Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Discussing environmental improvements with HE in Short Strand

East Belfast Representative Niall Ó Donnghaile today went on a walk-about in the Short Strand area with staff from the Housing Executive to discuss environmental improvements in the area. He was joined by local resident and Sinn Féin activist Hugh McComb. They met with Alice Mills (Assistant District Manager East Belfast) and Malachi Brennan (Grounds Maintenance Manager) to discuss residents concerns about the planters on the Mountpottinger Road and the alleyways in Clandeyboy Gardens.

Our photo shows me with Hugh and Alice outside the homes affected by the planters on the Mount - Looking forward to continuing to work with Alice and Malachi as well as the residents to get a satisfactory conclusion to these issues.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Understand The Past

“Understand the past......
.......and build a better future”

Over the years we have always been able to rely on Danny D to encapsulate what we as a community are trying to say. From the darkest days of struggle through to the onset of peace and the inevitability of unity, Danny Devenny has given our communities a voice where others chose to censor us, to discredit us and attempt to criminalise us.

Danny’s latest work on the Mount depicts just what we as a community are about and what we wanted to achieve from the series of anniversary events held to mark 40 years since the Battle of Saint Matthews.

Things began last Wednesday with the launch of a new DVD/CD pack telling the story of what happened that fateful night 40 years ago. Many of those featured on the DVD sat amongst the mixed crowd of teenagers and pensioners, gathered upstairs in St Matthews Club.

St Matt’s was packed for the event and the DVD sold like hotcakes, such was interest amongst young people to hear this important story, but also amongst our older residents who were taken aback by the vivid reflections of that night and the incredible footage of our community used in the documentary.

Thanks to Big Bob who came over to launch the DVD and a big go raibh maith agat to Michelle, Seán and all those involved in making this first class documentary a reality. Well worth watching!

Next up, and after months of rehearsals, it was the opportunity for the many local young people involved with the play “The Battle of Saint Matthews” to get up and show us all the hard work they had put in.

Written by Kieran Magee, the play depicts the experience of various people living in the area on the night, when intoxicated bandsmen and shipyard workers set about trying to burn it to the ground. The play depicted the events throughout the city in the run up to the battle; it showed us the intention of loyalists to carry out what they had in Bombay St the year previous only on this occasion in the streets of this Parish. It showed us the IRA and local CDL putting in place the effective defence of this community. It also showed how this event impacted on young people in the area as well as the older people, who as they said in the course of the play, had “seen it all before”.

It also showed us the sacrifices made by those who took part in defending the Chapel and the people.

The play ran for 3 nights, Thursday, Friday and Saturday and every night was a roaring success, with the Parochial Hall filled to capacity. Fair play to all those involved, whose hard work and effort was the talk of the district. I look forward to seeing the play again in the summer during the local Féile!!

Saturday saw the launch of Danny’s new mural; I was very honoured and privileged to have been asked to chair this event. Danny is a long time family friend of ours and a man we have enormous respect and admiration for.

Danny’s work is known right across the world and is becoming increasingly in demand and rightfully so! Danny was never a man of art who lost his heart and we as a community are lucky to have him. Like I said previously, his message, simple as it was, depicted the whole point of what we as a community are about and what were very genuinely trying to achieve with the anniversary events and the opening of An Tine Bheo Memorial.

Sunday was the culmination of events.

Early on I ventured up to the Club for a private presentation to the families of our Patriot Dead and those named on the Roll of Remembrance. The families received a replica of the monument in the heart of the memorial garden and the families of the dead Volunteers also received a canvass portrait, again by Danny, the same as the faces now featured in the memorial garden itself.

The emotion on Sunday morning was palpable; this was a morning for honouring those who gave all in defence of our area and in pursuit of Irish freedom and independence.

Following a few tears being shed and warm exchanges between old friends and comrades as well as some lovely food put on by Catherine and Co, it was time to gather at the newly erected plaque just outside, at the side of St Matthews Club itself. The plaque honours three men from the Parish who played pivotal roles alongside the Republican Movement in the defence of the Parish, not just on that fateful night but throughout many, many years. Jimmy George, Henry McIlhone and Bobby Jennings now have a fitting tribute to them and all those citizens in the district that rose in defiance of the failed Orange State and its rampaging, sectarian gangs. It was another emotional event in what would be a sad but wonderful day.

Shortly afterwards, after meeting many friends and neighbours in the assembled crowd, I welcomed Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams to the Strand; he was the main speaker at the parade to open An Tine Bheo Memorial.

By this stage a huge crowd had gathered on the Mountpottinger Road to take part in the parade, many residents, people who had left the area, friends and relations lined the route, loudly applauding the Colour Party emerging from Mountforde and those relatives of our Patriot Dead that fell in behind it, clutching the now treasured portraits of their loved ones as well as a single lily.
Luckily the weather was with us and with the exception of a very brief burst of rain we had a beautiful day!

We made our way around the area, through the new courts and gardens to the old terraced streets that many of those we were gathered to remember had once walked along, played in and stood in defence of. Faces along the way were solemn but resolute, “we understand our past” they seemed to say “but we are building a better future!”

As we gathered at the monument and I made my way up onto the stage, the full effect of just how many people were there became clear. I had never seen so many people at a parade in this area, it was fantastic!

We went through the normal procedure for these events, Cáitlín read the local roll of honour and remembrance to absolute silence amongst those assembled, Zak played a lament while the Colour Party lowered their flags. This was a point where I could see minds drifting back through many years with quite a few tears being wiped away but also the odd cheeky grin in remembering the qualities of their brothers, their sisters, their mates, their comrades.

Our first speaker was well known local Republican activist and ex-POW Huggy McComb. I have known Huggy all my life (or should I say Huggy has known me all my life!!) and his words on Sunday afternoon summed up the feelings for many people involved with this project but also the unbowed and unbroken Republican family gathered at the side of An Tine Bheo. He did us, and the faces looking on from the memorial, very proud indeed.

We moved to the formal opening of the Garden, I was really honoured to introduce Betty Dorian, widow of Óglach Rab Dorrian to do the honours. So many people have played a part in making the monument a reality but there was no hesitation, either amongst the families or the committee, when it came to putting Betty’s name forward as the one to do this. She has worked tirelessly since the idea of this garden came into being. Fair play Betty!

Then it was Gerry’s turn; he spoke of the history of our Parish and the hurt inflicted upon it, he spoke of the unrelenting pride in our Patriot Dead and in their families, he spoke of his acknowledgement at the hurt caused by Republicans but he focused heavily on that recurring theme of the events; “understand the past, build a better future”.

The rest of the day was passed over to enjoying this momentous day together as a community,old friends, comrades, neighbours and relations to get together and remember the bad and good times. It was a chance for younger people, myself including, to hear about the men and women we honoured that day, to remember that they were ordinary Ballymacarrett people, just like us, but who in extraordinary times have gave all in pursuit of our Freedom.

It is important we always remember them with pride.

I could write forever about that day, for our community it was a hell of a long time coming and now we have a permanent, beautiful monument to our Patriot Dead. The work goes on though, to ensure we build the only worthy one to them and that is an Irish, Socialist Republic.

Tá a lán obair os ár gcomhair ach de réir imeachtaí De Domhnaigh agus roimhe tá mé cinnte go bhfuil an talann, and abáltach agus an inporóid againn an Aisling sin a bhaint amach!

Thanks again to everyone who played a part in any of the events, who gave up their time, assistance, patience, expertise and skills. The day belonged to all of us and An Tine Bheo, “The Living Flame” reminds us what we need to work towards.

Maith sibh agus Beirigí Bua!!

PS: I hope to upload more photos over the coming days..............