Posted in English Language, Polaitíocht | Politics

Cúl Trá Families Facing Eviction

Cúl Trá halting site was built around 21 years ago in Lower Salthill in order to address the need for traveller accommodation in Galway city.   The site was intended to accommodate six families, but as the years progressed the children who lived on the site grew up and began their own families on the same site.  Those living on the site now are part of the community in Lower Salthill, the children attend the local school, the site is the only home they’ve ever known.

Just a couple of weeks ago, ten of the families living on the site received eviction letters from Galway City Council.  No alternative accommodation was offered or other options discussed.  The families, including over 20 children, were simply told that they would have to leave or action would be taken.

In protest at the eviction notices, the families of Cúl Trá and the Galway Traveller Movement held a demonstration last week.  There, I spoke to Martina Delaney who has lived on the Cúl Trá halting site for twenty years and whose children, nieces and nephews now face eviction.  She said that “the council doesn’t seem to care what happens to people once they leave as long as they get them out the gate.”  One of her niece’s children suffers from cystic fibrosis, and still faces the threat of being pushed onto the street with nowhere to go.

The Council hasn’t built any new traveller accommodation in twenty years and is clearly failing to meet its commitments set out in the 2014-2018 Traveller Accommodation Programme (and that programme, by any standards, sets the bar low).  So, of course the site is overcrowded and things need to change, but the families completely understand this.  They know that the halting site is now over capacity and that means that some of them will have to move elsewhere.  The issue is that they have been given no guidance or options on what to do next and no time in which to make arrangements.

What’s happening now is that people who grew up with their family around them, who went to school locally and are now raising their children with their support networks around them are being told that they have to get out.  This is why there were so many people out supporting the families at the protest last week.  One of the local residents who has lived beside the halting site since it was built described the children who live there as the ‘life and soul’ of the area and said that the Cúl Trá model shows that halting sites can and do work.

Clearly, the Council has known for years that overcrowding would become an issue at the Cúl Trá halting site.  It’s completely understandable that those who grew up on the site would remain there with their families and neighbours once they started their own families, especially considering the lack of any other appropriate accommodation.  Why would anyone voluntarily leave the only home they’ve ever known when there is nothing waiting for them and no support?

The ongoing and deepening housing crisis means that public authorities are facing difficult decisions with limited resources.  Still, it’s hard to imagine any other community being treated in the way that the Cúl Trá families are being treated.  The way that Galway City Councillors have spoken about this at meetings and the total lack of respect being shown to these families show that discrimination is a massive ongoing problem in their community.

In March this year, Irish Travellers were granted ethnic minority status after years of campaigning.  This should have marked the beginning of a new era for Traveller rights where they can be confident of being listened to and respected.  This saga shows the depressing reality of how far there is to go before the Traveller community doesn’t have to face this sort of discrimination any longer.  In the meantime, it’s important that people stand with the Cúl Trá families to show that these actions are not acceptable and that the families’ needs must be addressed properly and appropriately.

Posted in English Language, Polaitíocht | Politics, Uncategorized

The legacy of Martin McGuinness

 

Awakening this morning to the news that Martin McGuinness has passed away, it’s hard to believe that this giant of Irish politics is no longer with us.

Although I briefly spoke to him a few times while I worked in Stormont, I don’t have the privilege of saying that I knew him.  What is clear from those who knew him and from the tributes that have come pouring in is that this is someone who has had a profound impact on many, many people’s lives.

Throughout his life he took steps that would have been near impossible for anyone but him.  He brought people with him.  While many commentators talk about the ‘journey’ that McGuinness has been on throughout is career, his guiding principles and beliefs remained steadfast.  Always a committed republican and leader, determined to create a better future for the country.  As for tactics and approaches, he not only changed with the times but he in fact changed the times.

I don’t think many other leaders, if any, are not only viewed with so much respect by those around them, but also with such affection.  So  many people this morning are talking about the loss of a friend and a mentor; they talk about a warm, charming and funny man.  These personal traits and the relationships that he built were undoubtedly one of the reasons that he was able to achieve as much as he did for the people of Ireland.

There are so many words that could be used to describe this man: leader, statesman, laoch, revolutionary.  All of them really mean that we are better off now because of the work that he did and the example he showed than we would have been otherwise.  The success of the peace process and the changes that have taken place in the north over the past 40 years are a testament to his efforts.  Although the devolved institutions struggle, and there is still much work to do to ensure equality and fairness north and south, Martin McGuinness has played a central and vital role in bringing about an end to violence and moving things forward to the place that we are today.

During the next days and weeks there will be many tributes and discussions about the legacy that Martin McGuinness has left behind.  Perhaps by reflecting on the work that he did throughout his life that we can all learn from his example and continue to build the republic that he worked for.

Laoch ar lár inniu.  Suaimhneas sioraí do.

Posted in English Language, Polaitíocht | Politics, Saol | Life

What difference could one vote make?

It’s election day!

Considering that this is the second Assembly election in under a year, it’s understandable that people will find it harder to get excited about this than they may have done before now, but that doesn’t mean that it’s any less important to get out and use your vote.

Before Christmas, no one saw this election coming as quickly and as decisively as it has now come around, but we find ourselves today being asked to once again make a decision about the future of the north.

At the last Assembly election, around 45% of eligible voters didn’t turn out an polling day.  This means that almost half of the decision makers didn’t use their voice that day.  We can’t say what it is half of the population wants for the future of the north.  If people decline to use their vote, that means that decisions are made without their input, by people who are unconcerned what their opinions are because they don’t worry what their reaction will be.  It sounds blunt, but politicians always have an eye on the next election and how they will fair in the polls.  If you’re not part of that, they won’t make you a priority – it’s really as simple as that.

This election is important.  All elections are important.  They are the clearest way that people can show what it is they feel that society should become in the years in front of us.  It wasn’t until 1918 that women had the right to vote in Ireland, and even then there were restrictions based on age and property ownership.   The struggle for women suffrage was  hard fought and a long time coming.  The subsequent struggle for one man, one vote in the north in the 1960s is a vivid reminder that we should never take our vote for granted, whatever our political standpoint may be.  The fact that others fought so hard to ensure that we had the privilege of casting a vote and having a say in the democratic discourse teaches us that we should respect this right and treat it accordingly.

I strongly believe that casting a vote should be the beginning of a citizen’s engagement with the democratic process and not the pinnacle of it.  I can’t count the amount of times that I’ve been in touch with elected representatives about different issues and have always found that they respond quickly and decisively to constituents raising concerns with the,  For everything from poor roads and street lights, to Irish language issues, I’ve found that the more I lift the phone to talk to the people who are elected to represent my interests, the more that I’m listened to by those who have the power to make changes.

There is, of course, the argument that one vote could ever make a difference.  The voting patterns in this part of the world are so well-established that if you’ve never previously engaged that really there’s no need to do so now.  For anyone thinking along these lines, it’s important to remember the 2010 Westminster election when Michelle Gildernew retained her Fermanagh South Tyrone seat by only four votes between herself and the unionist unity candidate, Rodney McClure.  The proportional representation system used for Assembly elections is a little more complicated to be fair, but this example shows that every vote is important.

There’s no doubt that there’s going to be a difficult few weeks following the election while negotiations are underway as to whether or not there will be a new Executive and what form that Executive will take.  This makes it so important that people have their voices heard loud and clear tomorrow.  The people deciding how the next Executive should be formed should be those who represent the views and interests of the people of the north, which hasn’t always been the case here.  Tomorrow’s election is important, and the following weeks are just as important in showing those who will be elected what is important and why to ensure that they set their priorities accordingly.

And if that doesn’t convince you, maybe this will…

Posted in English Language, Gaeilge, Polaitíocht | Politics

Who are an Dream Dearg?

On Friday night, it started.  My Facebook and Twitter feeds turned red as a defiant sense of solidarity shone from the screen.  Some people wondered what this new yet still familiar symbol filling up their screens meant – it means that Irish speakers have decided it’s time for a change in the conversation.

Describing itself as an “open network of Irish language activists from all corners and backgrounds,”  An Dream Dearg is a group who have come together to voice their disgust and outrage at the treatment of the Irish language and the denial of the rights of Irish speakers.  Using the widely recognised symbol, the fáinne, and the colour to show their anger, social media reflected what has been felt in the Irish language community for a long time.  Enough is enough and it is time for change.

I’m not sure if it was the straw that broke the camel’s back, it’s more likely that this was inevitable given how the language has been treated over the past number of years, but when Minister for Communities Paul Givan announced the aburpt end of the Líofa Gaeltacht Scholarship Scheme an invisible line had been crossed.  The scheme had an annual cost of £50,000, a tiny amount in the Minister’s budget,  was a means tested programme which assisted children from disadvantaged backgrounds to attend summer Gaeltacht courses.  I could fill many articles discussing the benefits of the scheme, the importance of social education or the wonderful memories of the Gaeltacht that I and thousands of others have from our young lives, but suffice to say that this was a very worthwhile scheme with a positive impact on disadvantaged young people’s lives.

As disgusting an act as the withdrawel of this fudning was, it’s simply a drop in the ocean of DUP sabatoge towards the Irish language.  The DUP has never made any secret of its hatred of the Irish language, with Nelson McCausland’s incoherent ramblings in his newspaper columns, Greogorty Campbells publicity stunts in the Assembly and the committment to fight against the growth of Irish-medium education.  This, in addition to the refusal to adopt an Irish language strategy or to introduce and Irish Language Bill in spite of previous committements all show that the Irish language community, and the community in general, are not dealing with reasonable people when it comes to their treatment of minority rights.  Their actions are saddening and angering, but no longer even nearly surprising.

In 2015 a consultation was carried out on an Irish Language Bill.  This result of this consultation was overwhelmingly in support of the implementation of an Act, with 95% of over 13,000 respondents agreeing that there should be protective legislation for the language.  Minoirty language rights have been protected in the Republic of Ireland, Scotland and Wales for many years, and it is something which is done right across the globe.  The introduction of an Irish Language Act was guarenteed in the St. Andrew’s Agreement in 2006, meaning that the Act itself should never have been in question, only the extent of its contents.  However, like many other questions surrounding minority rights, the conversations during the consultation process started in an unusual place.  Rather than the media and some politicians focusing on the detail of what should be included in such an Act, the question was still asked whether there should be an Act at all, an argument which had been settled ten years before.

An Dream Dearg has come together to show the strength of the Irish language community and to take action to ensure that the committments that have been made are fulfilled and that language rights are respected and protected.  The group asks for nothing which hasn’t already been agreed to.  In fact, the failures to make the changes that An Dream Dearg is demanding have been consistently and repeatedly criticised by international monitoring bodies.  As on so many issues, the prortection of minority language rights in the north are an embarrassment.

In many ways, An Dream Dearg isn’t just about the language.  It’s about the recognition of rights, a refusal to accept bigotry and sectarianism in our political institutions and overwhelmingly the agreement that the status quo is no longer acceptable.  There are many other examples of minorities having their rights trampled on for the simple reason that they are different to the DUP and their narrow outlook on life.  LGBT groups, ethnic minorities, religious groups and women have all been ostricised, belittled and prejudiced against by the DUP and its policies.

During the referndum on equal marriage in the south, thousands of those who had previously felt that the question of equal marriage did not relate to them because they didn’t see how it impacted their own lives.  During the weeks that led up to the debate the country heard stories of why this issue mattered so much and why change was not only desirable, but necessary.  A minority whose rights are being denied needs more than the help of its own community.  The fact that they are a minorty means that it is harder for them to have their voices heard and that those with an agenda to deny those rights can shout all the louder with the priveleged position they hold.

Already, many politicians have shown their support for An Dream Dearg online from rights across the political spectrum.  I would encourage everyone to show their support to An Dream Dearg, both online and offline to ensure that words are followed by actions and promises followed by change.  Language rights are human rights, and human rights affect us all.

“We are an Dream Dearg, you are an Dream Dearg.  Anyone who believes in rights, respect and recognition for all is An Dream Dearg.”

#DeargleFearg

You can follow An Dream Dearg on Facebook or ón Twitter @DreamDearg

Posted in English Language, Saol | Life

Nollaig na mBan: An old tradition as relevant as ever

It’s a tradition that’s been in Ireland for many years and has found itself coming back into the mainstream in recent years with a newfound, modern meaning.  Traditionally, Nollaig na mBan which means ‘Women’s Christmas’ and is also known as ‘Little Christmas,’ was a day when women who had been working without rest in the home over the Christmas holiday preparing meals, looking after children and entertaining guests, would take a day off and leave the household duties to others.

The idea of women being granted one day off after twelve non-stop days of catering to everyone else’s needs is something which doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) have a place in society now, but the principle remains that women should take this day to relax, to spend it with friends or family, and go out of their way to treat themselves more than on any other day.  This tradition was not only about physically taking a break, but also noting and celebrating the work that has been done before moving on to the next challenge.  As times changed and women’s lives became less solely focused on work in the home, the tradition of Nollaig na mBan began to fade in many parts of the country.

Of course, there are still notable imbalances in the way that domestic and caring duties are divided within households in Ireland, not to mention the issues faced by women in terms of discrimination, pay gaps, the denial of rights or the many other challenges that women face on a daily basis.  I think this makes it all the more special that a day exists where women celebrate what is good, and enjoy a time that is theirs.

For the past couple of years, Oireachtas na Gaeilge has encouraged groups of women all over the country to organise events and get-togethers, both formal and informal, to celebrate this day and revive this tradition in parts of the country were it isn’t as strong any longer.

The newly re-emerging Nollaig na mBan is an opportunity to do something out of the ordinary with friends or to make an ordinary night a little bit special.  As far as I can see, it’s become more of a celebration for women.  It’s now about celebrating each other, ourselves and ensuring that at least a little time is given to ourselves and to our enjoyment – maybe something that should be more often included in new year’s resolutions?

Tonight, there will be events all over the country as women gather to celebrate this old tradition with a modern twist.  Women’s lives in Ireland have changed drastically over the years and this tradition is a beautiful way of celebrating the work of women everywhere down through the generations.

Info on events being organised as Gaeilge to celebrate Nollaig na mBan can be found at: http://www.antoireachtas.ie/nuacht/oiche-nollag-na-mban-2017.html

Nollaig na mBan shona daoibh go léir!

Posted in English Language, Polaitíocht | Politics

Donald Trump will be President of the USA, and fairy tales are dead

I remember November 2008, I was an A Level Politics student at the time, and Obama’s was the first US Presidential election that I’d followed closely.  I remember the lead up to voting day, reading his books, watching the celebrity studded ‘Yes We Can’ videos with my politics class and soaking up as much information as I could about everything that was being said and done, marveling at how social media had played such an important role in an election like this.

The next morning, our history teacher told us to put away our books and instead we watched Obama’s acceptance speech from start to finish – she said it was ‘sufficiently historic’ to earn us the break.  Our history class being given a break was also historic from what I can remember.  We knew history was happening and we were excited about it.

Eight years later, things couldn’t be any more different.  I no longer have the doe-eyed enthusiasm for all things political.  Reality happens and the US political system doesn’t have the same wondrous appeal that it once did for me.  After becoming a little more aware and a lot more cynical, the image of Barack and Michelle Obama dancing at the inauguration ball seems like nothing more than a fairy tale.

Last night, I’d hoped to write a piece this morning on what it meant to see a woman elected President of the US for the first time and why it matters so much. I thought that whatever her flaws, Clinton’s election would have, like in 2008, shown that with all the flaws and problems with the American political system there was at least glimmers of hope.  Far from perfect would be an understatement, but the election of the first woman to the Oval Office could show that things can and will move forward, and that we should have faith.

Instead, Trump’s election has validated racism, sexism, homophobia, elitism and so much else of what is revolting about society.  Hate speech has worked its way into political discourse and the idea of being ‘presidential’ is a distant memory.  A man who inspires hate and exploits fears has manipulated his way into the most powerful political office in the world.  The appeal of this man for his voters seems to be that he has awakened in them the darkest and previously unspeakable feelings that they had and has legitimised these regressive and frankly terrifying tendencies which have no place in modern society, let alone in world politics.

Pundits and politicos will look at this election for years to come trying to determine just how we found ourselves at this point.  How is it that 8 years after ‘Hope’ and ‘Change’ the American people have elected a xenophobic, misogynistic, 70 year old toddler?  People are scared.  No one really knows what comes next.  Will the rest of the political establishment in America be able to exert some sort of control over him or will the madman make good on the promises he made on the election campaign?

Never mind God bless America, God help them.

Posted in English Language, Gaeilge, Polaitíocht | Politics

Commentators should do their Irish language homework

Over the past few months it seems as though every week there is another negative article being published about the Irish language and/or those who speak it.  These articles have varied focus such as the way it is taught in schools, the money spent providing services through Irish, whether or not the Irish language should be on a road sign etc, but all of these articles have one common theme: The author doesn’t speak the language and they don’t want anyone else to either.

The authors of these articles have a relentlessly negative outlook towards the Irish language which is founded on nothing but personal prejudice as far as I can tell.  The most recent of these articles was Declan Lynch’s article in the Irish Independent.

Recent research by Millward Brown and Conradh na Gaeilge show that 63% of people believe that all services should be made available through Irish in Gaeltacht areas, which is a considerable majority considering how big a commitment that is and how far the government currently is from doing just that.  What is more significant is that this research showed that only 10% of people disagreed with this – and of this, only 4% strongly disagreed.

With this in mind, when I read articles such or watch Eoin Butler’s video on the Irish language, I find it hard to believe that they can happily put their name to these poorly researched, unsubstantiated opinion pieces and call them fact.

Research published in 2015 shows that 72% of people in the south and 64% of people in the north believe that Irish-medium education should be available for those who wish to avail of it.  One third of people in the south and one fifth of people in the north have said that they would like to learn more Irish.  Statistics like this never factor into the articles written about the terrible state of the Irish language because it doesn’t suit their narrative.  Those who take this line on the language seem determined to ignore facts and figures.  They speak for the 4% with such certainty that I can’t help but admire their self-confidence.  It’s not enough for them that they don’t take anything to do with the language, they want to ensure that nobody else can either.

I could write here about the importance of the Irish language to national identity, I could write about the proven benefits of bilingualism, or I could discuss how minority language initiatives encourage community cohesion.  I could provide facts and statistics on this too, if they were interested.  That said, this shouldn’t be necessary.  The protection of minority rights should not be contingent on preferences or opinions.

What some people refer to ‘language life support’ is in fact incredibly worthwhile investment in community initiatives.  Aside from the cultural benefits associated with protecting such an integral part of our culture (which are also completely disregarded in the discourse of these commentators)  the schemes run to assist Irish language community include youth work, support for families, parent and toddler groups, community events, raising cultural awareness and the list goes on.  What is needed now is further investment in these programmes which provide demonstrable benefits to the areas in which they are based.  Instead, while this work suffers from savage cuts there are still those standing on the side line complaining that it hasn’t been cut off entirely.

It’s too much to expect that these commentators to see the light and sign up for their nearest Irish classes, but it is time that they showed respect.  There is a vibrant and growing Irish language community in Ireland which should be cherished and protected.  The rights which Irish language speakers have cannot and should not be diminished by those who don’t feel as though the language is part of their lives.

It makes me angry to think that the Irish language community must continually justify its right to exist in this way.  No other minority group would be treated in such a way without being properly challenged to back up their arguments.  I can’t imagine it ever being acceptable for individuals to focus on any other minority group and to use their position of influence in the media to belittle and insult that group and to then call it ‘debate’ or ‘discussion.’  Put simply, these articles are attacks on a vulnerable community, under a poor guise of journalism.

In his article, Declan Lynch refers to the Irish language as “a failure only for the vast majority.”  What he either doesn’t realise or is determined not to recognise is that he is, in fact, in the minority.  Research, statistics and facts all show that the protection of the Irish language is something desired and demanded by the vast majority of people on this island.

Posted in English Language, Gaeilge

Pardon my language

Since I started this blog, and even before it, I’ve been self conscious about my Irish when writing it online.  I’ve had quite a few conversations with people lately saying the same thing, people have said that they are reluctant to use their Irish online (whether on Facebook, Twitter or in a blog post) because they’re not confident enough that their grammar is accurate or that the syntax is correct.  I think it’s a problem that affects a lot of people, and I wonder how often it holds people back from using their Irish in the way that they want.

Before I started working with Irish every day, I was always afraid that my Irish wasn’t good enough to send to other people or to use professionally.  Those nerves don’t go away, but gradually I realized that if I let that get in my way too much, then I wouldn’t be using any Irish at all.  On the other hand, if I did start using as much Irish as I had and working on it as I went, things could only improve.

In the work that I do, I need to write in Irish all the time.  Emails, reports, to do lists, all of it is in Irish, but that doesn’t for a minute that I’m not concerned about my Irish or how it comes across to those reading it.  Any time I start into a new topic at work it takes me a while to become comfortable with the new vocabulary and phrases which go with it, that’s only natural.  When I started working in Dublin it took (and takes) me a while to listen to and read other dialects of Irish without feeling that there’s a barrier there.  Fortunately, I work with colleagues who are well used to fielding my questions and make getting over those obstacles much easier.  The more time spent around Irish speakers and the more advice sought from my lecturers all helped me become more confident in what I was doing.

I’ve had plenty of conversations with people lately talking about Irish and how they were always so cautious about using their Irish.  Whether that’s speaking with people or in writing things online, people put in so much thought into how their Irish is going to come across to others.  It goes further than just being cautious about what you’re writing, but it sometimes prevents people from using their Irish because their so worried about how whether other people will notice their mistakes.

Last week, I was speaking to someone studying Irish at university, she told me about how she’d love to use more of her Irish but that she gets nervous that people would correct her while she speaks to them, so she often switches to English to avoid the hassle.  All I could think was ‘Who are these people who do things like that in a casual conversation?’  Unless in a classroom situation or as part of a job, people generally don’t do things like that.  Unsolicited advice or corrections aren’t something that happens in everyday conversation in my experience, that’s not something people generally do.

I know that it’s important to keep learning.  Grammar and structure are the foundations of the language and it’s very important to establish good habits while learning a language, but I still think that it’s better that people use the Irish that they instead of fretting over whether or not something is perfect before putting it out there.  Anyone reading my Irish language posts will now that my own Irish language grammar leaves a lot to be desired, but it’s a work in progress.  It’s getting better over time.  Sometimes I look back at things I’ve written months ago and instead of becoming embarrassed about the mistakes that I’ve made, I can be pleased that I’ve learnt enough to be able to recognize where I went wrong so I’ll know for the next time.

At the end of the day, when you’re speaking to someone or writing something online and you’re not sure if you have everything 100% correct, the worst thing it can be is wrong.  That’s not the end of the world.  Beatha teanga í a labhairt, the way to keep a language alive is to speak it and it’s so much better to use your Irish, flawed as it may be, rather than to hide it away because you’re afraid of what someone might think of it.

Labhair cibé Gaeilge atá agat – Speak whatever Irish you have, the rest will fall into place.

Posted in Áilleacht | Beauty, English Language, Polaitíocht | Politics

Rose of Repeal 

Each year, the Rose of Tralee is accused of being old fashioned and outdated.  It’s nothing more than a lovely girls contest with pretty dresses and sweet smiles.  Also, each year you will see on the stage some women who blow those perceptions entirely out of the water.

Last night, Brianna Parkins,  the Sydney Rose with connections to Dublin and Armagh, took to the stage and discussed her work as a journalist and as an advocate from women’s rights.  She was frank and honest about her work, which has included interviewing sex workers and volunteering to help those suffering from domestic violence.  She then went on to say that she believes that it is time that Ireland held a referendum on the Eighth Amendment.  The look on Dáithí Ó Sé’s face clearly showed that this issue had not come up in any of their pre-show interviews and he couldn’t get away from the topic quick enough once she’d finished her statement.  Imagine.  A woman. Talking publicly about issues that affect women.

 

Her eight second sentence caused plenty of fuss on Twitter.  (Isn’t it strange how a show that so many people claim not to watch or enjoy trends on Twitter every year without fail?)  There were some who cried out that she’s not from here, what business is it of her’s what rights women have here?  Others said that this wasn’t the forum for discussing such an issue and that she should have stayed with more predictable topics of discussion.

In reality, she’s someone who is currently spending her working life fighting for women’s rights, making her a much more qualified commentator in this debate than many others whose voices are regularly broadcast far and wide.  Also, another interesting twist in her statement was that she called for a referendum to take place on the repeal of the eighth,  she didn’t simply call for its repeal.  To me this showed an understanding and respect for the debate that still continues and how the democratic process operates.  She simply articulated her views when she had been given a platform to do so and managed to work a very nuanced point of view into such a brief statment.

What I gleaned from the Twitter debate that followed Briana’s appearance is that there are people out there who believe that she shouldn’t have revealed any opinions on a subject that may not have been considered ‘suitable’ for the show.  But who on earth decides what is and isn’t suitable in a context like this?  This girl has been given an international platform where she has been asked to show the best of herself, and she’s expected not to raise issues which are important to her?  Surely if the purpose of this competition is to find an ambassador for the following year, the more they share their opinions and views the better.  What’s more, the Rose of Tralee being what it is, it’s amazing that women’s issues and the challenges that they face haven’t had more of a presence until now.

Briana wasn’t the only Rose to share her views on important issues last night.  Although I didn’t see the entire show so can’t comment on the other Roses contributions, I caught the Kilkenny Rose Sarah Kearns’ interview.  To say that she impressed me would be an understatement.  She eloquently and articulately shared her expertise on mental health issues among young people in Ireland and how and why the education system needs to change to accommodate what we now know about how young people’s minds develop. Like all of the other competitors, she only had a few moments in her interview to talk about herself and she chose, like Briana, to focus on a major issue affecting Irish society.  Using your moment in the limelight to highlight issues that are important to you not only shows a deep understanding about the importance of the issues being discusses, but also courage to go off script and make sure that questions which aren’t given enough attention are raised in a high profile way.

Another example of the positive influence that this competition can have in opening up debates is Maria Walsh, the 2014 winner of the Rose competition who did incredible work breaking down barriers and challenging stereotypes of the LGBT community during her tenure.  Unfortunate as it is that there is still a need for role models such as Maria, no one could have asked for a better one.  Maria was a clear favourite to win before the competition began and the competition couldn’t have hoped to find a better winner that year.  In the mouth of the same sex marriage referendum, Maria’s time as Rose did great work to normalize the presence of homosexual people, particularly women, on our television screens.  There still remains a lot of work to be done in challenging stereotypes, but there’s no denying that Maria Walsh played and plays a very positive role in this conversation.

It’s difficult enough to raise your voice about something which matters when it seems as though no one is listening, and even more difficult to do so when there’s a large audience watching waiting to tear apart your every word if they don’t agree with you. The only way to move a debate forward is to make people a little uncomfortable now and again.  Coco Chanel once said that “The greatest thing is to think for yourself, aloud.”  With this, she’s telling us that we should use every opportunity that we have to share our opinions and views.  In doing this, we need to be ready to be challenged, and ready to be wrong if it comes to that, but that’s the only way we’ll get anywhere.  Well done, Brianna and Sarah, for using your moments on stage to talk about the issues that you really care about. Agus ádh mór.

Ursula

Posted in English Language, Taisteal | Travel

Where did everybody go?

Last week, one of my closest friends moved back to Australia after a quick visit home.  Since last summer she’s been working as a doctor in Australia and having the time of her life.  She went out for one year and has decided to extend her visit, like many others choose to do.  Fortunately, she plans to come home eventually.  Another close friend of mine told me this week that she’ll be moving to Germany at the end of the summer, the date is set and she’ll soon have jetted off too.  Out of my group of six close friends from university who graduated in 2013, we’re now scattered across five different countries.  None of this is unusual, this is all part and parcel of the emigration trends which have been a major part of Irish life for hundreds of years.

Fortunately, my friends have more or less emigrated by choice.  They’ve used their experiences and qualifications at home to start new and exciting lives abroad, in places where they can get better jobs and a better standard of living – at least for the time being.

Emigration has worked its way into all elements of Irish life, it’s nothing new.  Over 80,000 people moved out of Ireland last year, and although this is a decrease on previous years it’s still a significant number of people choosing to up and leave in order to find something else somewhere else.  There are stories of entire football teams booking onto flights to Australia, leaving managers at home struggling to field a team.  There are stories of grandparents moving to Australia after having lived in Ireland all their lives so that they can be a part of their grandchildren’s lives.  Emigration trends are showing that people are becoming more likely to settle and have families in the countries to which they’ve emigrated and build lives for themselves there, so there’s every possibility that Ireland will become the home that they visit rather than the home that they make for themselves. Although we have more options open to us than ever before in terms of emigration and travelling, it would be naive to suggest that it doesn’t still have an impact on those at home.

That said, we’re luckier now than ever we have been before because statistics are showing that people are now choosing to emigrate far more often than they do so because they feel that they have no option.  We’re also in a far more fortunate position now because travel and communication has never been easier.  Gone are the days of waiting weeks on a letter, of expensive international calls and, thinking even further back, the American Wakes where people said goodbye in the assumption that tickets were only ever one way.  All these things have changed and it’s now easier than ever to stay in touch with those who are abroad, whether they’re travelling or working.  As welcome as this is, nothing can beat meeting a friend for a drink, giving them a hug, or calling around unannounced for a cup of tea.

Of course I’m excited for my friends, I’m happy for them and admire their bravery as they pack up and head off for their next adventure.  Just because I’ve never felt the travel bug in the way that they have doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate just how incredible an opportunity it is for someone to have these experiences.  On top of that, on a purely selfish level, my friends scattering across the globe has given me excellent accommodation options on my holidays for the next while.  This weekend my friend from University who now lives in Edinburugh will be playing host to the other five of us as we reunite for the first time in a year.  I’m sure he’ll be glad to see us, but he’ll probably be glad to see us go too (we’re a messy bunch).

I don’t know if my friends are going to come home.  In many cases they don’t know themselves.  I think my friends are amazing for taking these chances and being brave enough to start a new life somewhere else.  All the communication technology and social media in the world can only help, but it can’t make it an easy thing to do.  So yes, our generation is lucky, we have opportunities, we have choices. It doesn’t meant that we don’t still miss those who are away.