Féile na Carraige and the importance of local place

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‘…the return to the local can be a form of resistance, a defensive response to globalisation, the struggles of those on the margins to reclaim some form of representation for themselves.’ Stuart Hall

The distinct value of local activism is recognised the world over. In this era of globalisation, participating in the improvement of your local area is both a reaction and a form of resistance against the dominant world-view. This very process facilitates and generates activists, organisations, and community events that give people hope by involving them in their own destiny. This approach can be particularly powerful when it engages those based in the most marginalised communities. It fosters empowerment, self-help, consistency, co-operation and pride in our native place.

A case in point would be the Upper Springfield area, one of the most socio-economically disadvantaged areas in the north of Ireland, but also unique for its ability to showcase exemplary self-help community initiatives spanning over fifty years.

It was renowned Gael and Whiterock native, Seán Mac Goill, who was central to one of the first developments of this kind when the Ballymurphy Tenants Association (BTA) was built in the late sixties to provide both social and employment opportunities to the local district. Seán’s practical experience benefited the Gaels on Shaws Road when he designed their Gaeltacht village around the same time and also a couple of years later in 1969, when Seán and the Shaws Road Gaeltacht cohort rebuilt Bombay street after it was burnt to the ground by loyalists under the watch of the forces of the orange state.

Their natural sympathy for the abandoned and the oppressed encouraged further efforts in the same community in the 1970’s when Mac Goil, Séamus Mac Seáin, Seán Mac Seáin, Donnchadh Ua Bruadair and Seamus de Napier were pivotal to a series of community co-operatives including: Ballymurphy Enterprises, Garáiste an Phobail (the People’s Garage) and Whiterock Industries that created employment and a sense of optimism in the community.

Unfortunately, the military conflict and British Army occupation impeded and hindered these efforts. The British Army murdered 11 civilians in August 1971 in the Ballymurphy Massacre and hundreds of others were interned without trial; young Geraldine Macklin was shot dead and Seamus Mac Seáin seriously wounded in the garage in 1974; and the British Army would later burn Whiterock Industries to the ground before building the super-base Fort Gerico a couple of years later. Despite this, a resilience and defiant imagination always defined the community response during the most challenging of times and the hugely popular Upper Springfield festival of 1973 and 1974 were amongst the most dynamic answers to emanate from the community which both confused and wrong-footed the forces of occupation. Street parties, colourful parades, concerts, youth events and political debates gave respite from war and evoked pride in the area….

The voices of these Gaels shaped the ideals of those generations to come who recognised the Irish language as a means of regeneration and empowerment that fulfilled the same objectives. Local Gaelscoileanna were established as the heartbeat of the revival and activists renewed these foundations by establishing groups and community projects that catered for the next generation, their parents, relatives and families who put their faith in the language reconquest. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, the likes of Maureen McGuinness, Jim McCann, John-Boy Ó Muireagáin and Matt Lundy emerged from this genesis by making the vision of Irish medium education a reality in the area.

Standing on the brave shoulders of these giants are Glór na Móna, who have been working in the Upper Springfield area as a youth and community organisation since 2004. There is a strong sense of bottom-up philosophy and methodology in their work which provides innovative projects in the area that promote the language throughout the community while also developing the community through the medium of the language.

This approach was clearly articulated and demonstrated in Féile na Carraige last week which attracted hundreds of Gaels and supporters of the language to a wide range of events, the majority of which took place in the recently opened Gael-Ionad Mhic Goill, which is named in honour of Seán Mac Goill himself. A lively platform was given to a diverse mix of youth and community events that encouraged participation, positivity and a sense of ownership in both the local and wider community.

Open and welcoming spaces were provided that allowed people to enjoy a pleasurable and comradely atmosphere in which they could reflect on history, community, politics and culture. This, in turn, inspired feelings of resistance and hope where people can recognise their agency and ultimate potential to change things for the better.

There were many quite special events with powerful historical symbolism, such as, when activists and learners questioned Seán Mac Goill, Seán Mac Seáin and Seamus Mac Seáin about their aforementioned work in the area 40 years previously. The same energetic an emotive atmosphere was evident when children and young people discussed the legacy of Bobby Sands and the Hunger Strike with Séanna Breathnach and Jake Mac Siacais. The festival organising committee welcomed opportunities for critical reflection, challenge and debate in a way that normalised a progressive outlook based on solidarity and mutually beneficial collaboration on questions and causes that are relevant to people’s lives.

All the speakers agreed that the methodology and approach to struggle that worked in the 1960s or 1980s would not be transferable to the 21st century. There was a broad understanding that a more open, flexible and attractive set of methods would be required of the current generation in order that they leave their own creative stamp on the future of our language, and our community.

In this sense, it was both fitting and appropriate that young people who were born and raised in Ballymurphy and Turf Lodge were both central and to the fore in leading this memorable Féile. They are a confident and capable new generation who view the language as a tool for community transformation rather than as hobby or profession. They see it as a life-choice and as a means to make a difference in a community that is one of the worst ravaged with the legacy of neo-colonialism in Ireland. Young Gaels who are embedded in their local place and attached to its unique history. People who are proud of their area and determined to build on foundations bequeathed to them by previous generations.

The distinguished activist and writer, Naomi Klein talks about this phenomenon when referring to the ferocious fight demanded of humanity in light of the horrors of climate change. She draws on the wisdom of farmer-poet Wendell Berry, who lauds our duty to our local and native place. ‘Stop somewhere’ he advises, ‘and begin the thousand-year-long process of knowing that place.’

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Féile na Carraige agus tábhacht na háite dúchais

‘…the return to the local can be a form of resistance, a defensive response to globalisation, the struggles of those on the margins to reclaim some form of representation for themselves.’ Stuart Hall

Aithnítear ar fud an domhain go bhfuil luach ar leith sa díograis áitiúil. I ré seo an domhandaithe, is frithghníomh agus frithbheartaíocht in éadan an chultúir cheannasaigh í an rannpháirteachas áitiúil. Éascaíonn an próiseas seo eagraíochtaí, díograiseoirí agus imeachtaí pobalbhunaithe a thugann dóchas do dhaoine. Ba mhór an chumhacht a bhíonn ag an chur chuige seo nuair a thugann sé úinéireacht dóibh siúd atá lonnaithe sa cheantar faoi chois. Cothaíonn seo cumhachtú, féinchuidiú, leanúnachas, comhoibriú agus bród san áit dúchais.

Tá an sampla seo le sonrú san Uachtar Chluanaí, atá ar cheann de na ceantair is mó bochtanais agus faoi mhíbhuntaiste socheacnamíoch ó thuaidh, ach atá fosta ina eiseamláir shainiúil do thionscadail fhéinchuidithe pobail le timpeall leathchéad bliain..

Is an Gael iomráiteach ón Charraig Bhán, Seán Mac Goill, a bhí taobh thiar don chéad fhorbairt den chineál seo nuair a tógadh Ionad do Chumann Tionóntaí Bhaile Uí Mhurchú sna mall seascaidí chun deiseanna sóisialta agus fostaíochta a thabhairt don mhuintir áitiúil. Chuaigh an taithí phraiticiúil seo chun sochair na nGael ar Bhóthar Seoighe nuair a dhear Seán na tithe ansin timpeall an ama chéanna agus cúpla bliain níos faide anonn in 1969, nuair a rinne Seán agus Gaeil dhíograiseacha Ghaeltacht Seoighe, Sráid Bombay a atógáil nuair a dhóigh dílseoirí agus fórsaí an stáit oráistigh é go talamh.

Spreag an daimh seo acu leis an chosmhuintir thréigthe iad chun tuilleadh díograise a chaitheamh sa cheantar chéanna sna seachtóidí nuair a bhí Mac Goill, Séamus Mac Seáin, Seán Mac Seáin, Donnchadh Ua Bruadair agus Séamas de Napier lárnach i bhforbairt na gcomharchumann pobail; Fiontraíocht Bhaile Uí Mhurchú; Garáiste an Phobail agus Ionad Tionsclaíochta Bhaile Uí Mhurchú a chruthaigh fostaíocht agus misneach sa phobal.

Ar an drochuair, tháinig an choimhlint mhíleata agus forghabháil arm an Breataine sa mhullach ar na hiarrachtaí seo. Dhunmharaigh Arm na Breataine 11 sibhialtach chun báis in Mí Lúnasa 1971 in Ár Bhaile Uí Mhurchú agus gabhadh na céadtaí eile le theacht imtheorannú gan triail i bhfeidhm; maraíodh Geraldine óg Macklin agus goineadh Seamas Mac Seáin go dona sa Gharáiste in 1974; agus dhóigh na Sasanaigh an Ionad tionsclaíochta go talamh sular thóg siad Ollbheairic Gerico cúpla bliain ina dhiadh sin. Os a choinne sin, bhí samhlaíocht neamhbhalbh i gcónaí sa fhrithghníomh pobail sna tréimhsí dúshlánacha sin agus bhí Féile Phobail an Uachtair Chluanaigh in 1973 agus 1974 i measc na freagraí is dinimiciúla a d’eascair ón phobal agus a chuir dallamullóg ar na Sasanaigh. Cóisireacha sráide, paráidí dathúla, ceolchoirmeacha, imeachtaí óige agus díospóireachtaí polaitiúla ag tabhairt faoisimh ón chogadh agus ag cothú bróid sa cheantar….

Chuaigh na glórtha Gaelacha i gcéin ar an chéad ghlúin eile a d’aithin athréimniú na teanga mar ghléas athghiniúna a chuir na spriocanna céanna chun cinn. Bunaíodh Gaelscoileanna mar chuisle na hathbheochana agus ghníomhaigh díograiseoirí sa mhullach air seo ag bunú grúpaí agus tograí pobail chun freastal ar an chéad ghlúin eile agus a gcuid tuistí, gaolta agus teaghlaigh a chuir muinín san athghabháil teanga. Sna hochtóidí agus nóchaidí, shíolraigh leithéidí Maureen McGuinness, Jim McCann, John-Boy Ó Muireágain agus Matt Lundy ón mhogalra seo agus iad ag fíorú fhís na Gaelscolaíochta sa cheantar.

Is ar ghualainn chróga na gceannródaithe seo a sheasann Glór na Móna, atá ag feidhmiú san Uachtar Chluanaí, mar eagraíocht phobail agus óige ó bhí 2004 ann. Is fealsúnacht ón bhun aníos atá ag mothú go treán san obair s’acu agus iad ag seachadadh tionscadail nuálacha sa cheantar a chuireann an teanga chun cinn i measc an phobail agus a chuireann an pobal chun cinn trí mheán na teanga.

Bhí an cur chuige seo le feiceáil i bhFéile na Carraige an tseachtain seo caite a mheall na céadtaí Gaeil agus tacadóirí na teanga chuig réimse leathan d’imeachtaí a thit amach don mhórchuid i nGael-Ionad Mhic Goill, atá ainmnithe in ómós do Shéan féin. Tugadh ardán bríomhar do ghníomhaíochtaí óige agus pobail a chothaigh rannpháirtíocht, dearfacht agus úinéireacht sa phobal áitiúil agus an mórphobal i gcoitinne.

Cruthaíodh spásanna oscailte inár bhain daoine sult agus pléisiúr as atmaisféar taitneamhach ina dtiocfadh leo páirt a ghlacadh agus machnamh a dhéanamh ar stair, ar an phobal, ar pholaitíocht, agus ar chultúr. Spreagadh mothúcháin fhrithbheartaíochta agus dóchas sa phobal le rannpháirtithe ag aithint ár ngníomhaireacht agus ár bpoitéinseal le rudaí a athrú chun feabhais.

Bhí roinnt ócáidí speisialta ann le siombalachas láidir na staire le blaiseadh iontu, mar shampla nuair a chuir díograiseoirí agus foghlaimeoirí Gaeilge Seán Mac Goill, Seán Mac Seáin agus Seamus Mac Seáin faoi cheist fán obair s’acu sa cheantar daichead bliain roimhe sin. Bhí an t-atmasféar cumhachtach céanna ann nuair a phléigh paistí agus daoine óga oidhreacht Bobby Sands agus an Stailc Ocrais le Séanna Breathnach agus le Jake Mac Siacais. D’fháiltigh lucht na féile roimh dheiseanna machnaimh, dúshláin agus díospóireachta ar bhealach a normalaíonn meon dearfach de dhlúthpháirtíocht agus de chomhoibriú comónta ar cheisteanna agus ar chúiseanna atá ar leas an phobail.

D’aontaigh na cainteoirí ar fad nach mbeidh an mhodheolaíocht streachailte a d’obair sna seascaidí nó sna hochtóidí oiriúnach don mhílaois úr. Bhí tuiscint ann go mbeadh cur chuige oscailte, solúbtha agus meallacach de dhíth ar an chéad ghlúin eile a bheas in ann an lorg cruthaitheach s’acu féin a mhúnlú don teanga s’againn, don phobal s’againn agus don todchaí s’againn

Ar an bhonn seo, is tráthúil agus is feiliúnach go raibh díograiseoirí óga logánta ó Bhaile Uí Mhurchú agus Lóiste na Móna, lárnach agus i gceannas i bpleanáil agus i gcur i gcrích na féile spleodraí seo. Glúin úr mhuiníneach atá iontu a fhéachann an teanga mar ghléas claochlaithe pobail seachas mar shlí bheatha nó caitheamh aimsire. Féachtar daofa gur rogha saoil agus bealach chun difear suntasach a dhéanamh sa phobal is mó atá faoi míbhuntáiste le hoidhreacht an nuachoilíneachais in Éirinn. Gaeil óga iad atá fréamhaithe san áit dúchais agus an stair a bhaineann léi. Daoine atá bródúil as an cheantar s’acu agus tiomanta chun tógáil ar an dúshraith ar fágadh acu.

Labhraíonn an díograiseoir agus scríbhneoir iomráiteach Naomi Klein ar an fheiniméan seo agus í ag tagairt don troid fhíochmhar atá le déanamh ag an chine dhaonna in aghaidh an athraithe aeraide. Tarraingíonn sí ar chomhairle an fheirmeora agus file, Wendell Berry, a luann ár ndualgas don cheantar dúchais. ‘Stop somewhere’ ar seisean, ‘and begin the thousand-year-long process of knowing that place.’

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