Dreaming for the Earth – Féile Bríde Reflections

A short report on “Dreaming for the Earth: Meeting the Challenge of Climate Change”, Afri’s 2013 Féile Bríde conference held on the 2nd February in Kildare

Walking on the Curragh
Walking on the Curragh

Afri’s 2013 Féile Bríde, “Dreaming for the Earth: Meeting the Challenge of Climate Change” was held in the new venue of the Osborne Centre, which is beautifully surrounded by a lake and native Irish trees.  This year the conference was aimed at tackling climate change, and opened with John Feehan, an expert on the Curragh, giving the history and uses of the Curragh, and then bringing the participants to the Curragh to explore the landscape for themselves.  John strongly encouraged locals interested in preserving this public space, to consider forming a taskforce to care for the Curragh, in particular, to tackle the rampant furze.

John Feehan, who led a walk on the Curragh
John Feehan, who led a walk on the Curragh
An oak tree was planted in memory of Niall Hartnett
An oak tree was planted in memory of Niall Hartnett

After lunch an oak tree, particularly significant to Kildare (Kildare from the Irish “Cill Dara” meaning church of the oak), was planted in memory of Niall Harnett, a long time environmental campaigner and activist.

Tom Roche, from Just Forests, speaking at Féile Bríde
Tom Roche, from Just Forests, speaking at Féile Bríde

The second half of the day opened with Tom Roche, from Just Forests, who explained the importance of wood, and how trees are vital to provide the world with clean air, and regulate the climate.  He spoke about the dangers of illegal logging and how, as a preliminary step, we could all ensure that we only buy FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified wood products.  FSC certification ensures that the wood comes from responsibly managed forests.  Tom spoke passionately about this topic, and provided some examples of past actions that ensured more awareness around wood: for example, the Just Forests campaign that resulted in Woodies removing controversial Chinese Plywood from their shelves, and another campaign asking musicians to look for sustainable timber being used in the making of their musical instruments.

Rose Kelly, Afri Development Education Co-ordinator
Rose Kelly, Afri Development Education Co-ordinator

Rose Kelly, Afri’s Development Education Co-ordinator, concluded the day with reflections about Brigid, linking Brigid’s story to themes such as disarmament, climate change and resources.  Her stories were beautifully complemented by music on the flute by Cormac Breatnach and Brian Dunning.

Gráinne O'Neill working on the Graphic Harvest, which visually represented what had been discussed at Féile Bríde 2013
Gráinne O’Neill working on the Graphic Harvest, which visually represented what had been discussed at Féile Bríde 2013
Brian Dunning (left) and Cormac Breatnach playing during the "Dreaming for the Earth" session
Brian Dunning (left) and Cormac Breatnach playing during the “Dreaming for the Earth” session

By the end of the day participants left with whitethorns to plant,

and suggestions for possible actions they could take.  Left behind was a visual record of the ideas discussed during the course of the day in the form of a graphic harvest, created throughout the day by Gráinne O’Neill.


All photos taken by Muireann DeBarra


Below is an extract from Rose Kelly’s session on “Dreaming for the Earth”.

Brigid and the Sword

By Rose Kelly

In the stories that place Brigid as St. Brigid, it is said that she was the daughter of a Pagan slave and a Christian chieftain. According to this telling, she lived mostly with her father. It is said that Brigid very much expressed the Celtic belief in hospitality by her warm welcome to all who called at the house. In sharing of their material resources, she put justice into action through the redistribution of wealth.

In relation to this redistribution, there is a beautiful story told in particular of how Brigid gave away her father’s most treasured possession. She was one day out with her father in his chariot.  Going into the house of another chieftain, her father left Brigid for a little while outside the house alone. Shortly it is said, a sickly man, traditionally a leper, came by and seeing Brigid, approached her for help.

Brigid apparently regretting that she was away from home and thus food, clothing, money or healing herbs to give the man, searched the chariot for something that she could give to alleviate his sufferings.  Spotting her father’s illustrious sword of office in the back of the chariot, she reached for the sword, and held it towards the man. Its blade reflected them both to each other and in the morning sun its many gems glistened and winked at them.

“Here,” she said, “Take this and exchange it for your needs and the needs of your family.”

Afri have always accepted this story relating to Brigid as a teaching on disarmament, making the biblical link of “Swords into ploughshares”. The story and its message is as relevant of course today as it has ever been.

In global political terms, security has been seen for many decades – indeed perhaps for many centuries – in the context of the threat of military attack.  In terms of the hardware, and more recently, software of weapons.  In terms of guarding national or regional borders.  Protecting status and states.

In the last 20 years or so, this interpretation of security has begun to be challenged by a philosophy loosely known as ‘human security’ which argues that individual and not the state need to be the central reference point as regards security.

According to the 1994 UNDP’s Human Development Report, threats to human security can be considered under seven headings: political security, economical security, health security, food security, environmental security, personal or community security.  In this understanding of security, there is a lot more involved than the manufacture and accumulation of weapons, in fact to engage in those acts is at odds with what is at the heart of this definition.

In September 2000 after days of negotiations at the Millennium Summit, the General Assembly, in the presence of its 189 world leaders, adopted the Millennium Declaration.  This Declaration stated the determination of states to work toward a type of development that encompasses eradication of poverty, conservation of the environment, promotion and protection of human rights, democracy, peace and security. It was a commendable declaration and a hopeful one.

The reality however is that while there has been much good achieved in the wake of this Declaration and the accompanying Millennium Goals, there are more hungry in the world today than ever before in the history of humankind.(close on  one billion people).  The planet itself is experiencing threats to its ecosystems at an unprecedented level and intensity.  Individuals and communities worldwide and especially in the so called Global South, are suffering the horrible consequences of a consumerist, militaristic mindset that has been out of control for too long.

According to official figures, the amount of money spent on the defence sector equals $4.7 billion a day, that’s $249 per person.  The World Bank and the Office of Disarmament Affairs, estimate that only about 5% of this amount would be needed each year to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

Speaking in recent time, UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon made the case clearly when he said, Disarmament cannot be considered in isolation from other global challenges. The world spends more on the military in one month than it does on development all year, and four hours of military spending is equal to the total budgets of all international disarmament and non-proliferation organisations combined. The world is over-armed. Peace is under-funded. Bloated military budgets promote proliferation, derail arms control and detract from social and economic development. The profits of the arms industry are built on the suffering of ordinary people in Mali, Syria, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

The story of Brigid and the sword, her recognition of the waste of resources and energy in the manufacture of a weapon for destruction when they could instead be used to alleviate suffering, speaks eloquently and with current relevance to the waste of energy and materials in the manufacture of weapons. At the same time however it offers a challenge to us to redirect our efforts both individually and collectively in the direction of justice, peace, human rights and sustainability…

To dream for the earth and to meet the challenge of climate change with courage, creativity and practical action.

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