Thursday, March 11, 2010

The West Awakes

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:

Or Coiste Tours 02890200770:


Timothy Dougherty said...

Morally unprincipled person or persons , out in the world ,a world of Art and hopelessness or Hope. Bellfast is the superlative,for danger, at times now and than. You news comes on the news: reporting that President Obama will officially announce a visit to the Emerald Isle while meeting with Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen at the annual St. Patrick's Day meeting at the White House. Being a leader is always a business of risk, be safe Gerry.

Micheal said...

Yes, I've always held the Arts in high regard myself, especially as a medium for putting foward ideas and concepts that connect with understandings located deeply within people.

As Timothy Docherty wrote, in his comment on your previous notes, words are the tools of communication of a language which codes and decodes communication. We're very fortunate to have Timothy in our community.

When I was in North London, trying to promote the recent Irish Unity Conference, an old timer from Limerick and Holloway asked me, "Irish Unity, What does that mean"? It was only later in the day that I could comprehend even half of the import of his question and only today, with the combination of my experience and the contribution of Timmy Docherty that I can provide the answer to his quetion. It means perseverence.

Go raimh mile maith agat a chara. Lean ar aghaidh agus Tiocfaidh ar Laaaargh!

Micheal said...

They can kill the revolutionary but they can't kill the revolution. As Christ said, "They can kill the body but they can't kill the spirit."

after I became a born again christain, i never feared death again. "Death had lost it's sting for me". But then again, I'm not in your situation Gerry. I just hope you have a good security team.

I can relate to violent people. I can relate to the men of the Gun. But I'd be gutted if they killed you or Martin, or any other of the Sinn Fein Leadership.

Micheal said...

Unity + Communication = Community. And this is the equation that will be central to Sinn Fein's delivery of a new Ireland capable of resolving the issues of 800 years.

800 years of systematic division and control was almost overturned until the partition card was played and the Irish nation was defeated. And this defeat is what we all have to live with today.

What is lost is lost and gone for ever. The 26 county state is also failing because it is exclusive. Exclusivity and the exclusion that stem from it are the anthisesis of community, which is the substance of nationhood.

Community cannot be conditional. It can only be unconditional or it cannot achieve unity and therefore can only decay and degenerate.

Community can not be conditional on race, colour, creed, thinking, behaviour, appearance, age, etc...

The exclusion of Sinn Fein from the southern media is morally repugnant. It is the expression of the defeat of the Irish nation unresolved. It is a horrible, ugly thing to behold and it extends into the Irish anti-community in Britain as well.

There are also people in the republican movement that reflect this ugliness, but there are very good people in the movement too, who reflect republican principles.

The trick is, how do we unite the two. Do you really need to like someone to communicate and be in unity with them. No, you don't. It's not neccessary. Our Union will be better that the union with england, but it will still be imperfect.

People on both sides of the line are still seething, because nothing has been resolved. all the anger and pain of all of those years is still there. Some work on it. Some are silently abusive and exclusive. Others cannot divert or contain it and are hell bent on violence.

The community cannot be conditional on being in the party because being in the party is conditional. Ireland needs the party. The party is essential. Be in the party, but don't be exclusive and abusive, or the party, like the 26 and the 6, will fail. If the party fails, then there will be no resolution of the issues. And our destiny will be that of the potatoes in the shed. Shooting forlornly to the light of the window. Oh dear!

Tiocfaidh Ar La.

Linda Coleman said...

Congratulations on the launch of An Chultúrlann, and thanks, Gerry, for your ongoing support for the arts.

Ed Feighan said...

Hi Gerry,First let me wish you and your family a happy St.Patricks day and while here in the states enjoy the pints. Twelve years ago when I first brough Jeanette to Belfast the first place I visited was Milltown to see the graves of many of the heroes, from then on I had to find things on my own. What a great help the tour group will be for visitors(plus THE WEST AWAKE)is a song I play often. Take care and I hope to see you soon in the north. Ed F