Charleville-Ballyhea protesters prepare for 100th weekly rally over bank debt
IRISH LIVES:While some feel the campaign has failed, others say it’s a long war but they will win
A line of cars is backed up through the main street in Charleville with bored drivers leaning against the windows to see what is holding things up. Those not from around here may think that since it’s a Sunday morning, mass-goers parking at the church at the end of the town are causing the delay. But for those from the Cork town and the surrounding area it is a familiar scene.
The 40 or so protesters holding placards who have been marching down the main street reach the church and, with the help of organiser Diarmuid O’Flynn, they turn around to walk back to the plaza in front of the library from where they started, now holding up traffic on the other side of the road. The protest takes about 20 minutes so drivers aren’t put out that much. For the participants, just a few weeks shy of their 100th such march, it is an important ritual shared between this town and the nearby village of Ballyhea on alternate Sundays.
Back in March 2011 O’Flynn began protesting in his native Ballyhea out of frustration at the billions of euro in debt the public were expected to pay back as a result of bust banks. Armed with an A4 sheet of paper with the words “Ballyhea says no” and accompanied by 18 family, friends and fellow hurlers he began the protest in the hope that other towns in Ireland would follow suit and stand up to the debt burden. “They were talking about how Ireland had to be bailed out to stop the contagion across the euro zone. Naive as I was I thought ‘we’ll give them a taste of contagion’,” says O’Flynn (59), a sports journalist with the Irish Examiner.
The protest spread no farther than Charleville and the two towns for some months protested each Sunday and then alternated the march, since many people were attending both protests. “I’m amazed there aren’t a million people marching. We are an apathetic people,” says John Dillon, one of the participants.
Others though are resigned to the fact that the movement has failed to capture people’s imaginations but still feel the need to register their anger at the billions paid out every year in bank debt. “It’s something to do. No one’s doing anything,” says Robert Wedgebury, who has travelled up from Cork city, where he is visiting family and friends after emigrating to Edinburgh last July for work.