Having fun and tackling racism in the border region

[This is taken from A Note from the Next Door Neighbours, the monthly e-bulletin of Andy Pollak, Director of the Centre for Cross Border Studies in Armagh and Dublin]

I attended a lovely event in Monaghan town this month. It was the last ‘showcase’ presentation of the Immigration Emigration Racism and Sectarianism (IERS) Schools Project, which is funded by the EU Peace Programme and managed by the Centre for Cross Border Studies. This project brought eight primary and four secondary schools in Counties Antrim, Londonderry, Louth and Monaghan together to learn about the immigrants and emigrants who have always flowed in and out of Ireland and Northern Ireland over the centuries. The aim was to teach the children that since every Irish family has experienced immigration and emigration, racism and xenophobia are not good ideas. To hate the Africans and Indians, Poles and Lithuanians who have enriched our societies in recent years is to hate a bit of ourselves.

The event was a play ‘The Four Rivers’, written and choreographed by two teachers from Castlenock Education Together school, and performed by children from Monaghan Model National School (Church of Ireland) and St Patrick’s National School in Clara (Catholic), two of the participating IERS schools. It was a moving occasion, funny and instructive, with wonderful samba drumming and an inspirational story about river people who traditionally never talked to each other coming together to defeat a marauding dragon. Some parents and teachers were in tears at the end of it. The children had a ball.

This has been an exemplary project. It has brought teachers and children from the unionist heartlands of Ballymena, Antrim, Cullybackey and Coleraine together with their neighbouring Catholic schools and with Protestant and Catholic counterpart schools in Dundalk and Monaghan for two years of fun – they had overnight residentials in the spectacular surroundings of the Donegal Mountains and the Fermanagh lakes – and (for the teachers) difficult, sensitive work in learning, with skilled facilitators, how to face up to the twin afflictions of racism and sectarianism in their own attitudes.

The project coordinator, Marie Hoeritzauer, says that for her the most impressive outcome was the personal development the participating teachers experienced by making themselves deal with these controversial issues, and learning how to tackle them with the children in the classroom. She produced two superb booklets of guidance materials – People are People All Over the World – which at least one education and library board in Northern Ireland is now planning to distribute to all its primary schools.

The pupils made friends not only with African and Indian and Eastern European children from other schools, but with Protestant and Catholic children from schools in the other Irish jurisdiction as well. One often forgets two things in these North-South educational exchanges. The first is that it is the small things which make a difference: one principal of a Southern border region Church of Ireland school recounted how she had learned to play the tin whistle in Armagh during a predecessor to the IERS project and as a result the tin whistle – until then seen by her co-religionists as a “Catholic and Gaelic” instrument – was now played regularly in local Church of Ireland church services, particularly on Children’s Sunday.

The second thing is the sheer pleasure the children experience through these cross-border, cross-community exchanges. To watch them samba-drumming in Dundalk or doing Indian dances in Ballycastle or ‘banana boating’ on Upper Lough Erne is to see the shyness disappearing, the confidence growing and the understanding and respect for cultural difference starting to dawn in quite young children. To see such happiness in the eyes of children makes the work of those of us who try in a small way to cross the barriers of religion and nationality that have cursed this island for so long seem all seem worthwhile.

The IERS project also made a big difference to the ‘newcomer’ children taking part. A Polish interpreter who accompanied some Polish pupils to one of the residentials wrote afterwards: “For the Polish girls it was a very special time. They had an opportunity to meet new friends and feel just like at home. Because they are children of migrant workers, they need to feel they are not isolated from Irish society and an outing like this should improve their ability to settle in their adopted country. For the Irish children it was a great opportunity to share activities and to learn to cooperate with another country.”

So I just want to say a huge ‘thank you’ to Marie Hoeritzauer (who inevitably, because the EU money runs out next month, is starting a new job in July) for all her extraordinarily hard work on this project; and to the 12 schools, their principals, teachers, pupils and parents, for contributing so much to the project’s success. The other participating schools were Cullybackey High School, St Louis Grammar School in Ballymena, Antrim Primary School, St Mary’s Primary School in Cargan and St John’s Primary School in Carnlough, all in County Antrim; Ballysally Primary School in Coleraine, County Londonderry; and Dundalk Grammar School, St Mary’s College in Dundalk, Louth National School and St Nicholas National School in Dundalk, all in County Louth.

Andy Pollak

  • Could we let all comers into Co Londonderry? no borders at all. Think of the money we would save on border controls.
    How much does all this cost? Is it part of the Peace Process Industry, the Tourist Industry or the Diversity Industry?
    What qualifications are needed to get on the gravy train?

  • Éireannach Saolta

    So the core values of unionism namely bigottry ( treating those of a different culture or identity with contempt) will be rightly challenged

  • Have you got a serious point to make, or are you just trying to distract an intelligent post down the rough house thread route?

  • core values

    does stating a desire to challenge a supposed bigotry while expressing a definite bigotry strike you as thick at all, babe ?

  • Wonderful! We deliberately ‘segregate’ children at an early age and then we bring them together for a little bit of token togetherness.

    PS There seems to be a little bit of ‘Irish’ indoctrination going on despite the more inclusive aspirational language of the 1998 Agreement.

  • Éireannach Saolta

    core values

    Not at all,
    Namely because when i look at the bigottry unionist population have shown towards my identity from the foundation of Northern Ireland right up to the present day.and the fact that they still continue to do so, I therefore believe that line of thought needs to be outright challenged every chance there is . If you want examples of this I can provide you with them

  • Quagmire

    “…flowed in and out of Ireland and Northern Ireland over the centuries.” Geez there’s me thinking that Ireland was partitioned less than a hundred years ago. You can imagine my surprise when I read the above. Back to school for me then I guess to do the William Crawley/BBC module in Irish history and revisionism.

  • TAFKABO

    Unfortunately, hatred of the other is a much more established Irish tradition than emmigration and immigration.
    I’m pretty sure that were you to look up research on hatred of the other, you’d find that a pretty common feature was ascribing a set of values whereby you feel that you’re the victim of them, and this gives you a perfect pretext for hating them.
    It’s good to see that this initiative is taking place, but some of the comment on this thread alone would suggest we need more of the same, with a much wider remit.

  • Greenflag

    ‘People are People All Over the World ‘

    Eh ? 🙂 Full marks for the obvious . Just don’t expect the American, Chinese , Russian or Israeli Govt to get the message . These nations still believe that ‘cluster’ bombs are a great way to kill , maim and demoralise people who are of course not ‘our people ‘.

    ‘So I just want to say a huge ‘thank you’ to Marie Hoeritzauer’

    The lady deserves it . No doubt many of the childen benefited too .

    ireanacha Saolta,

    ‘I therefore believe that line of thought needs to be outright challenged every chance there is ‘

    Well of course but this thread is probably not the best choice to fling abuse at our fellow ‘people ‘ ahem ‘Unionists’ 🙂 There are no shortage of threads on Slugger on which you can ‘vent’ your distaste of the ‘chosen people ‘ or should that be perhaps the ‘unchosen people ‘ ?

  • I’m all for a wider remit, Tafkabo, but IMO you’ll not find it in projects like these. [see post #5]

  • gore values

    Challenging bigotry is to be applauded.

    Ascribing bigotry as an inherency in a culture is defamation. Defamation is the sole apology of active bigotry and its most apparent characteristic. Albeit within the scope of defamation and its applications to apply paradoxical appellations.

    Asserting bigotry as core to another culture ascribes a false character to bigotry in that it expresses a belief that (bigotry) is a fundament rather than a malformation in reaction, and exposes a belief in an Inherent inferiority on the part of another portion of humanity you have, as you concede by your tone, a cultural tendency to hate.

    the mutual antagonisms of the Irish discount you ludicrous statement on the character of our situation and bearing them in mind when considering your statement reveals an unpleasant conceit on your part.

  • gv,

    Can I quote you on that (frequently and often)?

    🙂

  • El Paso

    GV – that’s easy for you to say.

    “…Northern Ireland over the centuries” – Is AP related to GV?

  • spore values

    el paso,

    prats like you actually make understanding the distinction outlined a real challenge.

    Mick,

    I would even be slightly flattered.

    ps. ireanacha Saolta,

    Am I right in thinking your name translates as “I’m Irish man of worldly tendencies” ?

    anyway folks, have a nice weekend !!

    and paso and Saolto,

    don’t waste all your days hating prods, we’re all out playing our wee flutes and not worrying about you, you know !

    (I will not be reading any response about our permanent sinister intentions you may have)

  • I think those who oppose projects such as this are mistaken. Great changes in attitude often start with very small steps.

    Sectarian prejudices have been mentioned, but that is no reason to dismiss such projects as this, for if our children understand that it is foolish to hate or even condemn people because they come from another land, it will not be long before the penny will drop when it comes to sectarianism; and when they hear their parents/whoever condemning someone simply because they are protestant or Catholic, they will understand that to do so is just plain daft and more to the point wrong.

    Can any one who does not have hate in their heart not draw some joy and hope from this,

    “The second thing is the sheer pleasure the children experience through these cross-border, cross-community exchanges. To watch them samba-drumming in Dundalk or doing Indian dances in Ballycastle or ‘banana boating’ on Upper Lough Erne is to see the shyness disappearing, the confidence growing and the understanding and respect for cultural difference starting to dawn in quite young children.”

    Cheers Andy.

  • whore values

    “and paso and Saolto,
    don’t waste all your days hating prods, we’re all out playing our wee flutes and not worrying about you, you know ! ”

    Does stating a desire to challenge a supposed bigotry while expressing a definite bigotry strike you as thick at all, babe ?

  • Dewi

    Andy Pollack – love your stuff – and brilliant work.

  • PeaceandJustice

    Mick Hall – “I think those who oppose projects such as this are mistaken. Great changes in attitude often start with very small steps.”

    From the man who won’t condemn Republican murder gangs – even the recent variety.

    To ireannach Saolta – it’s time you showed more tolerance and less bigotry when it comes to the Orange tradition.

  • PeaceandJustice

    To Andy Pollak – it’s great to teach children tolerance provided there is not some political agenda. Respect must be given to Northern Ireland’s identity within the UK and the cultural and music tradition of the Ulster-British people.

    As many Republican death squad supporters on here blame everything on “the English”, isn’t it time to have some East-West mixing across the geographic British Isles. May the world be spared from another generation of hate-filled Republicans.

  • Eireannach Saolta

    Peace and Justice for protestants only it would be nice if you provided me with an actual email address so i could email you with a response. I do not want to drag this thread off topic anymore than it has been. I believe your comments deserve a response

  • Prionsa Eoghan

    >>Wonderful! We deliberately ‘segregate’ children at an early age and then we bring them together for a little bit of token togetherness.

    PS There seems to be a little bit of ‘Irish’ indoctrination going on despite the more inclusive aspirational language of the 1998 Agreement.
    Posted by Nevin on May 30, 2008 @ 01:55 PM<

  • Dave

    So, assuming that the EU merges into a super-state in 50 years hence, what culture will it produce when it has homogenised the cultures of the nation states it has successfully reradiated within its realm? The mythical culture of the straight banana? None, of course. It is simply a parasitic entity that is not designed to protect or cherish a culture as the nation state is but rather to destroy the culture of the nation states within its zone in order to create the homogenised people it requires to operate as a unified state.

  • Mick Hall – “I think those who oppose projects such as this are mistaken. Great changes in attitude often start with very small steps.”

    From the man who won’t condemn Republican murder gangs – even the recent variety.

    P@J

    You seem unable to understand that ‘one’ of the reasons the north descended into a bloody conflagration that went on well past its sell by date, was because people were ever ready to condemn the other fellow without giving a thought to their own behavior. In some quarters, me me me became the order of the day, and it seems sadly as far as some are concerned it still is.

    If it is true, as Eireannach Saolta has clamed that you are not even prepared to put a correct email address up when posting here, I will not be replying to any more of your posts.

    I wish you well.

  • runciter

    “The second thing is the sheer pleasure the children experience through these cross-border, cross-community exchanges. To watch them samba-drumming in Dundalk or doing Indian dances in Ballycastle or ‘banana boating’ on Upper Lough Erne is to see the shyness disappearing, the confidence growing and the understanding and respect for cultural difference starting to dawn in quite young children.”

    Pollack’s self-congratulatory tone only serves to make his vision of “Ireland as a United Colours of Benetton advert” even more nauseating.

  • Eoghan, you must be a Young Earther if you label me a dinosaur 😉

    I’d have thought that my constitutional proposals and my anti-apartheid stance were a bit more ‘cutting edge’ than the ‘indoctrination’ and ‘token togetherness’ that I detect in the article …

  • PeaceandJustice

    Mick Hall – “You seem unable to understand that ‘one’ of the reasons the north descended into a bloody conflagration that went on well past its sell by date, was because people were ever ready to condemn the other fellow without giving a thought to their own behavior.”

    I might take you seriously if you weren’t so quick to condemn the ‘other side’.

  • P@J

    No you make a fair point, I have been as bad as anyone in the past and I will admit it is not easy changing the practice of a life time, I try but perhaps I am doomed to live in stupidity, I hope not, but even if this were to be so, that does not mean that children should repeat my mistakes. Now does it?

    I’m optimistic that they will not, as I grew up on a society in which homophobia, sexism and racism were all common and par for the course, yet I was able to overcome my prejudices as were most of my peers. not all for sure but a great many have made valiant attempts to move beyond the generally accepted norms of their day.

    In many ways these was due to the sensible use of what has become know by the unfair and derogatory term political correctness.

    As I said societal change often comes by people taking small steps at first, which gradually come to be accepted by the population as a whole. For example, these days I doubt even a BNP bigot would give a gollywog to their child to take out in the street to play with.

  • Prionsa Eoghan

    Mick

    >>P@J

    No you make a fair point<

  • Turgon

    Mick Hall,
    “I have been as bad as anyone in the past and I will admit it is not easy changing the practice of a life time”

    Well no Mick Hall in the present you have been pretty prone to sweeping statements about groups of people. Do these words seem familiar?

    “Jim Larkin’s famous quote should be engraved on every working class Protestants heart.”

    and

    “my low opinion of middle class unionists”

    This sits ill with:

    “condemning someone simply because they are protestant or Catholic, they will understand that to do so is just plain daft and more to the point wrong.”

    So which is it Mick Hall. Have you had some sort of sudden conversion sine the 25th of May or are you just a hypocrite? Alternatively I am sure you have a cunning weasel way of squaring this circle.

  • Turgon

    Your one of those who believe to win an argument you must get the last word in, perhaps this is an age thing, as I have found as I have got older I just wish to get my point across, not batter the other fellow into the ground.

    Unlike you it seems, I do not have the time to trawl through the Slugger archive, but to take quotes out of context and use them on another thread tells me a great deal about your motivation.

    Despite the fact that your comments have nothing to do with the subject of this thread, I have no choice but to reply as you have attempted to smear me with sectarianism. [apologies to sluggerites]

    The quotes you have posted also tell me more about your own sectarian mindset, as in one I do not even mention Protestants, my gripe is with middle class unionists, a good number of whom are Catholics, especially in England, Tony Blair for example.

    My differences with middle class unionists in the north of Ireland are political, not religiously sectarian, how could it be otherwise for someone such as my self who is sympathetic to Irish Republicanism, whose founder Wolf Tone was a middle class protestant.

    The second Larkin quote you have dug out, was when I mentioned in a comradely manner that working class protestants should rise up. [against the straightjacket of political unionism whether it be the DUP, UUP or indeed the English Tory party–MH added]

    Again political not sectarian, as I said above, that you believed my quotes were made in a sectarian manner tell sluggerites more about your own mind set than mine.

  • In fairness, Mick Hall has always been one to hold out the olive branch to the other side but Peace and Justice posts the same old sectarian mantra every time he posts here.

    F— the begrudgers Mick.

  • Turgon

    Mick Hall,
    So you regard it as unacceptable to label and stereotype all of a religious group and hate them because of that stereotype (which I agree it is unacceptable). However, you have no problems doing exactly that to a whole political or social group and indeed seem to regard it as fine.

    You have a “low opinion of middle class unionists.” You may regard it as a political disagreement. I call it sectarian stereotyping of a whole group.

    Also of course you did actually mention engraving things on protestants’ hearts which is actually simply sectarian and bigoted.

    Mybe try again.