Connacht Tribune - Opinion Piece
Volvo Race and the Pipe show contrasting views of the seaJuly 6, 2011 - 8:21am
Two events took place last Friday that – in very different ways – outlined the importance of our waters and shoreline to the very heartbeat of the west.
As the Let’s Do It Galway team marked the fact that it was now exactly one year to the return of the Volvo Ocean Race to Galway, a more low key launch with the same Atlantic at its core was taking place down the road.
I had the honour of launching the DVD of The Pipe, the award-winning documentary that depicts a small community’s courageous battle to steer Shell’s pipeline away from their farms and fishing waters in North Mayo.
In different ways, both stories had millions of euros at their core; the Volvo Ocean Race will benefit thousands of people and hundreds of businesses directly, but it also enhances even further the city’s reputation as a major festival destination on a global scale.
The millions flowing from Bealanaboy in North Mayo won’t be reaping any huge reward for the people of the Erris peninsula – even those who quite understandably took a few bob from the exploration giant won’t be holidaying in the Caribbean on the strength of it.
The state won’t be rolling in badly needed dosh either because we couldn’t have given this away any more comprehensively if we’d gone out to sea and dug the holes for them ourselves.
But Shell shareholders and executives will see the millions roll in on the back of our natural resources, while a small fishing community will have the daily reality of a monstrosity on their horizon.
When our country is this broke, we’re inclined to forget that we still have an awful lot going for us – and here in the west, we have the huge natural advantage of the sea. The means maritime trade and tourism; the potential for wind and wave energy when fossil fuel is a thing of the past – and it should mean that all other natural resources are to for the greater good.
The Volvo Ocean Race shows how the combined efforts of the people – led by a small team with drive and vision – can reap rewards for an entire city and region.
Even at a time when the economy was already on its way down the pan, the race stopover two years ago lifted the collective spirit and made us proud to be able to show our city to the world.
It will take some effort to replicate that but if anyone can do it, Let’s Do It Galway can – and that the sea seen in its most positive light.
In contrast, what has happened in Broadhaven Bay should represent our darkest hour – and even those of us who live at the other end of the province should be very angry about that.
Cameraman and film-maker Richie O’Donnell invested admirable time and energy to capture the real story of Shell to Sea, and his documentary – an award-winner at many film festivals and now in the shops as a DVD – marks for shocking and compulsive viewing.
This is as much a drama as a documentary, because it is about the resilience of the little man, even in the face of the combined force of Shell and the state.
It’s epitomised perhaps when Pat ‘the Chief’ O’Donnell – the main protagonist and opponent of Shell’s pipeline – is seen bobbing on the waves in his small, weather-beaten trawler which suddenly finds itself in the shadow of the giant Solitaire, the world’s largest pipe laying vessel, like a fly being overshadowed by an elephant.
Perhaps the Shell to Sea campaign didn’t do itself any favours when it allowed all-comers and outsiders to hijack their campaign, but they were between a rock and a hard place – on their own they commanded little media attention and with others on board they no longer controlled the protest.
But that shouldn’t overshadow the fact that they were only doing what our forefathers died for – they were fighting for the right to be able to farm and fish on land and sea that has been home to their families for generations.
They were eking out a living in one of the most beautiful places on God’s earth and all they wanted was to be able to continue to do that without the fear of a gas explosion on their doorstep.
Shell didn’t cooperate with the Pipe, but just as they videoed every move these protestors made, they kept a watching brief. The documentary isn’t the smallest fraction the poorer for their absence.
We should have been angry that the forces of the state were deployed to keep the natives in check, that we once again doffed the cap and tugged the forelock in the presence of the money men – we should have been fuming at the waste of Garda resources. And that the victims were painted as the protagonists.
Richie O’Donnell’s documentary should be compulsory viewing for many reasons; firstly he tells a damn good story that – if it were a drama – wouldn’t be out of place in Hollywood. But mainly it should be shown so that people will know that, even if the state wants to stamp out the little man, the mouse can still roar.
The Volvo Race shows how our waters can be used for everyone’s benefit in their most positive light; the Pipe shows how our sea can be taken away from those who have lived on its shores for years and sold for a pittance to the multi-national bully boys.
It’s some contrast along one small stretch of shore.
For more, read this week's Connacht Tribune.