Corrib myth-making and the Children of Lír
ON a balmy summer’s evening in July 2005, I crossed the boglands of north-west Mayo, with a photographer, to attend the launch of the latest ‘Spirit of Place’ sculpture on the cliffs of Carrowteige, in north west Mayo. It was eight days since the Rossport Five were jailed for flouting a High Court injunction taken by Shell because they had refused to allow access to their lands, in defiance of a Compulsory Acquisition Order (CAO), recently instituted to facilitate corporations by the then government Minister Frank Fahey.
The latest installation in the sculpture trail depicted the story of The Children of Lír through giant wind chimes. The locations and musical symbolism was clearly appropriate because of Beaufort’s wind power in this desolate place on the edge of the Atlantic and its evocation of the mythical family, whose fate doomed their transformation into swans, living in the waters of nearby Inishglora.
Project founder, architect, Travis Price, was building this sculpture trail along the world’s most remote highways in association with the Catholic University of Washington, and, in this case, with the support of Mayo County Council and Udarás na Gaeltachta.
SPEAKING that evening, Price said the sculpture trail echoed the myths of cultures, while not destroying the landscape. He suggested Shell’s fight with the people of Erris was more than ever now a fight about their right to autonomy.
“In a manner of speaking, our project is part of the solution. It confronts the moot subject of man’s impact on the landscape, the retention of our cultures and the marrying, in a sensitive way, of this delicate balance in the modern world.”
Price suggested that the sounds of the sculptural chimes, symbols of the chortling swans, were a call to walk lightly on this beautiful landscape where the Children of Lír mythically sing.
Ironically, seven years later, after significant changes to the proposed pipeline route, Shell named its giant tunnel-boring machine, Fionnuala, after one of the Children of Lír.
But back to that July evening a decade ago and down the road, outside the then unbuilt Bellanaboy refinery, the reality of this delicate juxtaposition was being marked in a more stark way. Returning from the clifftop ceremony, we were stopped in our tracks by a mellow group of protestors gathered at its entrance.
We were both relatively new to the controversy and parked up and chatted to the some of them. Farmer, PJ Moran told me that a couple of days earlier, the famous Guildford Four “miscarriage of justice” lawyer and MP, Chris Mullin, had visited the protest and offered his support to the five men, jailed in Cloverhill Prison. He’d told protestors his mother was from Mayo and he would help in any way if the men so wished. Moran said they were buoyed up by this show of solidarity.
That summer, the plight of the Rossport Five made headlines all around the world. The David and Goliath struggle struck a chord with the public and with many influential people. Shell’s litigious strategy had badly backfired and the men, as heroes, were released on September 30, after 94 days in prison and work was suspended for over a year, while a Government-appointed mediator attempted to resolve the impasse.
MEANWHILE, Shell appointed a communications team, led by former RTÉ and BBC journalist, John Egan, to ensure such bad public relations would not recur. In April 2006, they appointed Christy Loftus, a former Western People journalist and President of the NUJ (National Union of Journalists), to their team, and later Denise Horan, a former Mayo News Editor.
This was the beginning of a media strategy which, in my experience, as a freelance journalist then, pulled down a veil on coverage of the Corrib controversy with many (but not all) media organs. The complex nuances of this community’s struggle against global corporatism was set aside in favour of the tabloidisation of the story. Of course, this wasn’t helped by the attention-seeking actions of some of the protestors.
Sometimes I reflect on that summer’s day on the Carrowteige cliff edge and the huge chasm between myth and reality.