in a fleet of cars to haul a 15-year old boy out of his bed at dawn?

They could have talked to him on his way home from school, but they wanted to make some sort of statement in front of his family, neighbours, and friends.

That boy spoke brilliantly about his right to protest afterwards and about the perception among his neighbours after witnessing the blue flashing lights descend upon his home.

Did Gardai really need to hype up the evidence, when it was clearly contradicted by so many people who had video cameras at the scene?

Did they really need to charge people with “false imprisonment” when in fact they just sat down on a road in front of a Minister’s car and caused her some inconvenience for a few hours?

Much has been made since of the fear experienced by Joan Burton and her adviser Karen O’Connelly when they were allegedly trapped in two Garda cars for three hours in Jobstown in November 2014.

People talked of the “terror” they experienced, which seemed to be in stark contrast with the reality captured on photos and videos at the scene.

With some honourable exceptions, few people in the media have asked about the fear experienced by people who took part in a sit down protest and ended up facing a charge which had a possible penalty of life imprisonment.

Few have asked about the inconvenience and cost involved in a ten week trial when the evidence seen by the jury was clearly so at odds with the claims of some witnesses on behalf of the prosecution.

With Chas Jewett, one of the leaders of the
Standing Rock protest in the United States


Few have defended the legitimate right of people like Paul Murphy TD to protest against what they saw as an unjust charge, even though there was no excuse for banging on the Tanaiste's windows or the foul language used.

“There are lots of ordinary people around the country who are delighted by the verdict,” said Deputy Murphy at a meeting in Galway this week. “The establishment cannot take it when they are beaten by ordinary people.

“Ordinary people have been able to see through the lies. There has been no reference to us as victims, the fact that ordinary people were arrested and handcuffed at dawn in front of their own children.”

He pointed out that the defendants were fortunate others had filmed the protest, because it was video evidence which undermined the prosecution case.

“I think the mainstream media response to the Jobstown trial has been helpful because it shows how out of touch they are. It’s a case of ‘them against us’ and we live in a completely divided society.”

There clearly were some unsavoury elements to the protest which caused Ms Burton and her adviser to be detained against their will for three hours.

But charging people with false imprisonment – and threatening them with life in prison – was so out of kilter with what really happened that afternoon at Jobstown that the jury did not need to be swayed by social media or anything else to see through the smoke and mirrors.

Had James Connolly been around to accompany Joan Burton to Jobstown, there is little doubt as to which side he’d have been on.

Burying Irish Water during a protest in Galway city centre
a couple of years ago
“I thought the Brits were bad but, I’ll tell you what, that lot in the Dail are worse,” said Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six when the Jobstown defendants celebrated their acquittals with a rally in Dublin on Saturday afternoon.

A simplistic slogan, perhaps, from a man who knows far too much about injustice, but doubtless he is not the only Irish person to feel like the impoverished animals looking in on the pigs at the end of ‘Animal Farm’.

Have Connolly’s dire warnings come true, a century on from Ireland’s uprising against our own version of Farmer Jones?



Blog post from 2015: Protest has a vital place in a healthy democracy http://ciarantierney.blogspot.ie/2015/02/protest-has-vital-place-in-healthy.html


Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. Find him on Facebook at http;//facebook.com/ciarantierneymedia

Find Ciaran's website: http://ciarantierney.com


Monday, June 26, 2017

Beware the rising people


All across the world, grassroots communities are waking up to injustice and to the ways in which greed and big business are destroying our precious planet.          
The protest at Standing Rock captured the hearts of
environmentalists all across the globe

From the Native American reservations threatened by an oil pipeline, to the rural community in North Mayo which was torn apart by a gas pipeline, or the people living near the edge of a beautiful woodland in Galway City, local communities say they have had enough.

They can see what the greed espoused by Donald Trump is doing to their rivers, lakes, and woodlands and they are awakening to the fact that they must do something to make sure their grandchildren will be able to live in harmony with a threatened world.

On Saturday, in Galway, I met an amazing woman who epitomises all that is wonderful about the human spirit and the benefits of connecting communities.

Her people, the Lakota, have suffered decades of abuse, of being told they are not good enough, of being denied the right to practice the beliefs which ran through their bloodlines for generations.

Like many indigenous people across the earth, she has been surrounded by alcoholism, abuse, violence, depression, and suicide through most of her life.

Standing Rock water protecter Chas Jewett
speaking in Galway on Saturday afternoon


But she’s not angry or vindictive. In seeking justice, she is finding her own strength and the strength of her own people and she was blown away by the support she has received during a speaking tour of Ireland.

Last October, at the height of the siege, thousands of Irish people “checked in” to Standing Rock on Facebook in order to confuse the US authorities and protests took place outside the US Embassy in Dublin.

Through social media, Chas Jewett is making connections. She is learning that a small rural community in Rossport, Co Mayo, has faced the same kind of pressures as the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation where, through protest, Native Americans are beginning to rediscover the wonders of their own past and traditions.

A capacity crowd attended Chas Jewett's talk in Galway
At a speaking engagement in a Galway garden, Chas was overwhelmed by the number of Irish people who turned up to hear her talk about the campaign against the Dakota Access Pipeline which has captured the hearts of environmental activists all across the globe.

And how fitting it was that the water protector made her first trip to Ireland in the week in which an Irish town unveiled a sculpture of nine eagle feathers to commemorate a Native American tribe who remembered the Irish at their time of greatest need.

The Choctaw people, who were run off their own ancestral lands in 1831, were compelled to send money to the starving Irish when they heard about the Great Famine in 1847. They were honoured by the people of Midleton, Co Cork, last week.

According to Chas, the Native American people of Standing Rock took huge inspiration from the solidarity they received from Irish people during the stand-off on their sacred lands which attracted global attention late last year.

The idea that Energy Transfer Partners could move half a million barrels of oil a day between the Missouri River, the main source of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux, has galvanised Native Americans and environmentalists all across the world.

Chas connected with the campaign to save Merlin Woods in Galway


Suddenly, a people who were forbidden to practice their own beliefs until 1978 – who were fobbed off to boarding schools where they were abused in attempted “assimilation” – are waking up to the wonders of their culture and their ancestors’ wonderful connection with their sacred lands.

It was not lost on many of us in the Galway audience that the Native Americans’ belief system is exactly the type of model all of humanity needs if we are to avoid a global environmental catastrophe.

They lived in harmony with the earth, rather than with the intention of exploiting it.

Chas talked about the “dehumanisation” of her people through The Washington Redskins American Football team or the belief among many people in the United States that Native Americans still live in tepees.

She talked about the extraordinary high suicide rate, seven times the national average, or the fact that the average life expectancy of a Native American man is just 45 years.

“Every woman that I know has been raped,” she said, with tears in her eyes. “Anger has been driving us for a long time, but anger doesn’t do the warrior good.”

She described the damage which the fossil fuel industry has caused all across the world and how the protests at Standing Rock have given Native Americans back their pride.

They have learned to control their anger, to insist that the protests are peaceful, and that the threat to their drinking water has epitomised the environmental crisis being faced by young people all over the world.

Chas has learned to control her own rage.

Since the protests began she has learned that people have to learn to heal themselves before they can heal the world.                                                                                
Native American protesters facing police lines at
Standing Rock during protests against the oil pipeline

She said that the election of President Donald Trump might have been necessary to show people just how broken the system has become in the United States.

“I felt that big business only cared about property and that they wouldn’t hear us unless we broke their windows. Thankfully, I wasn’t in charge,” she said.

“For the past 150 years, people thought that our culture was one of violence and alcoholism. We want our children to stop killing themselves. We want hope.

“We are on the brink of extinction, not just our people but people across the world. We all need so much healing. We have to talk about the rapes. We have to talk about the violence. I myself was gang raped when I was nine years old. I took a long time to learn to love myself. We, all of us, have to move from ‘rape culture’ to ‘consent culture’.”

She said that the high alcoholism and suicide rates were a response to attempts to wipe out Native American people and traditions across the US, but the sight of so many tribes coming together at Standing Rock has inspired her people.

Messages of support from across Ireland, from environmental groups and land rights activists, have galvanised the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Sioux people and allowed them to begin to explore the forgotten treasures from their past.

She said that young people, impelled by a tragic series of suicides and guided by ancient prophecies, have been to the forefront of the peaceful protests at Standing Rock.

Coming together has inspired them and activism has given them the strength to tackle issues such as depression and drug abuse. It has given the Native American youth a sense of purpose which has been lacking in their lives for so long.

Chas Jewett, an inspirational speaker, following her talk
at the Secret Garden Cafe in Galway City
After her inspiring 90 minute talk, Ms Jewett was delighted to meet activists from the West of Ireland who have campaigned against the destruction of an urban woodland at Merlin Park and the Shell gas pipeline in North Mayo.

“I know that I’m so fortunate to be able to be here in Ireland, because most of my people are struggling to eat and to live,” said Ms Jewett.

“Water is our first love and water is being polluted all across the world. We have to go back to the basic elemental things that matter if we are to give a future to our grandchildren.”



Blog post from 2015:
'Protest has a vital place in a healthy democarcy' 
http://ciarantierney.blogspot.ie/2015/02/protest-has-vital-place-in-healthy.html

Please 'like' my Facebook page:http://facebook.com/ciarantierneymedia


Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. Check out his Facebook page here

To hire a content writer, see also http://ciarantierney.com/

Monday, June 5, 2017

Whatever happened to the compassion of the Irish?


Between 1847 and 1850, a hundred ships set sail from Galway Bay. Their ‘cargo’ included some of the most impoverished humans on the planet at the time and many of those who dreamed of starting new lives in Boston on Brooklyn never survived to see the other side.    
Protesting against Direct Provision in Ireland

The story of our ‘Coffin Ships’ is one of the most troubling in Ireland’s painful history. Impoverished people, fleeing starvation and persecution by the British Empire, counted themselves lucky if they had the fare for the long voyage across the Atlantic.

No doubt, many of them cried tears of despair upon leaving family members behind. In those days, a ticket to America was only one-way and many lived for 50 or 60 years without ever getting a chance to return to their homeland.

For those people, the prospect of a decent, peaceful life seemed impossible in their homeland. The crops had failed, their British masters showed no mercy or compassion, and they dreamed of just having enough to survive on when they got to the ‘New World’.

Behind them, thousands were starving, including a six year old girl called Celia Griffin, whose distressed family walked into Galway in search of “relief” in 1847. The nuns tried to help her, to provide her with food, but Celia died on a roadside.

She was too far gone.

Many of those who embarked on the Famine Ships from Galway Bay would have passed by little children like Celia, starving on the roadsides, on their way to America and their hardship gave them a steely determination to succeed in the New World.

The Ireland they left behind was a place where the natives faced religious and economic persecution.

In the previous century, Catholics had been denied the right to vote and the Irish language could only be taught in “illegal” hedge schools.

The terrible poverty of the 19th century and our centuries-long struggle for independence has meant that Irish people are universally popular across the globe, especially among the downtrodden who take inspiration from our long struggle.

Hard to believe now that the Choctaw people of North America, despite facing huge oppression themselves by colonisers, were so taken by the plight of the Irish people that they raised $170 to send to Ireland to ease their suffering in the year little Celia died, 1847.

That would be a pretty substantial amount of money these days and their generous gesture has been commemorated forever with a sculpture which was erected in the town of Midleton, Co Cork, two years ago.

The Celia Griffin Memorial Park on the shores of Galway Bay


Only 16 years after the Choctaws themselves were forced off their land by US President Andrew Jackson – leading to a 500-mile trek to Oklahoma, known as the 'Trail of Tears' – this was an extraordinary act of generosity by Native Americans who had so little themselves.

In Ireland, we always tend to pride ourselves on rooting for the underdogs. In his acclaimed 1997 Pulitzer-prize winning memoir, Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt wrote of how the impoverished  children in his native Limerick in the 1940s would always cheer for the ‘Red Indians’ as they were being slaughtered by the ‘Cowboys’ in Hollywood Westerns.

In the cinema, the Irish children would hoot and holler for the Native Americans on the big screen, perhaps with some subconscious awareness of how those people had helped their own during Ireland’s darkest days.

I thought about the Choctaw Nation and Angela’s Ashes last week when I wrote a piece for IrishCentral.com about Ireland’s notorious Direct Provision system.

Direct Provision is the system the Irish Government uses to process the cases of asylum-seekers, who often spend up to seven or eight years living in former hotels or hostels as they wait for their cases to be processed.

These people live on €19.10 per week and their voices are rarely, if ever, heard on the Irish media.

They are afraid of repercussions for speaking out, either from the Irish authorities or from criminals or political forces in their own countries.

Campainging for a better world for everyo
It took me six weeks to set up the interviews with two of the asylum-seekers. They were extremely fearful of speaking out and didn’t want their real names to be used.

We couldn’t meet in the centre where they share their lives with so many others from a wide variety of countries, so I suggested the back of a pub which I knew would be quiet on a weekday afternoon.

One of them didn’t turn up. And I was really annoyed. I sat in the pub waiting for almost an hour, thinking this had possibly never happened to me in 25 years of journalism.

I texted her a few times, to no avail. I felt she had let me down.

Later that night, I received an apologetic text from her daughter. She had been taken on a day’s training programme at short notice by the Irish authorities and didn’t have any credit to send me a text message to cancel the interview.

So she agreed to turn up the next day and was actually 30 minutes early for our interview.

I had no idea what story she had before our interview began, as I had never met her before.

I didn’t know that she had been praying in a Church in northern Nigeria when Islamic terrorists from Boko Haram broke in and shot most of the people dead.

I didn’t know she had been taken prisoner and managed to escape after making up a story about needing to go to the toilet out in the bush.

I didn’t know that the woman who brought her and her daughter to Ireland has been trying to take €50,000 from her, money she clearly doesn’t have.

I don’t know if her life would be any better if she had tried to stay in Nigeria and maybe move to another location, away from Boko Haram, with her three sons

Instead of living in a tiny, grotty former hotel room with her daughter, with no right to work, for months or even years on end.

But I do know I saw genuine fear and despair, even terror, in her eyes.

I do know that it was painful and uncomfortable for her to talk about her life, as she’s used to putting on a brave face for her daughter.

I was taken aback by how upset and how lacking in hope she was.

And yet she was grateful, because at least she shares her room with her own daughter - whereas others in the centre have to share small bedrooms with two or three others from other countries, without even the benefit of a shared language.

And then I read some comments on social media sites. About how she should go straight back to Africa, or how I must have been a fool to believe a woman I met in an Irish pub (an interview in a venue I chose, which took weeks to set up, by the way).

And I wondered what had happened to the famous compassion of the Irish, supposedly the poster boys and girls for underdogs all across the globe.

Judging by 90% of the comments on social media sites, the Irish in America have lost all of the compassion which saw the Choctaw send money they didn’t have all the way across the world to people in distress in a far-off, strange land.                                                  



A protest against the 17-year old Direct Provision system

In a way, it helped me to understand why the 50,000 ‘illegal’ Irish in the United States are now getting so little support from established, older Irish-American communities in Trump’s America.

The Chinese have a saying that an ambitious horse never returns to its old stable.

Perhaps the Irish, on both sides of the Atlantic, have forgotten where they came from when it comes to dealing with people fleeing war, terror, persecution, and famine across the globe.

I have no idea whether the women I spoke to last week have a right to stay in Ireland or not. But I do know that their voices need to be heard, without keyboard warriors who know nothing about their circumstances shouting out that they should be sent straight back "home".

Imagine how much worse life would have been for our 19th century emigrants if racists at the ferryports sent them straight back home.



Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and Digital Storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. Check out his Facebook page here