Resilience a recurring theme, from Conamara to Ground Zero

By Máirtín Ó Muilleoir

That great hero of Conamara, Seán Ó Coisdealbha, was in the Cultúrlann on Saturday to launch his new poetry anthology Stadhan. A veteran troublemaker –  in the best sense of the word –  and the dynamo behind some of the best community ventures in the Gaeltacht, Seán has been around the block once or twice. He lived in Boston for a while and in New Zealand – where he led a nationwide construction strike which closed the Aotearoa down – before coming back home to build the most important training and education body in the Gaeltacht, Muintearas.

During his talk, he gave a fascinating explanation of the Irish term for resilience –  ‘teacht aniar’ – which explains much of the sense of independence and fortitude which typifies Conamara. Literally, ‘teacht aniar’ translates as ‘coming from the west’, binding the idea of the potency and resolution of the west over several thousand years.

Kindly, Seán says that same ‘resilience’ can be found in another western part of the country: West Belfast. Which explains why the Irish speakers in the Gaeilge capital of Ireland have always felt such a strong affinity with the Irish speakers of Conamara.

 

I’M JUST about masterplanned out. We have had consultancy reports, feasibility studies and masterplans galore, especially in West Belfast, but also on the Shankill.

I’d trade 30 masterplans for one piece of action – as our separated brethren in East Belfast long understood with their magnificent Connswater Greenway, Titanic Building, NI Science Park and now the breathtaking two-city-block development on the Newtownards Road by Skainos. I take my hat off to them and in particular to Maurice Kinkead, who has led this East renaissance.

But that’s not to say that we should ignore the latest masterplan being drafted by Belfast City Council. For if it were to leave out what polite people call ‘neighbourhoods’ and what to you and me is where we live, work and rear our families, it would mean less delivery in the time ahead.

For that reason, as Belfast City Council ponders its latest citywide masterplan, I ordered up the Chicago masterplan ‘Metropolis 2020’. And fascinating reading it provides too, especially in its guiding principles.

These include:

l Blending idealism and pragmatism

l Making sure that the plan includes all the people in order best to deliver “the quality of life and equality of opportunity that will be required to assure the economic vitality of the Chicago region”.

l Addressing housing need as “the birthright of humanity”

l “Bold action” to address the city’s social inequities

l Optimism. “Educated, eyes-open optimism pays.”

The authors of Metropolis 2020 add: “To love one’s city and have a part in its advancement and improvement is the highest privilege and duty of a citizen.”

Hear, hear to that. Now let’s ensure we follow the same principles in Belfast.

 

A BELFAST exile, Marcus Robinson, has been embedded at Ground Zero for the past six years, producing mindblowing, mammoth paintings – some now gracing spacious skyscraper atriums in New York – and inspiring filmworks. You can see his genius for yourself at www.marcusrobinsonart.com. Marcus is an outstanding global ambassador for the New Belfast and I was glad to seal his involvement in the third annual New York-New Belfast summit in the Big Apple in June when I met him this week during a quick visit back to his native city. For several years he worked from the 48th floor of the first skyscraper rebuilt on Ground Zero, but as tenants move in, he’s had to find new digs. In many ways, he’s indistinguishable from the many construction workers on site, as he dresses in jeans and carries the tools of his trade around the site. His work, however, will be a tribute not only to their skill but to the human spirit and – there’s that word again – resilience.

AND SPEAKING of ambassadors, I’m hoping to join the new generation of leaders being honoured at the Belfast 40 Under 40 today (Thursday). Having a chance to read the supplement before it went to print, I’m bowled over by the talent and exuberance of our famous, fabulous forty. But, for me, one of the most interesting traits about this year’s 40 – from all parts of the city and from every walk of life –  is how well-travelled they are. That indeed sets them apart from their parents’ generation, methinks, and since travel broadens the mind, it no doubt means the future of Belfast as a modern, outward-looking, cosmopolitan city is safe in their hands.

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