‘Stirring up a Hornet’s Nest?’ Or open public debate on a key issue?

I’ve just finished a radio discussion today on the Shaun Doherty Show on Highland Radio with Udaras board member and Fine Gael local council candidate, John Curran, on the proposed drug and alcohol addiction clinic in Falcarragh in west Donegal.

While I meet with John frequently – and admire what he is accomplishing in the voluntary sector and wish him every success in his upcoming political campaign for local council elections on behalf of Fine Gael – his describing me as “stirring up a hornet’s nest” by bringing to public attention an important project near the main crossroads in Falcarragh was disappointing, especially coming from someone who stated on his Facebook a day ago when launching his campaign, “I have pledged to make no empty promises, all I will say to anyone who has an issue or a suggestion is thank you and that I will try to address your issue if and when I am elected.

After all, this clinic, which is expected to cost hundreds of thousands – perhaps over a million euro – in public money, has important long-term repercussions for the local community in west Donegal, socially, culturally and economically, including:

  • restricted future access to this lovely area for members of the public;
  • perhaps (no guarantee), decent paying jobs;
  • far less money for tourism projects, cultural, arts or others, as promised by John and his fellow board members when appointed two years ago (in a beautiful and inspiring area as west Donegal such clean, environment-enhancing development could be enriching if funded is on a serious scale);
  • added trauma for local clerical abuse victims (unfortunately, the highest rate of such abuse per population is west Donegal) due to the involvement of Catholic Church-operated Cuan Mhuire, the company who will run the clinic, and which is alleged to have allowed such offending priests to say Mass at their centres.

For all of the above reasons, and more, the proposal for this clinic and its ramifications on the local community should be discussed openly. And as often as possible.

Unfortunately, the term ‘stirring up a hornet’s nest’ stated by John seems to echo a sentiment prevailing at Udaras – namely that the less the public knows about how its money is being used the better. A public body, using citizens’ hard-earned money, this economic group still refuses to reveal specific job-creation figures on a company-by-company breakdown of the ones it funds. Or the amount of money paid out from the public purse to its present and former top executives, locally and nationally, in pensions and other benefits.

John mentioned on the Shaun Doherty Show Highland Radio programme less than an hour ago that public information meetings have been held regarding the addiction clinic project. According to people who approached me, this is an erroneous comment and should be withdrawn. If such meetings had taken place, such a project – costing so much money and with such important social ramifications – would have made its way into the public arena, via media reports. Instead, the idea has remained in the realm of rumor and counter rumor and, until the story broke last week with details, might have remained there.

As a journalist and concerned social commentator, I can only do so much to highlight key issues affecting our community. It is important that others speak out (otherwise we cannot completely blame politicians for making bad decisions).

Therefore, if anyone wishes to comment, please do so – either for or against the project – on my blog or on that of other local media such as Donegal Daily, which published the story yesterday), or Highland Radio, which aired the debate today. Or directly to John Curran.

Only by voicing opinions strongly along whichever pathways open to us, can we influence what is happening in our own community. And with local elections coming up soon and campaigns well underway, there seems no better time.

 

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Flesh-eating plants, soaring eagles, Pagan wishing stones – all in a day’s work

His reputation was spoken of highly by good people – Mary McFadden, former headmistress and organizer of the lively ceilidh dances at Teac Jack’s and John Curran voluntary sector leader and aspiring politician. There seemed no-one better to uncover the anthropological and natural wonders of west Donegal for us than this fellow.

Seamus

So that’s how my wife, Columbia, our two small sheepdogs, Siog (‘fairy’ in Irish) and Lugh (who, according to Celtic legend, slew Balor of the Evil Eye) and myself ended up cowering for dear life under the branches of chubby furze bush as hailstones the size of a rabbit’s droppings – though much, much, much harder – pummeled down on us mercilessly from above.

But the drenching we got was worth the wetting (and sure didn’t the sun break out just a few minutes later as if to reassure us we’d be dry soon). For that’s how we got to know about flesh-eating plants, soaring eagles, Pagan wishing stones and Colmcille’s guide to the joy of sex all along the newly-Christened ‘Wild Atlantic Way.’ And many’s another thing that’s in Seamus Doohan’s head about our wee area tucked away in the far corner of this, the Forgotten County.

An electrical contractor by trade, the jolly, bald-headed 48-year-old became fascinated by the immense diversity of natural and anthropological features around him in his native Gaeltacht area of Cloughaneely after he participated in a sports endurance charity event for cancer victims three years ago. There and then he decided to study the local flora, fauna and history in greater depth and to launch a guided walks and navigation service, Walking Donegal, as an added attraction for visiting tourists and for local people. So far, he has taken several hundred on tours, including visitors from countries as diverse as Italy, the US and Japan, as well as guided walks with the Errigal Arts Festival and for schools.

Seamus 2

“We are spoiled for landscape choice in west Donegal, with such a wealth of intricate and colourful plant species and a fascinating history dating back to the time of primitive man and Pagan worship, not to mention the Christian era that came afterwards,” he said.  “There is something mysterious and magnetic about the mountains around us here, with so many routes for walkers of all ages and aspirations.”

Seamus’s walks, which include forest, island, hill and beach, range in duration from one to five hours and are graded 1 through 5 in terms of difficulty, from flat terrain to challenging gradients. They traverse places such as Horn Head, Ards Forest Park, Sli an Earagail, Dunlewey Glen, Tory, Innisboffin and Arranmore, as well as the Joey Glover Challenge, a walk from Muckish to Errigal “taking in all the mountains in between.”

devil's matchstick

Halting momentarily on the way up rolling fields to Lough Altan near Errigal, Seamus suddenly bends down and parts some blades of grass. Hidden beneath is a tiny plant with a vivid red head. ‘Devil’s matchstick, or cladonia cristatella,” he says, then points to a spot a few feet away. “And over there, some Devil’s chalices.”

devil's chalis

Running his fingers over a spread of soft lime-green moss, he adds, “Sphagnum. During the First World War there was a shortage of bandages and they used this to stem the flow of blood, especially from bayonet wounds. But there are a hundred other varieties.” He swings round on his hunkers to gaze at a small plant with what looks like a set of animal horns on top. “That’s staghorn. And there’s club and fern over there. Beside them, that’s bell and ling heather. You can dry their flowers and make healthy herbal teas out of them.” Turning again, his eyes searching closely, he adds, “There’s some tormentil flowers. They’re yellow in summer, natural antiseptic to ease toothaches. And there, sundew plants. They’re carnivorous, the glands on their leaves emit a sticky gel to traps insects. They then eat them to supplement the poor mineral nutrition of the soil in which they grow.”

Spagnum

Further along, by the side of an old pony and cart track used more than a hundred years ago to get to Altan Farm, he stops again, this time beside a strange rock formation that resembles the open pages of a book.  “I call this ‘leabhar cloch Cholm Ciolle’ (Colmcille’s book of stone). It’s believed the monk, who would have wandered these hills, secretly copied a mysterious text. Who knows? This could be it – magically petrified.” Somebody nearby says the book in question was probably ‘The Joy Of Sex” – a particularly delightful illustrative book that helped enlighten me greatly in the face of strict Catholic doctrine on the sacrosanct subject. But Seamus rightly ignores my nostalgic ramblings. And rambles on up the hill.

book

Below in the sunshine, the ruins of a once sturdy, castle-like structure stands at the head of the lough, still defying the elements after all these years. To our left a herd of deer dart away on to higher ground while above us two eagles glide effortlessly, on the sharp lookout for unwary prey.

eagles

Later, up a steep climb behind Gortahork, Seamus, who is secretary and training officer of the North West Mountaineering Club, points to two round indentations carved out of bare stone, resembling an alien’s head. “Cup or ring marks, prehistoric art,” he says. “Sometimes known as wishing stones in Pagan times. Supposedly the water that gathers in them heals warts, thus the Gaeilge name, Tober na bhFáithní (the Wart Stone). ”

alien

Out at Ray, he stops at a ruined church and flat run of fields beyond, “This is known as ‘Lag na gCnámh,’ the resting place of bones, after a massacre that occurred here in the 17th century,” he ssays. “No-one knows exactly where the bodies are but there’s a lot of them under this soil somewhere.” In a hillside graveyard outside Falcarragh, he stands in the wind and rain, gazing east, “Amazing to think that druids long ago in their big, flowing cloaks stood right here with this amphitheater of hills in front of them and prayed to Nature.”As he spoke and the hailstones started pouring down again, I wondered if he might just take on the role, burst into a chant and invoke the Sun God to smile upon us.

Ray church