How Ballyhaunis embraced demographic change with the simplicity of effective action

Tom Kelly is right, now the most peaceful Twelfth in Belfast for years has passed it is time for people to move on. Even the bonfires, pushed to ridiculous proportions must now have the word Grenfell echoing in the ears of the organisers.

But move on to what? It’s far from clear. In absence of any sensible explanation as to why Stormont collapsed (and believe me, I’ve looked and cannot find anything that does not add up to some class of Mumbo Jumbo or another, the obvious truth is a failure in imagination.

A story appeared at the weekend, which was a marvellous example of John Lloyd’s 2005 idea of “Slow Journalism”. It was based on Eoin Butler’s Irish Times piece which highlighted the role of the local GAA club in Ballyhaunis in integrating migrants into the local community.

Often the simplest interventions are the best. The engine behind this one is the local hurling coach Darran Conlon who’s simple idea was to extend build upon the social lives of the kids at school in a town which the foreign-national population was 42 per cent at the 2011 census.

There’s a particularly telling moment when after having spent seven years in the direct provision centre in the old Convent building in the town, one African mother was persuaded by her son to stay because, he told her, that Ballyhaunis was now his home.

Sharing privately elicited this response from my Swedish colleague John Kellden:

If we do this, communities, counties, regions and countries will thrive. If we don’t, we give the opportunity of a century away to the grifters.

Avoiding the choice, remaining passive on the sideline, is playing into the hands of those that are, right as we speak, wrecking things, tearing our social fabric apart..

You need to become bi-lingual, you need to be fluent enough in Comfort Zone to understand your own conditioning, your own stubborn resistance inside your passive contentment. You need to learn to speak Ballyhaunis.

It’s not that this sort of thing does not happen in Northern Ireland. The North Belfast Interface Games which place in the next week are a great way not just for kids to get together across tribal lines but to have their parents come along and watch them.

It has in common with Ballyhaunis a determination to find small ways to broaden the sense of locality in which everyone can belong. In the Co Mayo town, it also says, very powerfully, that Ireland’s chronically underdeveloped west is a place the new Irish can want to belong.

As my friend and occasional contributor to Slugger Ed Straw noted when he found the same piece independently from me, “it would be great if urbanites could learn something from ruralites, rather than seeing them as backwards or behind the time”.

As things transform, we need to respond differently to the agencies of change. What Ballyhaunis is trying to do (and by the measures used in the film is succeeding) is to embrace change, rather than, as we tend to do in NI, weaponise it.

What’s also on offer here is generally unrecognised simplicity of effective action. It doesn’t take a whole new strategy or a shedload of cash, it just takes is one or two individuals within a trusted social institution just to start doing the right thing.

  • Oggins

    Fantastic video, I was so warmed about that they are doing at that small rural club. A credit to the club, town and county.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    It’s a great achievement that Ireland has received so many individuals and families from overseas into their communities and accommodated so many so successfully in such a short time. Lessons may have been learnt from (the mistakes of) other European nations but I think there’s a unique Irishness at work here. This is possibly only tip of the iceberg instinctive stuff here: I think it’s the empathy, generosity and imagination of the people combined with no history of empire and no history of strategic international relations. Dublin and Cork are not devoid of their unpleasant incidents though and the Limerick pogrom is a saddening episode.

    This is also worth a read:

  • Get The Grade Get The Grade

    Beautiful stuff. Many Irish have learnt, from their own immigrant experience as much as anything, the value of “home” and the importance of reaching out.

  • murdockp

    Watched the Video on Saturday, The Guardian leaves others in is wake. This London based paper is writing on GAA communities whilst the GAA writings here are obsessed with their phallic symbols such as Casement Park which gets another mention on the BBC today.

    I know what I would rather read about and it is not about blowing £100m of taxpayers cash on a stadium on a housing estate that will get use dto capacity less than four times a year.

  • Tochais Siorai

    Ah ffs, Ben, the Limerick Pogrom was over a century ago.

    And as nasty an episode as it was, it’s not really accurate to describe it as a pogrom. Our lack of support for the Jews of Europe a few decades later was a far greater scandal.

  • Karl

    Demographic changes are dealt with an openess that leads to societal change for the benefit of all.


    If only we knew somewhere that this could be applied to.

  • Tochais Siorai

    The Indians, Romanians, Albanians at play………….

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    It’s usually referred to as the Limerick pogrom. It was a name given to it long before I was around. It’s a testament to how easily roused people can be – even the saintly Oirish.

  • Korhomme

    The difference between people doing something they have found that they want to do, and being coerced into doing something because ‘political leaders’ want it.

  • Tochais Siorai

    I think describing Limerick as a pogrom is an insult to the memory of those who were murdered in actual pogroms. And it’s usually described in a modern times as a boycott, which, not to excuse it in any way is a more accurate historical description.

    I’m well aware that we can be very unsaintly at times (‘Oirish’ is a typo on your part? Or did you mean to be derogatory?)

  • the rich get richer

    To put a bit of realism here ; Are the children going to immigrate when they grow up ?

    Who is paying for all this Direct provision ?

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    I meant to be self deprecating.

  • ElamLayor

    saintly self-deprecation then Ben?

  • ted hagan

    Hopefully they will eventually become proud Irish citizens. Direct Provision is paid for by the Irish government while the asylum seeker seeks citizenship and means the applicant is not permitted to work and gets a minuscule weekly allowance. Most applications are turned down. It’s a tough process. The efforts of the locals are heartwarming and the film clip a joy to watch.
    The ‘realism’ to me was the demonstration of common humanity and these actions are a credit to Ballyhaunis.

  • Aodh Morrison

    Great example of how effective people can be when they decide to do something.

    And I do mean ‘do’ something: not awaiting for some elected body or some such to form committees to ‘discuss’ the ‘issues’, not launching a ‘consultation process’, not hanging about for the ‘funding stream’ to be identified, no none of this, just, as some strapline might say, “just do it”.

    Also what a joy not to have the ‘two communities’ paradigm at work! If this had been NI no doubt the GAA iniative would have had to be stalled until loyalist band workshops or the like were in place to parallel the Gaelic sports. Resulting in nothing happening, other that is than presenting yet another opportunity for a verbal bloodletting and a walk down Point-Scoring Lane.

  • Tochais Siorai

    OK Ben, sorry for being a bit prickly. That term is sometimes used around here in a different way.

  • the rich get richer

    Thanks .

    It is a little strange to be bringing Immigrants into a Place where the Young Indigenous People are Emmigrating from………

    Something does not add up…………..

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Ah, ya know when we Oirish are at our best.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    I’m polishing my halo as I type.

  • ElamLayor

    you’re certainly polishing something

  • Old Mortality

    ‘I think describing Limerick as a pogrom is an insult to the memory of those who were murdered in actual pogroms.’
    Not to mention the outrageous use of the term in other local contexts.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Maybe but I don’t polish anything on an axe grinder.

  • ted hagan

    Why? When it comes to ‘realism’, are you not in all honesty saying you are anti-immigration, and if so, why not have the balls to say so?

  • Pang

    Direct provision is a bad system. I was undecided till I met a family from Palestinian territories with a 5 year old boy (born here in direct provision) and visited their home (standard size hotel room). We aren’t going to send them back at this stage are we? But five years in a hotel room & the authorities haven’t decided that yet. They secretly had a George Forman grill they would sometimes use with the window open, but were afraid of getting caught – like bold children.
    I also know others in that system and not that we have houses for all of them, but processing cases quicker and allowing or even encouraging them to work would aid integration. Well done Mayo!

  • Tochais Siorai

    Apples and Oranges. A small Irish town can be paradise to someone escaping persecution or a hopeless third world situation. However, to many who’ve grown up in such an environment it may be limiting but because they have Irish / EU citizenship and a network of contacts they can spread their wings around the world.

  • Barneyt

    The point scoring and ridiculous balancing act between misaligned organisations and interests has to stop. The orange order is not an equivalent of the GAA. Both can justify their existence without creating a false dependency with something arbitrarily plucked from an opposing tradition. It’s more apt to contrast the OO with the ancient Hibernian order. As far as I know the GAA does not have marching bands or music musical instruments at it’s core. It’s part of a wider Irish culture and sometimes these Irish traditions overlap. It’s main purpose is sport. I see the OO and AHO as primarily religious organisations and thus in the sphere. Both in my view quite extreme and out of kilter with the society I want to see.

    We have the same with the Irish language. The rekindling of this language on the island of Ireland should not be held back by Ulster Scots progression or lack thereof. It’s antithesis is English which has no need for specific support as it’s entrenched. Until it becomes accepted that Ulster Scots is a fully functioning language that can be delivered as part of a school curriculum, it should not be traded at the expense of Irish. Equally if it’s as ingrained as many say, fulfilment in the Ulster Scots domain should not be impeded by anything else or a contrived equivalence.

  • Barneyt

    it’s derisory indeed. It mocks the accent and sits within the territory of laughing at foreign names, which in England is referred to as , the last bastion of British racism.

  • Barneyt

    Still prickes…. as much as watching a dubious 80s comedy routine. What next? Chalky? Darkie?

  • Aodh Morrison

    Enjoy your dander down the ‘Lane’. I’ll leave you here.

  • Deplorable Ulsterman

    Aye, what a great achievement being replaced in your own homeland.

  • ElamLayor

    for gawd’s sake,the item you’re polishing should be nowhere near an axe grinder!

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Are you serious? People are people.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Sure an axe grinder gets a shine on it like a fireman’s helmet.

  • the rich get richer

    I am anti-immigration which is a perfectly reasonable position to have .

    The thought /mind control police cannot yet decide how I think or what I believe .

    Realism is exactly what the immigration issue needs .

    This story certainly needs to be examined .

    Do People really believe that there is nobody against this in this area .

    What is worrying is that nobody is willing to air their views for fear of the Thought / Mind control Police……..

  • Deplorable Ulsterman

    WAKE UP! One minute we are told how brilliant “diversity” is, except that “diversity” apparently does not include white European people (now around 8% of the global population, down from 22% in the 1960s), and that European homelands now have to be taken away from European peoples and within my lifetime the European peoples will no longer be majorities in most of Western Europe – finite resources and the inheritance bestowed upon us only 1 to 2 generations ago simply surrendered to invaders from the third world; all due to a naive ideology and hatred directed against the white man and family, where the foreigner has greater rights, and unfolding is unprecedented: the single greatest act of genocide-by-stealth in human history.

  • John Collins

    Well the British,admittedly with the aid of Irish people, French, Spanish, Dutch and the Italians, among other European nations, all invaded other continents. Is it surprising that the boot is now on the other foot?

  • Deplorable Ulsterman

    The European empires overall improved the quality of life of most places they touched bringing European medicines, aid, schools, infrastructure, science, technology and knowledge, and civilization; vastly extending quality of life and extending lifespans more than any other factor in the history of those peoples. The European empires did not replace populations in anywhere that had an existing dense population with European populations.

    Today we face the situation whereby migrants are bringing nothing but overall detriment to our quality of life, and arriving to colonise us in replacement-level proportions, despite an existing dense population density competing for existing sparse resources.

    I for one do not hate my own people and wish to see my own people survive because I know that no other people will look after us, and know that to survive you have to look after yourself and your own. My own people’s survival is far more important than the pathetic fear of the word “racist”.

  • John Collins

    There was more advanced .
    I am also quite that the treatment that native Americans received from their Anglo American fellow was as benign as you suggest.
    South American peoples were also wiped out in their thousands by diseases introduced to their countries by Spanish invaders so it was not all sweetness and light.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Yet again, people are people and you can be ‘looked after’ by any people. I wonder to what extent your ‘own people’ accept the ownership you claim over them. You’re perhaps more of a lost soul than you’d like to believe.

  • Deplorable Ulsterman

    People are NOT just people – we are diverse. You are clearly happy with our genotypes just wiped off the map – the very definition of genocide.

  • Deplorable Ulsterman

    The health service in the UK is crumbling due to over-demand due to immigration. It would feel in a far better condition with zero immigrants in the country.

    There are more people today with Amerindian genetics in the US than at any time in history.

  • John Collins

    So every one that does not conform to your world view is a moron. Look, any of us are not truly Irish or truly English or truly anywhere. We are all mixtures of the seed of different ‘invaders’ who have come to our homelands over the millinia, or at least centuries. The idea that the British or Irish, or indeed Europeans in general, were ever totally homogeneous peoples does not stand. Nationality and identity are always evolving.

  • Deplorable Ulsterman

    Correct, you are clearly a brainwashed moron. The levels of migration in that past are miniscule and happened gradually over thousands of years. Genetic studies reveal that the majority of DNA of ethnic British people goes back millennia and has been largely unaffected my these minor influxes – we have ancestors going back hundreds if not thousands of years who worked hard to provide for their future descendents and create the civilisation around us.

    Within the space of a few decades we are now throwing away all that we have inherited as we allow the single greatest invasion in human history to occur – ethnic replacement on a scale that never has been seen before.

  • Deplorable Ulsterman

    You are also naive if you think the foreign hordes will want to “look after” us – they hate us, are plundering our resources, and will exploit us for all we are worth.