In recent weeks, there has been a fantastic reaction to the 24-page programme I researched, wrote, and edited for the 21st birthday celebrations of the most westerly arts centre in Europe.
The survival of Áras Éanna Inis Oirr since the year 2000 has been a triumph of the human spirit and imagination as we welcome artists and performers to the smallest of the Aran Islands.
Artists love the peace, natural beauty, and stunning scenery of Inis Oirr and expanding our artists in residence programme is a big part of my work as Tourism Officer at the centre.
It was amazing to see a programme of events coming together in a few short weeks, considering the devastation the arts sector in general faced during the Level 5 lockdown in the first five months of the year.
My colleague Dara McGee, the Artistic Director, showed amazing imagination to come up with the outstanding ‘Curacha’ exhibition, which has seen 21 hand-painted and hand-decorated canvas currachs dotted all around the island.
“This year is very special. We were hoping to celebrate our 20th anniversary last year, but with the Covid19 restrictions we decided that now is the time to celebrate as Ireland begins to open up,” explains Dara.
“We got a feel for exhibiting outdoors last year, when the restrictions lifted for a few months, and we see the island as a palate for the arts centre to put art out there in front of the community.”
There are currently three outdoor exhibitions on the island to comply with public health guidelines relating to Covid19.
What a wonderful way to celebrate contemporary Irish art at a time when people are not encouraged to spend too long indoors at art galleries.
A total of 2,500 copies have been distributed to hotels, guest houses, and venues around the island and we may have to order another print run, as the reaction has been fantastic!
In Gaza, the trauma of the children never seems to stop.
Even when the bombing stops, and the focus of the international community turns away, the youngsters growing up in one of the most crowded places on earth face restrictions, shortages, and frustrations which would be unthinkable in Ireland or any European country in 2021.
An average 15 year old on the tiny strip has now lived through four major offences by the Israeli military, seeing buildings being destroyed, the lives of friends and family members cruelly cut short, and the terrible lack of hope in a place which has been described as the biggest open air prison on earth.
Long before the coronavirus pandemic, the children of Gaza knew what a lockdown meant. Hemmed in by Egypt and Israel, the borders sealed for months at a time, and no chance of escaping via the sea, there is nowhere to escape to.
There are no safe rooms or shelters to take refuge in when the buildings they live in are being blown to bits by one of the most highly funded armies on earth.
Three years ago in Galway, I helped to raise €4,425 to bring a team of talented young footballers from Gaza to Ireland.
The members of the Al-Helal Football Academy had delighted everyone who met them during previous trips in 2016 and 2017. Indeed, in 2016 they were guests of honour at a Galway United game and got to meet the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, after the game. They were thrilled.
So my friend Hugo Seale and I were delighted when Steve Wall of The Stunning and local ‘indie’ expert DJ Foz agreed to come on board to run a benefit gig for the Gaza children in Galway in July 2018.
The Stunning played a sold out gig at the Big Top at the Galway Arts Festival and were happy to come on board for a late night DJ set at Massimo, the late night bar, afterwards. The night was such a huge success that we had to turn dozens of people away at the front door.
Management at Massimo described it as the best night of 2018 in the popular late night venue and we were over the moon to be able to transfer €4,425 to the organisers of the trip to bring them to Ireland the following day.
The boys were due to return to Ireland later that month and the funds raised were set to help towards the cost of their trip.
All of the preparations were made at the Irish end. Only … they were denied exit visas in 2018. And again in 2019.
The disappointment was unimaginable among the talented young footballers from all over Gaza who were keen to come to Ireland again to show off their skills.
But the children of Gaza are used to dealing with crushing disappointments.
Every day they hear the adults say “It’s God’s will”, such as when there are water and electricity shortages, they are prevented from visiting family members in the West Bank, or a cancer patient is prevented from travelling to Jerusalem for treatment because the Erez checkpoint is closed.
A cancelled football trip might not seem a huge priority in a place which was bombed to smithereens in 2008-9, 2014, and again last month when at least 67 children were killed during an 11 day bombardment of Gaza.
Because of that, the money we raised in July 2018 was still sitting in the Gaza Kids to Ireland account until this week. We raised the money so that traumatised little boys could enjoy a holiday in Ireland and we kept hoping they could come back every year. In 2020, the pandemic put paid to the best laid plans.
It’s the kind of news story you never hear about Gaza, that a brutal siege prevents young sports stars from showcasing their talents around the world. It’s collective punishment of two million people.
Half of those two million people who live in the strip are children and an estimated 75% of them are refugees or the descendants of refugees from what is now Israel. For 11 days last month, bombs were dropped on this tiny piece of land, displacing more than 70,000 people from their homes.
Because they cannot travel, I discussed the issue with Hugo and Steve last week, along with Kevin Healy of Massimo. All of us agreed that there was an urgent need to divert the money we raised in 2018 to medical aid for the people of Gaza.
Thanks so much to the Gaza Kids to Ireland project for agreeing to divert the funds at a time of such great need and we hope everyone who attended the gig in 2018 understands why we were compelled to transfer the money to Trocaire, as the boys won’t make it to Ireland for at least another year.
“If there is a hell on earth, it is the lives of children in Gaza,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said recently.
The Irish people have always shown great support for the people of Palestine. Please remember the children of Gaza even as the eyes of the world turn away from the pain and suffering they experience in that tiny place by the sea every day.
No child deserves to grow up surrounded by such a lack of hope and such terrible tragedy.
Hopefully, the talented young soccer players will make it back to Ireland in 2022.
In the meantime, though, Trocaire and their partners on the ground are doing their best to deal with a medical and humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.
When a group of talented young footballers from Gaza visited Galway five years ago, they were absolutely thrilled to be nominated as ‘guests of honour’ at a big game between Galway United and Dundalk at Eamon Deacy Park.
United were flying high in the Premier Division at the time and produced their best performance of the season to beat the reigning champions 1-0 before a huge and vocal crowd. Home town hero Vinny Faherty scored the winning goal.
It was a magical night at Terryland.
The 14 boys and their two coaches who were allowed to travel to Ireland on a ten day trip, after a lot of bureaucratic troubles and delays, had tears in their eyes when virtually the entire main stand rose together midway through the second half to chant “Stand up for the Gaza boys!”
The little boys from Palestine played an exhibition game on the pitch at half-time.
After the game, United officials invited the members of the Al-Helal Football Academy to a room under the stand to meet President Michael D. Higgins.
“Is he the President of Galway United?” Mohamed, the only boy who could speak English, asked me.
“No, he’s the President of Ireland!”
Huge chatter ensued in Arabic among the delighted boys. What kind of city was this that would give them pride of place at the biggest game of the season, let them play in front of a big crowd, and introduce them to the president of the land?
Full of humility and joy, the boys left a lasting impression on everyone who met them that night, and on the families of Kinvara where they played a series of friendly games against local youngsters the day before. The Gaza boys won all the games on their ten day Irish tour and the Galway Community Circus put on a free show for them in Kinvara.
They returned to Ireland the following year, but in 2018 and 2019 bureaucratic hurdles got in the way and they were denied exit visas for a trip which is organised and sponsored by Gaza Action Ireland each year. The news that they could not travel to Ireland resulted in crushing disappointment for the children.
That’s the reality of life in Gaza for the two million people who live in a tiny strip of land which is smaller than Co Louth. The people of Gaza understood what “lockdown” meant long before the coronavirus brought the concept to Ireland. For most, travelling anywhere outside the tiny strip is an impossible dream.
The two border crossings, linking them to Egypt and Israel, are closed to most Gazans most of the time. If fishermen travel more than a few miles from shore, they are shot at by the Israeli military. They have been living under a siege since 2007.
Half of the people who live in the strip are children and an estimated 75% (1.4 million) of them are refugees or the descendants of refugees from what is now Israel. For 11 days until Thursday night, bombs were dropped on this tiny piece of land, displacing more than 70,000 people from their homes.
There are many people in Galway and Kinvara who have built up links with the Al-Helal academy, who bring the best players from all over the strip together. Aged between 10 and 14, those Gaza boys were cowering under their beds again this week in the third major aerial bombardment of their lifetimes.
Yesterday, Gaza health officials revealed that 232 Palestinians, including 65 children, had been killed and more than 1,900 wounded in the aerial bombardments which destroyed buildings all across the strip.
Their own football ground in northern Gaza was bombed by Israel in both 2012 and 2014. Football gives them a little escape from the harshness of life in one of the most troubled places on earth.
Most of the boys who came to Galway in 2016 and 2017 were traumatised by the 2014 Israeli military assault on the Gaza Strip. More than 2,250 Palestinians, including 551 children, lost their lives. So trauma is nothing new to these children.
“If there is a hell on earth, it is the lives of children in Gaza,” UN Secretary-General Antonia Guterres said on Thursday.
It was because of the Al-Helal children, and other innocent children like them all across Palestine, that hundreds of people turned up for a “social distancing” vigil in solidarity with the people in Palestine in Galway last weekend.
It was arranged at short notice by people who did not want to break the guidelines on outdoor gatherings.
People wanted to share their grief and anger at the ongoing injustice of how Palestinians have been living under a brutal occupation for so long and how little hope they have in places like Gaza.
Palestinians take inspiration from the Irish people’s long struggle for freedom and the Palestinian students who live in Galway were particularly keen to meet up in safety and show their support to the people back home.
People in the Galway arts and dance communities have built up wonderful friendships with performers in Palestine, including dancer Ata Khattab who performed a memorable show here in 2017 and Gaza artist Sohail Salem, who worked on the ‘Hope it Rains’ project for Galway 2020. Khattab was arrested in a dawn raid on his home in early February.
It might seem pointless to wave a flag in Galway in solidarity with people facing a terrible injustice so far away, but videos and images from South Park and the Spanish Arch were shared all across the world last Saturday.
By Sunday morning, messages of thanks were being received by the Galway organisers from places like Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Gaza City.
Among them was a message from Ayed Awni Abu-Ramadan, chairman of the Al-Helal club, who spent recent nights sheltering from the bombings with his wife and young daughter.
“God bless Ireland and its people,” he said. “Thank you so much for your continued support. To get calls from Ireland or to see messages on social media relieves a lot, because it shows us that the people of Ireland are standing with us, unlike most other people who are not really caring about the situation. From here, I send you all of our love and friendship.”
Later in the week, Ayed spoke live from Gaza City on ‘Morning Ireland’ on RTE Radio One after another night of bombardment.
“It’s very dangerous to leave the house,” he said on Tuesday. “We could hear all night the bombing of buildings. We have seen on TV the killings of innocent people in their homes. More than a hundred buildings were bombed. More than 5,000 housing units were bombed.
“I can’t trust going out of my home, especially leaving my family behind. I am trying to be with my family all the time, so that whatever happens happens to all of us. Of course we are scared, we are actually traumatised. It’s beyond description, with bombing and shelling all night. It’s really scary.”
A ceasefire was declared late on Thursday night, but the injustice goes on for the people of Palestine who cannot enjoy things we take for granted in Ireland – such as travelling to visit family members in other parts of the country or even to visit the sea. Many people in the West Bank find it impossible to get permits to travel the relatively short distance to the Mediterranean.
The bombing may have stopped, but the injustice goes on for some of the nicest and most appreciative people many of us have met in our lives.
Which is why people in Galway will continue to advocate for justice for the people of Palestine, whether by gathering outdoors to fly a flag or lobbying Irish politicians to enact legislation which would ban goods from the settlements in Palestine which are illegal according to international law.
· A socially distant vigil for the people of Palestine takes place on the Salthill promenade today (Saturday) at 2pm. People are asked to wear a face mask, not to gather in large groups, and to fly a flag or bring a placard for an hour. The Galway event is part of a global day of action for Palestine and there are at least 17 similar events taking place around Ireland. https://fb.me/e/3Z7X9Rcr
A unique partnership between Japan and the Aran Islands launches tomorrow when an exciting dance collaboration called ‘Echoes of Calling – Encounter’ has its online premiere as part of the Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture programme.
Acclaimed Japanese dance choreographer Akiko Kitamura has used online workshops and rehearsals to collaborate with three West of Ireland dancers on a short piece inspired by her visit to Inis Oirr, Connemara, and Galway in 2019.
‘Echoes of Calling – Encounter’ is the result of a partnership between Aras Eanna Inis Oirr, Galway 2020 and EU Japan Fest, bringing the most westerly arts centre in Europe together with dancers from Galway Dance Project, “sean nós” singers from Co Donegal, and one of the most acclaimed dance choreographers in Japan.
The resulting 19 minute film, with footage from both the Tokyo stage and the shores of Galway Bay, is a remarkable achievement given that Akiko’s proposed return to Inis Oirr – for a stage show last month – had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus restrictions.
Executive producer Siobhan O’Malley liaised between the partners in Japan and Ireland to bring this exciting dance project to fruition.
It will be presented as a 19 and a half minute film. The launch will take place in Irish and English, with a little Japanese courtesy of Akiko.
The film will be launched at a special “live” event on the Aras Eanna Ionad Ealaine page on Facebook (1pm), which will be hosted by acclaimed dancer, choreographer and dance academic Breandán de Gallaí.
De Gallai will discuss this exciting project with Akiko Kitamura (live from Tokyo), Dara McGee of Aras Eanna, and sean nós singers Doimnic Mac Giolla Bhríde and Diane Cannon, who travelled to Tokyo for a stage performance of ‘Echoes of Calling’ in January.
The partners are delighted that Molscéal, TG4’s social media platform which provides video stories to the heart of Irish and Gaeltacht audiences, has come on board to help with the live launch.
Instead of returning to Galway to stage the Irish performance this Spring, Kitamura worked via zoom with Galway Dance Project dancers Magdalena Hylak, Stephanie Dufresne and Mintesot Wolde to create a site-specific piece for film, relating to the themes of the Tokyo show.
Filming took place in South Connemara with film maker Laura Sheeran, who worked closely with Kitamura’s film editor in Tokyo.
The resulting short film includes Japanese and Irish contemporary dance, sean-nós singing, and connects the performance in a Tokyo theatre in January with the wild and barren landscape of Connemara and Inis Oírr.
Images of Inis Oirr were supplied by island resident and superb photographer Cormac Coyne to form a backdrop for scenes in the film.
The Artistic Director of Aras Eanna, Dara McGee, said that he hopes to continue to develop this working relationship with Japanese colleagues and the Galway Dance Project into the future.
“I really think this is an ongoing project and we are really thinking of extending this project into 2022. We really feel there is something special happening with this collaboration between Ireland and Japan and it would be a shame if we couldn’t develop this further and bring a full production to Ireland, hopefully in 2022,” he added.
I have been delighted to take part in the planning and promotion of the launch of this film, my fist role as a film producer! It has been incredible to see artists from Japan and Ireland work together in partnership to produce a stunning piece of work.
‘Echoes of Calling – Encounter’ is presented by Áras Éanna, in association with Galway Dance Project and Office ALB Japan.
The trailer for ‘Echoes of Calling – Encounter’ which launches tomorrow
A webinar which takes place tomorrow evening (Wednesday, 7pm) will look at how Ireland can use its seat at the United Nations Security Council to support the people of Palestine.
Around the time the new Government was being formed in Dublin last June, Ireland and Norway defeated Canada in a vote among 191 countries to win two of the three seats available on the UN Security Council for a two year term.
Ireland’s support for the beleaguered people of Palestine, many living under a brutal occupation for 53 years, was seen by many as a key factor in winning over smaller nations who have sympathy towards the Palestinians.
Yet, even as negotiations were concluding in Dublin, Foreign Minister Simon Coveney was refusing point blank to allow the Occupied Territories Bill be included in the Programme for Government.
This bill would have seen Ireland become the first country in the world to ban goods from the settlements in the occupied West Bank, which are illegal according to international law.
Both Fianna Fail and the Green Party had included the bill in their manifestos for the General Election on February 8, 2020.
Campaigners across Ireland who have concerns over human rights abuses in Palestine were dismayed.
Coveney has consistently claimed that the EU’s common approach to foreign policy overrides any attempts by the Irish to take a brave first move in terms of standing up for human rights and international law.
Which means that tomorrow night’s event organised by Comhlámh and the Maynooth University Department of International Development is extremely timely.
Three invited speakers will ask whether Ireland’s seat on the UN Security Council can advance the cause of the Palestinian people who have been left stateless and lacking in hope for so long.
Guest speakers include Abeer al-Mashni, an expert in the field of development and policy formation in Palestine. She has 20 years of experience in education, state building and local government in Palestine.
Richard Falk is the former UN Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine, the Chair of Global Law at Queen Mary University London, and Professor of International Law Emeritus at Princeton University.
The third speaker, Eamonn Meehan, was Director of Trócaire between 2013 and 2018, and recently completed a master’s degree in International Human Rights Law at the Irish Centre for Human Rights at NUI Galway.
The Comhlamh Justice for Palestine ‘First Wednesday’ event is “live” on YouTube from 7pm tomorrow (Wednesday).