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Making connections at home and abroad

Living

The Féile Dú Éige committee’s photo series captures life on Achill Island during the first lockdown

Edwin McGreal

One of the things that first became apparent when I moved to Achill was the sense of place. Though Achill people might be scattered all over the world, the draw to home remains very strong.
Every chance Achill people get, they visit home. They might be living in Limerick, London or Los Angeles but trips home are always locked into the calendar.
But then Covid-19 came along. The spring lockdown saw many Achill people marooned from home for the longest time in their lives.
Families only an hour or two from Achill could not return to visit their parents and grandparents.
For all the wonders of video calls, nothing competes with face to face interaction, with hugs, with the chemistry that can only be created in one’s presence. That was sorely missed.  
Neighbours could not visit each other as freely as they used. We were asked to come together by staying apart. It wasn’t easy.
We had a chat about it in Féile Dú Éige, the local community group which organises an annual festival and various other community events. Could we do something to fill the void?
We hit on the idea of a photo series. It was something we felt could provide a greater link to home for those away whilst also recording a social history of our village in extraordinary times.
We did so knowing we have an excellent photographer in our midst in Hiro Masuda. Hiro, a native of Japan who is married to Anne Gallagher from Dooega, was delighted to oblige.
Munitir Dú Éige 2020 was born. We would take pictures of everyone who wanted their picture taken, showcasing life in Dooega and allowing people away from home not only to see their parents, but their neighbours too.
Hiro, with the help of his wife Anne, went on their merry way every evening for weeks. We were blessed with glorious weather during the series in May and June, and Hiro captured some wonderful images that showed the full range of life in our village.
Every aspect of life in Dooega was covered; people out in the fields, the bog, the sea and on the road. So many more of people happy and content at home, making the most of the challenge that faced us all in 2020.You had all range of ages, from the young kids smiling at the camera all the way up through the generations.
We finished, aptly, with the village’s most venerable lady, the wonderful Maggie Gallagher,  103 years young and still able to read The Mayo News without glasses.
We put up three pictures every night, and the project was a huge success. The constant flow of comments from people at home and abroad showed the series had struck a chord and was forging the connection we hoped it would.
It was nothing like the joy people got when they could finally return home in July, but we like to think it provided some solace for those away from home during lockdown.
There is a connection that photographs provide that is hard to quantify; especially when they are good as those taken by Hiro.
It was a project that came into being during lockdown but is one that could and should be done at any occasion. If this year has taught us anything, it is that we never know what the future holds.
We’d highly recommend such a project to any community. It will bring people closer together which was never more important than in a year we were asked to stay apart.

Mayo News journalist Edwin McGreal is a member of the Féile Dú Éige committee. All pics by Hiro Masuda.