Fighting Spirit Of Sperrins

Courtesy of  The Transcripts Martin Galvin (Galvin) speaks to Martin Tracey (Tracey) via telephone from Co. Tyrone about residents’ campaigns protesting a gold mining company operating in The Sperrins.

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Galvin: With us on the from Sperrins in Co. Tyrone we have Martin Tracey and we were playing a song that goes to the Molly Maguires; we’ll get to that in a moment. Martin, welcome to Radio Free Éireann!

Tracey: Thank you, Martin, thank you.

Alright. Just recently, there’s been a number of campaigns that were raised first in the United States on this radio station – the Shell to Sea, about oil exploitation in The South, was one of those campaigns. Right now, the fight against exploitation is going on in your area of Sperrins. Now I just know it when I drive down from Doire towards Monaghan or Dublin or towards where my relatives live I always see a sign’ Sperrins Scenic Route’ that I could cut off and go through that and I never have – I never had the time. I’m always in a hurry. What is it about that area, that historic area, that strongly Nationalist and Republican area, that area – one of the last in The North of Ireland that was Gaelic speaking – what is it that is under threat from this gold mining company right now? What is this campaign all about?

Tracey: Well, first off, Martin, I’d just like to say you don’t know what you’re missing when you miss The Sperrins. The Sperrins is one of the most beautiful areas in West Tyrone on this green island. Currently, the community in this area are fighting against a Canadian mining company that are proposing to open a processing plant within eight hundred metres of the local community. And the thing that we found very hard to deal with is that they’re actually going to in the process use cyanide and other toxic chemicals and the destruction, I believe, is what’s in the future for this area. I don’t think realistically the thought what this area means to a lot of people including some of the Irish-Americans who are probably listening today. There’s a lot of families who come from this area that through hardship or work or whatever had to emigrate and their roots is really, really deeply embedded here. And it’s just, as I said, it’s a beautiful country. It’s a really, really strong Irish Republican area and the culture, the history and the Irish language, history in all of this area is second
to none to be honest with you, Martin.

Penal Times Writs History Ireland Magazine
Galvin: Alright. Now one of the things that has made the newspapers and made publicity: There are what are called ‘Mass rocks’. Now what happened is that during the period of time under the Penal Laws it was illegal for a priest to be in Ireland or to celebrate Mass – to give a religious service. It was part of the way that the British wanted to impose their rule in Ireland, all over Ireland. And there are actually places, rocks, where people would gather to say Mass illegally under threat of the person saying it or other people attending being imprisoned or killed and this company had apparently cut off – there were protests about the Mass rocks in that area. Could you tell us about what happened?
Ardoyne Road, Belfast Post-Ceasefire Cultural Mural Listed by Arts & Humanities Research Council, UK

Tracey: Well in relation to that, Martin, there’s a local area here where there was numerous community members were told down the generations of the placement of a Mass rock. As you can understand, in Penal Times, the placement of Mass rocks has to be kept very, very secretive. It was actually punishable by death for a priest to hold a Mass in Penal Times and this company has more or less, whenever the local priest had actually asked to hold a Mass in relation to the Mass rock and it’s placement and their new proposed site they actually more or less told the clergy and the local community it was lies because it wasn’t written down that it wasn’t factual. And it’s disappointing to see that a company from Canada has actually more information in relation to the history of this community than the locals. And as you said, the way that they’re coming into the whole thing it’s more or less like Penal Times again. You know, they’re dictating where we can hold Mass – where we can’t hold Mass. And in relation to that I just have to say we’ve recently actually opened a new division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in the local community because it stands strong for the ideology of this in relation to people actually able to show their beliefs – celebrate Mass and actually have the support of the community which this company seems to be, I don’t know, this company seems to think it’s null and void as long as they get their go-aheads for their plans.

Galvin: And we had actually, while we were waiting to get you on the line, played part of the song, The Ghosts of the Molly Maguires. What is the division of the AOH or the new organisation that you formed?

Well we actually formed it last week in relation and in conjunction with Tyrone AOH and it is the Molly Maguire Division based in Greencastle. And as I said, we can’t speak highly enough of Tyrone AOH and the support that they’ve given the people in this community. They’ve been with us from the start. We’ve been talking to them now for a number of months in relation to what’s happened here and there was a local Rosary walk here facilitated by a local lady and her husband and it was absolutely unbelievable to see the support that Tyrone AOH gave. And as I said, the ideology of the AOH is something that really, really stands strong in relation to this because it’s a celebration of your culture – your Irish history, your Irish language and your right to celebrate Mass, your right to be who you are. In Penal Times we were put into the mountains as you probably well know, you know? And for many generations people went from there to the lowlands and spread out to America and Australia and all over the world but their hearts and their souls and the whole embodiment of what they are and who they are – it stands tall here in relation to the fight that is currently going on and this is what we’re saying – we don’t want it to go back to the way it was. People should be proud of who they are – where they’re from – and no matter what pressures is put on you people should say: We are who we are and take us as we are – and as I said in relation to that the Tyrone AOH has been very supportive along with a number of groups but in recent times that’s why we actually opened the branch of the Molly Maguires in Greencastle actually last week, Martin, you know?

Galvin: Alright. Now one of the things that the foreign company which owns this development they had originally not told you about a processing plant – but they now want to use a processing plant and they’re going to introduce cyanide, which is a poison. What effect would that have on your drinking water, on the area in terms of the children growing up there – what effect do you believe or fear that this would have?

Tracey: Well all we can say, Martin, is in relation to that: This area is pristine. This area is unbelievably beautiful and the people here respect – like personally I’m a farmer and I believe here, all I am, is a caretaker for future generations. This company’s coming in – in relation to cyanide like we can give numerous, numerous, numerous different places around the world where there have been environmental disasters where cyanide has been used. You know, they intend to use this withing eight hundred metres of our local primary school. Within eight hundred metres! A kilometre from the centre of the main population area which is Greencastle Village. And we did not know about this. They came in January and all along they’d been talking about the Curraghinalt project – Gortin and gold.

You know, Greencastle was never mentioned. Then all of a sudden we get this big, bright light who said: Oh, look! How lucky youse are! We’ve decided to place this just besides youse. This is the first we’ve heard of it. You know, and this is the only plant of its type in western Europe so it’s not as if we can go down the road and talk to the people who are currently living beside one to allay the fears of the community to see how exactly they’re dealing with it. You know, most of these plants – there’s one, I think, in Finland, and it’s up in the tundra where you’re probably hundreds of kilometres from centres of population. The main belt, settlements and towns around the plant to facilitate workers and that, but you know this is something that they’re bring and the sad thing is they kept telling us how lucky we are to have it.

Galvin: Well one of the things our audience should know: People in the United States, they think: Oh! If they find gold or they find something precious – you know it’s like, it was explained like the show, The Beverly Hillbillies – you know the person finds oil on his land – and he’s rich, they have to pay him. What exactly you do you or the general community in that area, in Sperrins, get from any gold that’s found there or any precious metals that’s found in the area?

Well, the unfortunate thing about Northern Ireland, the way that it currently is, is that if there’s a mineral reserve, should it be oil, gold, whatever – it’s actually the Crown Estate, the Queen, that gets four percent because she owns what’s under our feet, you know. The last company that owned the actual mine, that was an exploratory mine at that stage, gets two percent. And currently in this area there’s no tax on gold or silver bearing ore. So realistically the people of this land are getting nothing. The people of Ireland are getting nothing. They keep telling us about the jobs, the jobs. This area is not economically deprived. You know, we don’t have large unemployment. A lot of guys get up in the morning and they travel – they go to work. They do the real Irish thing – you go where the work is. You do whatever has to be done to provide for your family and all the rest. And the disappointing thing is, as I said, this will be going back – whatever does not go to England, to the Queen and the Crown Estate and all the rest – this will be going to Canada and in a round about way sort of way it’s going back to the Queen in the end because it’s all part of The Commonwealth. This is what the people are seeing.

You know it’s funny to say, in The Proclamation you know the message is: We declare the right of the people of Ireland to own the land of Ireland. And this is what it is: Not only are they trying to poison us where we’re living, not only are they trying to tell us how good it is for us but then they’re taken whatever away from this country, from its people and just giving it away. It’s so disheartening in relations to the whole thing that this is the way big business works and as you said the people are more or less secondary to whatever is good for the Crown Estate and for the previous owners of this mine.

Galvin: Martin, what are you doing, you and the other groups that you’re involved with, what are you doing to fight against this area being poisoned and exploited by this Canadian company. What are you doing to stop this?

Well two things I guess, Martin, in relation to this and I have to appreciate you giving me airtime: We’re trying to educate the people that this isn’t what this community wants. This is not something that this community or these people are crying out for – there’s nobody here in the bread line. Like there’s a number of groups, there’s SOS, there’s GRG (Greencastle Area Residents Group) and like to be honest with you, I’m just a local farmer, a local community member, but we feel that strongly – like our roots are very deep in this land, you know? It’s not money that matters to us. This is one of the last Irish-speaking areas of Tyrone. You know, all through The Troubles like this place – you know it stood strong, it stood really, really strong and that’s what we find so hard to deal with. They’re telling how beneficial this is. We don’t want it. We don’t need it. And I know gold and everybody’s eyes lights up whenever they hear tell of gold but take into consideration, Martin, sometimes the things that you just can’t hold in your hands – your history, your past, your culture, your language – is a lot more valuable than the wee things that you slip over your finger or the wee thing that you put into your pocket. It sounds maybe strange to people listening in that we feel that way but you know – we’re on this land for generations. Money’s not worth anything to us – well, money, in relation to that, is not worth anything to us because it’s not deeply embedded in us. It’s never going to come out of us and that’s why we believe that this is not for the benefit of us – The Sperrins, Tyrone or Ireland.

Galvin: Particularly when you’re not the ones getting the money – when it goes to the British Crown, when it goes to a foreign company, when it goes elsewhere. It’s like during the …

Tracey: …I think, sorry to interrupt, Martin, you know the monetary value has been over-exaggerated by this company. You have to realise that some of the last Irish speakers in Tyrone were from this area. You know, whenever Hugh O’Neill was traveling between Inishowen and Tullyhogue and Cookstown he went through this area. You know, money? It sounds silly but the generations of people that have emigrated and all the rest of it it sounds strange. I had a cousin come home from Australia last year and she had her daughter and her husband with her. And she wanted to walk where her father walked to school. And he always promised her that this thing was going to be someday – and she was supposed to do that because she knew that – she’s seeing the same views, she’s hearing the same sounds – and you’re never going to – money will never – money will never change that, you know. And the amount of people, even second, third, fourth generations in The States – you know, that’s why they come to this area to see what their what their grandparents, or their great-grandparents, their great-great-great-grandparents – you’re looking through their eyes and there’s not many places in the world where you can go that you can actually say that you’re doing that.

Galvin: Alright, Martin, we want to thank you. We’re going to follow this issue with you. WBAI, Radio Free Éireann has been one outlet that has followed campaigns like this and we want to follow Save Our Sperrins campaign, what you’re doing with the Molly Maguire Division – all of that to save your area of Sperrins. And I promise – next time I’m driving down from Doire towards Monaghan I’m going to take the scenic route through your area.

Tracey: Do, Martin, and we’ll get you a pint of Guinness.

There you go. Listen, I want to thank you for being on and I especially want to thank Gerry McGeough for putting me in touch with you so we could air this important story for the first time on WBAI at Radio Free Éireann – we’ll have it on in future and we’ll follow events and try to help your fight.

Tracey: Right. And Tyrone AOH, we have to appreciate them for all the hard and sterling work they’ve done.

Galvin: Okay. Alright, thank you, Martin Tracey. (ends time stamp ~55:52)

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