The first Doolough Famine Walk was organised by Afri in 1988. It was organised in the context of the 150th anniversary of the Great Famine, which we wanted to ensure would not slip by unnoticed, as had happened on the 100th anniversary. But not only did we want to ensure that the 150th anniversary of the Great Famine would be commemorated, but that it would be done in a way that addressed the injustices and inequalities that continue to create similar conditions for millions of people throughout the world today.
The famine walk retraces ‘a journey of horror’ which local people made through the Doolough Valley on the night and morning of 30th – 31st March 1849. The immediate cause of the death march was the arrival of two ‘commissioners’, who were to inspect the people and certify them as paupers, so entitling them to a ration of three pounds of meal each. For some reason the inspection was not made and the hundreds of people were told they must appear at Delphi Lodge (ten miles away) at 7am the following morning. They set out on foot along the mountain road and pathway in cold, wintry conditions, including snowfall. When they arrived at Delphi Lodge, they were refused either food or tickets of admission to the workhouse and so they began their weary return journey. It was on this journey that maybe hundreds of people died.
Afri has taken this story as a symbol to represent all those who died during the ‘Great Famine’ in Ireland. But it also represents all those who die of hunger in our world of plenty today. We walk the famine road to remember, as well, the causes of hunger and poverty in our world – political, economic and environmental – and our failure to learn the lessons of our own history.
Feile Bride happens annually in Kildare around the start of Spring in February. The first Féile Bríde was organized in 1993. It is a time for celebration and reflection in spirit of Brigid’s message of justice, peace and hope which remains as vibrant and as relevant today as it was more than a thousand years ago.
It all started in 1983 when five young Derry lads learned how to make Brigid Crosses, sold them and gave the proceeds to Afri. This led to the launch of the Brigid Peace Cross Campaign by Nobel and Lenin Peace-Prize winner Sean MacBride in Derry in 1983. Thousands of young people throughout Ireland took up the campaign, availed of the education material produced by Afri and, by making the crosses, not only kept ancient tradition alive but also supported Afri’s work for the promotion of justice, peace and human rights.
Ten years later, in 1993, to celebrate the success of the schools’ campaign we decided to have a ‘one-off’ justice and peace conference in Kildare, the place in Ireland most identified with Brigid. Mary, Phil and the people of Kildare had different ideas, however, and we were delighted to be persuaded to return every spring-time since then! There have been many significant developments in the ensuing years, none more so than the emergence of “Cairde Bride”, a locally-based group who have made a significant contribution to this event.
We have had some memorable experiences, have dealt with a wide variety of global issues from Chernoby to Ogoni to East Timor to Northern Ireland. We’ve had presidents, pop stars, priests and protestors at Féile Bríde. We’ve had speeches, spectacle, spontaneity and some spell-binding moments!
Afri’s annual Hedge School has been a unique blend of conversation, debate, music, fun and food since 1998.
Afri has adopted the concept of the Hedge School to reflect on contemporary issues of injustice and oppression. Hedge Schools were places of learning, continuity and resistance, emerging out of draconian Penal Laws of 1695 that forbade formal education to most Irish people. We harness the memory as we try to recover and sustain solidarity with oppressed and excluded people, especially people who are denied their most fundamental human rights today.
Hedge Schools were set up wherever a safe place could be found: in the shelter of ruined houses, in dry ditches, by the roadside, in a barn or “on the sunny side of a thorn hedge”. A poem by John O’Hagan captures the atmoshpere of the Hedge School:
‘…crouching neath the sheltering hedge
or stretching on ferns
The teacher and his pupils met felonishly to learn’.
The Penal Laws were repealed in 1782 but many parents continued to send their children to Hedge Schools up until the 1840s, the period in which Ireland was devastated by the Great Famine, a reality that faces millions of people in today’s world.
By revisiting this part of our history, Afri aims to reconnect people with a method of education, which is based on learning through participation, and on the sharing of life experiences with others.
Over the years Afri Hedge schools have been space to share knowledge and experiences about issues like the roots of world hunger, food sovereignty, land, indigenous languages, education, war, corporate control, climate change and conflict.