The difference between a good idea and reality is in the doing. ‘The West Awakes’ project, which this Blog was invited to formally launch in An Chultúrlann on Wednesday is an excellent idea but it needed people with determination and commitment to turn it into a positive project, creating jobs and bring alive the history and stories of this part of the city.
It was a packed event for a unique and innovative tourism project which seeks to give the increasing numbers of visitors to west Belfast a sense of the history and experiences of the people living here. ‘The West Awakes’ combines local history and storytelling with theatre.
Essentially it involves actors, dressed in period costume, meeting tour groups at different locations on the Falls Road and for 10-15 minutes recounting their experience of life at a point in our past. The five sites chosen are: St Comgall’s Primary School; Conway Mill; An Chultúrlann; James Connolly’s former residence facing the bottom of the Whiterock Road and Milltown Cemetery.
A new artistic consortium has been established to run the project comprising the West Belfast tourism project Fáilte Feirste Thiar, the professional theatre company Kabosh and local tour operators ‘Taxi-Trax’ and Coiste Irish Political Tours. ‘The West Awakes’ is written by Kieron Magee, Jimmy Mc Aleavey, Laurence Mc Keown and Roseleen Walsh. The Kabosh contribution is directed by Paula McFetridge and designed by Rosie Moore and features Gerard Jordan and Antoinette Morelli
The new initiative will reawaken and bring to life hundreds of years of history and heritage on the existing hugely popular Coiste walking tours and ‘Taxi Trax’ taxi tours.
A long time ago Sinn Féin made the connection between tourism, economic regeneration and the arts, particularly theatre and we argued for investment, particularly by the Tourist Board, to help bring visitors into the west of the city and create jobs.
Féile an Phobail was a successful part of this and plays produced by local writers, involving local actors, have become an intrinsic part of Féile.
They weren’t the first of course. Chirabanc; Dubblejoint; Just Us; and four decades ago the work of Fr. Des Wilson and Eddie Keenan and Theresa Donnelly and the People's Theatre, are just some of the examples of local people striving to write about their experiences.
And then there were the political tours. Every year people would travel here from the USA, Britain, Europe and even further afield to see for themselves the impact of conflict and to express their solidarity with those involved in struggle.
Today thousands of people travel through the west of the city, walking or on the tour buses or in the black taxis, photographing wall murals, visiting the cemeteries, speaking to local people and learning about the decades of conflict and the peace process.
So, ‘The West Awakes’ is a welcome addition to this history of story telling and local theatre. Best wishes to all involved.
In the course of the launch I got word from home that the PSNI had called.
They were there to warn us that my life was in imminent danger.
“Intelligence”, Collette was told, “has received information that Mr. Adams is to be executed by the ‘Real UFF, C Company’ ”.
Regular readers will know that the UFF is a pseudonym for the UDA. As part of the fiction employed during the conflict the UDA, an armed loyalist paramilitary group – a legal entity for most of its existence – invented the title Ulster Freedom Fighters to claim many of its actions. C Company was the gang run by Johnny Adair a notorious drugs pusher and extortionist and sectarian thug.
As is now well known the UDA has decommissioned and more sensible elements are showing leadership and making a real effort to engage with the peace process and political process.
This Blog has no special intelligence on the status of the group calling itself the Real UFF C Company but the threat level against Sinn Féin representatives and our families has heightened considerably in recent months.
Ironically the threat comes from so-called dissident on the fringes of nationalism as well as their blood brothers on the fringes of unionism.
Like Adair’s group many of these are more interested in their own self gain and vanity than in any political cause.
Anyway it has been a mark of the peace process that some irreconcilable elements, including reprobates within the British system, prefer instability to progress. So we have to take these threats seriously. Former Belfast Mayor Alex Maskey, himself a victim of a number of murder attempts, put it well when he was told his life was once again in danger; “We will not” he said, “be intimidated. We have work to do and we will do it”.
So say all of us.
The West Awake’ Tours will take place twice daily from 7th – 12th April. 220 places available overall. AM tour in black taxi. PM tour walking. £10 per tour.
For further information contact Fáilte Feirste Thiar at 02890241100: firstname.lastname@example.org
Or Coiste Tours 02890200770: www.coiste.ie