Migrants risking, and losing, their lives on the Mediterranean were remembered on an Atlantic shoreline as Galway secondary school students participated in a memorial walk.
Pupils from Presentation Convent in the city and Coláiste Éinde in Salthill met at the Celia Griffin famine memorial on Galway's Grattan beach to remember all victims of disaster, war and hunger.
It was the same Presentation Convent which provided shelter for six-year-old Celia Griffin, along with her two sisters, after she collapsed in the street in Galway in March, 1847. The family from the Martin estate in Connemara had trekked 30 miles in search of relief.
Griffin was fed by the nuns, but didn’t survive. The official inquest, the words of which are carved in stone in a park named after her, found “she was so exhausted as not to be able to use the food supplied to her”.
"There's a clear and poignant link to the current dire situation with desperate migrants drowning at sea," Galway-based poet Pete Mullineaux said.
On Grattan beach, he led the students in a symbolic “waving goodbye to arms and conflict” as part of the Global Day of Action against Military Spending.
Mullineaux, who is also a songwriter and dramatist, works with non-governmental organisation Afri to explore issues that have devastating consequences for people's lives.
Power of the arts
Founded in 1975, Afri moved from raising aid to focusing on justice issues in 1980. However, as its director
recalled, “speaking to the brain” can often have an overwhelming and dispiriting effect.
“Straight information can disempower, as people feel despair,” he said.
By contrast, theatre and the arts are "empowering". Afri development co-ordinators Clare O'Grady Walshe and Rose Kelly devised a "mini-play" technique with Mullineaux, whereby students use drama to explore global issues from food security and sovereignty to unfair trade practices to forced migration and conflict.
The approach is based on Paulo Freire's theory of "education for liberation". Five of the plays have now been published as a resource for school groups. Just a Second! Exploring Global Issues through Drama and Theatre by Pete Mullineaux is available from Afri at €10.
Afri’s annual famine walk through Mayo’s Doolough valley is on May 16th. See afri.ie.