by Cormac Mac Ruaidhrí
Do Daniel M'Dyer
by Brian Smeaton
Memories of the USA
by Nora Doherty
Fairytale of New York
by Ciaran Treacy
Boston to New York
by Liam Murray
It took us 7 hours to cross the Atlantic
by Joe Carr
by Brendan Hone, HSE West Training Manager
Do we live to eat or eat to live?
by Mark Kenny
Some days they teach us cooking skills
by Tom Ferry
Varied & Good Fun
by Bernard Kelly
by Geraldine Mclean
Isn't daylight great?
by Neil O'Shea
Memories from New York
by Murt Collins
Our Scottish Ambassador
Solas sa Dorchadas
by Cathal Ó Gallachoir
When do we lose it?
by Nuala Gallagher
Feeling the pace
by Pauric Gallagher
The Making of Solas
by Johnny White
Editorialby Cormac Mac Ruaidhrí
Light and darkness, one cannot be without the other.
Ying and yang are the universal symbols of this theory
Each contains a little of the other to survive masculine & feminine, light and darkness.
In Ireland on the 21st of June one shining ray penetrates Newgrange to mark the longest day of the Year. In darkness there can also exist the soul, at times sometimes dragging with it the mind Into a long eclipse of time and loss of self.
This tiny chink which allows light to pass through sometimes brings some hope into the swirling abyss Of thoughts & nothing. Luckily light exists in people and places where we least expect it.
The Solas Project is named after the gaeilge for light but it rhymes nicely with another word from the ancient language, dochas or hope. Walking talking and listening we join together to bring light and its conjoined hope into each other's lives.
With each physical step can be a word of acknowledgement.
With each waterproof trouser pulled up an open ear receives the worries of other voices.
With each bootlace tied minds can be set at ease.
With the rev of the Solas minibus a new adventure begins
With the light penetrating foggy eyes and minds with the sense of being here now.
The fogginess is but a leeway from light to darkness From despair to joy as 13 of us stood at the crossroads of the world in Times Square. My favourite lecturer in College, the now Senator Eoghan Harris, told the class he suffered from S.A.D He told us he preferred to send Cards on St.Brigids day to his friends than Christmas cards.
This is the time of year when the light begins to return and the hens start laying again. He also told us of the necessity clause which is intricate in every great piece of writing The point in the western where our hero is given an impossible ultimatum.
And you watch until the end to see how he will manage to overcome. Life is full of these ultimatums when you are in the abyss of being that severe depression can bring. It can go right down to the bone when there are only two choices, to live or die.
Solas the entity and the project helps make this challenge easy. The light of day can become addictive we seek it on a Solas walk during winter months. Better rain and wind on your cheek than tears in your eyes.
The cold on your face only makes the awaiting fire warmer And the blood and serotonin that runs to your head, by and large, brings good thoughts for tomorrow. And for those we lose in the darkness we remember the Irish blessing/Dervish song.
"May the road always rise up to meet you, May the sun put a smile on your face. May the wind always carry you close to me. Until we meet again..."
Fairytale of New Yorkby Ciaran Treacy
I've lived in New York for twenty years and moved back to Ireland three and a half years ago. When I returned to New York it was like I had never left. When we arrived at Newark airport straight away the limousine drivers were trying to hustle us to get us into the city.
I knew what they were at. They were trying to bang on the tourists. I found myself in the New York mode again. I felt like the mother hen protective of the others and wanting things to go right for them. Even in the diner on the first night, the guy took the tip without telling us whereas we would have left a tip anyway.
I got a buzz seeing people getting enjoyment out of the city and living there twenty years I'd been everywhere we were going to as tourists. Even as a tourist, it's still enjoyable going to places such as the Empire State Building and Coney Island which was a big big deal for us.
We stayed in a neighbourhood, on 101st Street, on Broadway. We weren't in a tourist trap and we organised bus and subway passes. We never had tourists sitting beside us, always New Yorkers. We managed to strike up conversations with them, which was great; we all got to feel it, which gave me a buzz.
Americans have an affinity with Irish people. From my own experience if you compared an Irish tourist to other tourists, they would be more engaging in having a conversation with them. There is a connection, maybe their next door neighbours or extended families are Irish or have an Irish relative. They engage more easily in conversation with us Irish.
I had rituals as a New Yorker outside of my work. I would have got up on Sunday morning at 8am and gone to the German bakery, bought my apple strudel and a big coffee and the New York Times, and sat there all morning, reading and drinking my coffee.
I miss things like that and sometimes even today when I'm reading a paper in my apartment in letterkenny, you're engrossed in the paper and for a split second you think you're in America. Then you lift your head and know you're not.
With globalisation you can get everything in Ireland now that you could in New York. Like everything good and bad, it's all there. In New York I loved eating out in a variety of restaurants, movies and shows. That's not that prevalent in Letterkenny.
Saying all that, what you have at home is natural beauty. Coming back, I notice the beauty now, I can see it. Yesterday we did a walk from the old railway station in Caiseal na gCor to Dunlewey and it was just breath-taking.
New York is bright lights and tall buildings and the buzz of people flying by. Here you can see rock formations and bog and the different colours. They are worlds apart. I don't believe Irish people are as close abroad as Italians, Greeks, Koreans or Jews. Irish people blend into the community after the second generation. As far as Irish language goes, unfortunately for me, I never spoke Gaelic, because of bad teaching at school.
The generation that emigrated with me didn't pass on their values, maybe the generation before that the values and all would have came with them. I emigrated in the mid-eighties. From the mid-eighties onwards everywhere was more global.
Ireland now has less values than it did before the 1990's. Our values have changed. Small villages are gone. People's accents have gone because they travel so much.
There isn't that much of a difference now between someone in New York and someone in Dublin or Letterkenny. They are pretty much all the same. You get the same stuff, you watch the same television programmes and movies. You wear the same clothes. In the west of Donegal I'd say the values are still there and along the west coast.
In Cleveland, Ohio, these people still meet, I think they are from Connemara or Achill Island. They still speak Gaelic, these ladies. But my generation, the ones out there, there would be less of that. They became Americanised very, very quick.
When I went to New York first there was parts of the city, Woodlawn and queens, Cambridge and the Bronx, Yonkers, they were all Irish neighbourhoods. Woodlawn was like Kilmacrennan. Only gone out of control with Irish bars and the shops only sold Irish goods.
But I believe at the moment, because of the downturn in the economy, a lot of Irish have left the neighbourhood. I don't know what you would do if you wanted to feel Irish in New York at the moment. You could go to so-called Irish bars.
For the last ten years I was there I lived in a predominantly Dominican neighbourhood. I worked in a bar where I was the only Irish, white person there. The neighbourhood was predominantly Hispanic.
We spent several nights in New York on our trip there in May '09. Like I said when I arrived there I went straight into New York mode, but I was happy getting off the plane on the return leg.
It took us 7 hours to cross the Atlantic....by Joe Carr
I went to New York with the Solas group for seven nights from Wednesday the 27th of May to Thursday the 4th of June 2009. There was 13 of us led by Brendan Hone and Murt Collins. We stayed at The Broadway Hotel and Hostel, 203 West, 101 Street.
As it was my first trip abroad I had to get an Irish passport. Murt Collins helped me to fill in the form. We then took it to the Garda barracks to get stamped by a Garda. I had to phone my cousin Roger in Clydebank to send me a copy of my Birth Certificate and went to Letterkenny to get my father's birth and marriage cert to send for my passport.
I got a nice new passport sent to me in the post to last for 10 years. We had and early flight from Belfast Airport so I was up very early on Wednesday morning. Murt gave me a phone about 5am and then himself and Cormac Rodgers called for me about 5.30.
I had my case and bag ready. We went by mini bus to Letterkenny to pick up the rest of the gang and then went on to the airport. We had a nice breakfast before we went on the plane. We travelled by Continental Airlines. I was a little bit nervous going on the plane as it took off but I was ok when it went up in the air.
It took us seven hours to cross the Atlantic. We landed at Newark Airport New Jersey. We then went on to our Hostel by train. There was two bunk beds in our room. Murt was in the top one, I had a bottom one and Liam Murray had another bottom one.
The bathroom and shower were just outside. We got clean sheets and towels every day. I was very impressed with the huge tall buildings of New York. We were up on the 86th floor of the Empire State building and had a great view all over New York.
We travelled alot by bus and train and Ciaran Tracey was good guide. We had a bagel every morning in the cafe accross the road and a huge meal every evening in the Metro Diner.
The burgers and chicken salad were lovely and the staff were very friendly. We had the Metro Card for the busses and Underground and Pass Card for the sites. I was in St. Patrick's Cathedral, 5th Avenue, there was Mass going on and I got holy communion.
There was a large crowd there. I had my bags searched at the door going in. Two men but friendly. It is a very large but beautiful church. We were in the American Musuem of National History which I found to be very interesting.
There was plenty to see and look at including stuffed animals from Africa. We went to New York acquarium to see all types of fish and I saw two sharks. We went to the beach on Coney Island and got sunburned. It was nice and peaceful away from the city. We got ice cream and hot dogs.
We went on the Sunday to Kate and her mother and two sisters in New Jersey. We had a bar-b-que out in the back garden with lovely music and singing from Michelle Freed. They are a very friendly family. Kate's mother showed us her vintage car and took it out of the garage.
The highlight of the trip down the Hudson River across New York harbour and bridges and past the Statue of Liberty, a famous landmark. The captain gave an interesting guide to all the skye scrapers and tall buildings. It was lovely to be so close to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. I was very impressed with so many yellow taxi cabs all around the city. Someone said there was 4,000 of them.
It was funny to see a man on the street with a cat sitting on his head. We also went to China Town and Little Italy and Greenwich Village, with its old shops. We to Time Square at night, all lite up with thousands of lights.... it's breath taking.
I looked up to the top of sky scrapers with all the adverts so colourful and bright. We also went on board the incredible warship Intrepid on Pier 86, built in 1943 it served in World War 2 and in Vietnam.
It is now a sea, air and space museum. 3388, the number of men who served aboard it at one time. The flight deck holds a selection of restored aircraft. A British Airways Concord, a Skyhawk and a helicopter amongst many others.
There was also a Growler Submarine, some of the group went on board. We also for a walk around the world famous Central Park, so peaceful, a break away from the busy city. We saw a squirrel at the bottom of the tree and had light refreshments there. We went to the Terminator film - no one thought too much of it.
The weather was very good all week until the evening we were leaving, it was raining very heavy and we went to the airport on two mini busses. The trip to New York went in fast - there was so much to see every day. We did not get to Ground Zero, or to Ellis Island where all the Irish emigrants had to come to in the past.
I found it very hard to get some nice tea towels to bring back as presents to friends. Then I got two at a flee market and some more at Macys large department store where they have almost everything. They call them dish towels. No big selection of them, unlike Ireland.
The week's trip went in very fast and we left New York for home again. We had a nice flight back and I was glad that I went with the Solas Group.
U.S.A Trip was varied & good funby Bernard Kelly
It all started when Brendan highlighted that Ciaran had lived in N.Y for twenty odd years and knew the city very well. Also Kate Freed, from New Jersey, who had come to Solas for six weeks placement, offered to act as a guide and advise us on the practical issues on the ground. Let's go to the Big Apple! And that's just what we did!
We had no set itinerary. Each day brought new surprises. We literally got up each day not fully knowing what we might do. The sight that stood out for me was our evening in Time Square. The weather was balmy. We sat down and simply observed the changing neon signs. We just looked and looked. I wondered at just how many thousands of dollars it cost to display your product there?
Another highlight on the trip was the day I met up with my sister. She travelled with her husband from New Haven, Connecticut, to meet up with me in Grand Central Station. I took the bus into 42nd Street. On the bus I met up with two New Yorkers. They offered to accompany me to the station. They were going into town to buy a TV at a store a block away from Grand Central Station.
Then I met up with my sister and her husband under the clock as planned. Grand Central Station is a wonderful building, recently refurbished. We spent three or four hours together, enjoying a picnic in a local park and visiting a contemporary photographic gallery. Then they departed on their return journey and I negotiated my way back to base using the subway. It was a delightful day.
The diner where we ate mostly proved very popular with our gang. The food was varied and the helpings adequate. Apart from the times when certain persons, who shall remain nameless, were a bit extravagant in their choice of meal or drink, it all went off very cordially. The staff that served us were equally delighted especially as they got a tip at twice the tax!!
The third highlight for me was my American friend Deirdre Danaher. She is a real New Yorker. We had been in contact by email prior to our trip arriving in NY. While there she texted and phoned me and on the Tuesday prior to our departure she travelled to see us.
We met up in the local diner. Deirdre is a conversationalist and a charmer. She met most of our gang and was amiable and chatty to all. The evening was most entertaining and enjoyable. Thanks Deirdre!!
To conclude: The trip was very varied and good fun. We fitted in a lot and had many unique experiences. We were so fortunate and so privileged to be able to go in the first place. New York is memorable in so far that we all had the courage to travel outside our comfort zone taking calculated risks which lead us to break new ground in the area of personal mental health.
Thanks to ourselves and to all the people besides us who helped in any way to enable this trip to happen. Well done!
Bealach na BeathaDo Daniel M'Dyer le Brian Smeaton, Bealtaine 2009
An bealach go hEmmous
Bealach an uaignis, bealach an iontais
An bealach na nGleanntach:
Do bhealach féin
Ar ndalta uilig ba fear ar aistear tú
Thriall tu iad go léir,
Bealach an tséin, bealach na péine.
Bhí tú go síoraí
Ag lorg an tsuaimhnis úd
A chneasaíonn ceann agus croí.
De shiúl na gcos
Thriall muid an trá, an cnoc, an caorán
Le cheile. Don aonarán
Tá faoisimh anama sa tsiúl,
Tá foscailt súil sa tsiúl.
Ba mhór an solas do chomhrá,
Ba mhór an sólas do chuideachta.
I Machaire Rabhartaigh, ar an Mhucais, i Mín A leá,
Thug tú deoch na dáimhe dúinn
As tobar an aoibhnis
A bhrúcht aníos asat féin go fial.
Dith muid lón leat sa tSeanbheiric
Léigh muid dialann d'anama sa tSeanbheiric
Chuaigh muid i dtáithí ar do dhaonnacht sa tSeanbheiric
An bealach go hEmmaus:
An bealach i gcéin, bealach do dháin,
Bealach na rún;
A dhomhnaill óig, a chara mo chléibh,
Ár nguí leat, ár mbeannacht leat,
Tá tú imithe uainn ar bhealach na nglún;
Tá tú imithe uainn amach bealach an tsléibhe
Chun na síoraíochta.......
Do bhealach féin
Boston to New Yorkby Liam Murray
My Journey began this year in May. I got a bus to Dublin Airport. They have a great service from Dublin Airport to Newark, New Jersey, then via Boston. I was never in Boston Before so I rang my friend & he directed me on the T, Boston's underground and tram system. Coming out o the station I had a blueberry muffin, delicious. I thought I'd stay one day with my friend and ended up the other three days in a hostel.
It was not the Ritz, a bit rough so by the Sunday morning I was looking to get out of there so besides where I was staying was a Greek orthodox church. During the hour and a half ceremony, one man was charitable enough to direct the rituals to me.
Then I received bread at the end for guests not the consecrated bread. They invited me for a small lunch downstairs & I explained why I was in Boston & they were very interested in the Solas programme. The Bishop especially so, he deals with a lot of mental health problems.
I gave him the website address and my email. Lovely, warm, community based people. Later that day I found a Catholic Church, unbelievably called St. Colmkilles in Brighton, Boston. The same name as our Donegal Patron Saint, Dove of the Church.
There was first Holy Communion for the Spanish speaking community & the mass in English was at 5pm. So I went to a local Irish Pub for something to eat where I met an Irish/American man named Jack White. He is a retired drama/Russian university lecturer.
He was big into Irish traditional music and played the tin whistle. He offered for me to stay at his apartment & I was glad to get out of the hostel, so I jumped at the offer. W had a great chat & I met his partner Doria, a librarian and a lovely person.
So much happened in Boston & I was offered a place to stay at Jacks any time I returned to Boston. So good of him. I did the Duck door, a tour that is a land tour of the city and the military type truck drives into the harbour.
Boston is described as the Athens of America. A centre of learning and education with Harvard & MIT both located there. It is small in comparison with New York with a big historic Irish community. A beautiful clean city. I met the Solas group after arriving from Boston to Newark Airport. New York is another story & while it is part of my trip, others will describe it in this newsletter
Some days they teach us cooking skillsby Tom Ferry
I've been coming to the Solas course for ten days. I'm just beginning to learn what the people do. We go for walks all around Donegal. We come back & get a bite to eat, then we have a bit of a chat. When we come in to the base in the morning, the tea urn is usually hot, so we have a nice cuppa tea and some bread or toast. It's nice to get a wee cup of tea in the morning, before we go our walk.
So far I've been to Ards Forest park, Glenveagh national park. I've been for walks around Baltoney, Gortahork, also Ballyness, and Falcarragh. I've also been to both Gweedore & Magheroarty beach. Mt first walk was to Ards Forest Park. We walked along a wee path through the trees. It was nice to see many different kinds of tree. There were also some scents of the forest.
The walk lasted roughly an hour and a half. There were just one or two little hills or inclines. Altogether it was a pleasant walk.
Another day we went to Glenveagh National Park. The scenery was excellent as it was a clear sunny day. I had heard somewhere before that there were Golden Eagles at the park so I was keeping an eye out for but unfortunately I didn't see any. A few of us had walked on ahead of the main group & got to the castle about ten or fifteen minutes before the main group.
It was all flat easy walking. There were no hills between the main gate and the castle. When we reached the castle we had some time to spare before the rest of the group caught up with us. So we climbed up the hill behind the castle and got to a high peak, which gave excellent views over the park. The hills, the valley, the lake and castle looked spectacular.
On another day we went to Magheroarty beach. We started along the back-dunes, it was a pleasant walk as the sun was shining & there were no big hills.
When we got to the water, which was halfway on the walk we felt a nice breeze coming in off the Atlantic. We saw Inishboffin close by; we walked all the way back to the pier along the front beach. We saw the local boat leaving for Tory Island. There were a few tourists down at the pier because it was a very hot day.
There was a camera crew with us on the day we walked Magheroarty. They were making a programme on Solas, to be shown on TG4. I also walked Gweedore beach twice, the first South to North, the second time, north to South. I think the Gweedore beach walk was one of the longest walks. I've done it I think it was over two hours, the first time we walked it.
I think it must have been around six miles. The first time we walked Gweedore beach, we came back to base for lunch. The second time we walked it, we had our lunch at Gweedore. We had sandwiches, some juice and lots of oranges and apples. It was nice to eat outdoors for a change on a hot sunny day.
We also went for a walk around Baltoney, near Gortahork. Again, it was a nice day, but the first half of the walk was ups and downs through lots of wee hills. As soon as you got over one hill there was another wee hill in front of you again.
I found it quite tiring at first, but after forty five minutes we had a short break, then we were told that was a flat road back to teach ruairis where we started, so there were no more hills, so I enjoyed the second half of the walk better. The walk was all on very quiet roads, there was hardly any traffic and the scenery was great. We got a lovely view of Errigal and its neighbouring mountains.
When we walked Ards, Glenveagh and the beaches at Magheroarty and Gweedore, there was no traffic. When we did one or two walks on the road traffic is light also, so the walks seem to be well chosen. I've been on ten walks so far and it hasn't rained once, it seems like the good weather is guaranteed when you are with solas.
When we go on our walks, you often find yourself walking alongside different people for one and a half to two hours. Often there is a bit of conversation going on.
I've never been a great talker, and the only thing I find hard is when somebody is talking to you for up to two hours, it's very hard to keep thinking of things to say, something to talk about. I'm concerned if someone is talking to you and you don't talk back to them, they may get offended. I find everybody very friendly and easygoing. Everyone seems very understanding so far.
Some days they teach us some cooking skills. I've only had two cooking days so far. One day we had pasta, another day we had Thai green curry. They had a local chef who shows and explains how to make the dish. Then, after the dish is cooked, we have it for lunch. After the lunch, they give you a print-out of recipe instructions in case you can't remember all the steps, so that's a great help.
I've never been a great cook, I usually make bacon, sausage and eggs, or sometimes fry a steak or a pork chop, but perhaps in future I might be a bit more adventurous and try some of the chef's recipes. I was given a recipe for home-made bread, which I love. When we were growing up my mother often made bread, so I might try it sometime in the future! We do the cooking skills in a local house Solas has access to.
Solas have a few computers. Although I never used one before I was shown the basics the other day: how you turn it on etc. I used it again another day for about thirty minutes, just doing the basics, I found it very interesting. Perhaps if I spend more time on it I might develop some computer skills.
I'm quite happy that I came to Solas. It all seems quite interesting and everyone is friendly, the walks help to keep you fit, so altogether it's been a good experience.
An Interview with Brendan Hone, Manager of the Solas Project
Four Years on how do you believe the program has progressed?
As of November 2009, we now have twenty people attending the program on a weekly basis, when it began in October 2005 we only had two. The program has gone from strength to strength because it is participant led. My job is supporting the participants and the team delivering this ethos.
This means involving the participants in planning, delivery and management of the program. In that period of four years, we have developed core values and purpose, totally collaborative with participants involved in every level.
Our model is to support recovery and re-emergence, helping people back to where they want to be. Our job is to do this quietly and discreetly, but the gang lead. The program has become established in Donegal. We have a waiting list for the program now. A lot of the people accessing the program are young males, a group traditionally averse to mental health programs.
The simplicity and location of the program and also the fact that we have fun makes it attractive. There is empathy, kindness and also a lot of professional support. The team are highly trained in counselling, risk assessment and outdoor activities. Although always professional, we connect with people on a human level. Listen, listen, listen and help support people move in a direction they want to go.
It's personal –centred. The simplicity of people coming everyday and walking for maybe two and a half hours, once they achieve a certain level of fitness, breaking bread together.
In the evening, we carry out some skills work around career planning, we also provide FETAC certification. Six clients have completed the FETAC Peer Mentoring course. We are embedded in the community, people now know about Solas, but we are still discreet. People still think we are a walking program.
Our core purpose is still recovery and re-emergence for people with mental health difficulties. My mission is to support, the participants and staff lead. The participants are leading more and more, in 2008 we had a launch of our newsletter and website.
My job is to support the participants lead, so we got the participants to launch the program rather than the management or staff. We had Cormac the M.C, we had Ben the I.T Specialist, Ciaran the practical hands-on guy, Bernard the diplomat, and we had the perfect team.
Around 150 people attended our launch, including Junior Minister Pat the Cope and John Hayes, the Lead Local Health Officer for Donegal. Our gang did brilliantly. We had a lot of preparation. Cormac made the point sure isn't it a testament that Solas works that we ourselves are presenting here today.
That observation struck me big time. The deal was that if anyone struggled on the day, we would come and support them, we were there. That launch was a sign to me that Solas was here to stay. When you walk in the door on this program, there might be a cup of tea but there's definitely a laugh.
What's it like for you leading a program like this?
My job is to support people with disabilities across the spectrum in west Donegal. Whether it's intellectual or physical and sensory, although categories are put in place for funding structures, first and foremost, it's about people for me.
I have a lot of energy and positivity. My job is identifying potential. As for my leadership, I try and lead in a thoughtful way. If rehabilitation is truly to work, in essence, we should really make ourselves, the team, redundant and the participants take over and run the program. There are ways and means of doing this over a transistion period, which we will look at down the line.
The centres that I manage are; Tobar - Training Centre for intellectual disabilities; Taca - Vocational Employer based training; Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) - Moving on, based in LYIT; Greenleaf garden centre. I also manage a sister-centre to Tobar in Ballyraine. Altogether about a hundred and fifty clients.
Management is about identifying the talents that are there; for example, in Solas, I'm there on a Wednesday, when you listen to people's stories and see the brilliance that they have, it is my mission to channel this talent into something that can grow. We don't create dependency, we create independence. My job is to be thoughtful but to think ahead and see what's down the line.
What are your hopes for clients in the Solas program?
It is a person-centred program, just as each individual has hopes and ambitions, the outcomes are different for each. For some, it's the first step in restoring confidence and breaking isolation, for others it's a stepping stone into further education or employment.
People identify what they want to do through the person-centred planning program over a number of years. We give them information and let them sample work experience. We provide a menu as such, but the main course is outdoor activities. We walk, talk and listen in nature. We give people an avenue to explore what they want to do.
What about the future for Solas?
We developed our core-purpose and values in 2007/2008. We talked about another Solas in south Donegal because we are over-subscribed in west Donegal. What we are looking at now is maybe a quality standard or possibly a franchise model based on our core values, possibly an audio-visual training module.
With very little money in the HSE at the moment, we need to develop a model that is cost effective, but maintains a standard. Possibly the core participants who were involved in setting up Solas would be instrumental in assessing the application of standards.
John Hayes has asked me about the transferability of Solas, could this program be rolled out? I said at the time that it couldn't. I didn't feel we were mature enough at that time, but now with the core values in place, we could look at doing that for 2010.
If there is one piece of advice you could give to the manager of Solas Eile, what would it be?
Involve the participants at every level, from the very moment that you start, take off the white coat. It is such a simple concept, but the best ideas are always simple. We work as a team, collaboration is always better. Empathy and kindness and emotional intelligence and the ability to connect with people in a way that the person can see that this person cares deeply.
I cannot operate on my own, all the time I have points of contact and reference. Hopefully, that's a two-way process. Make no bones about this; this is a HSE funded project. It is cost effective, it is using nature. The evaluation in 2007 was very positive.
Leading sometimes can be a lonely place, you have to make decisions that aren't always popular, but if you have everyone on board, you can be creative. If you are out on the shop floor, it makes a difference.
How did you find opening up Solas to media scrutiny?
We avoided all media involvement at the start. We recently had a documentary on TG4; the person who produced it came up for a number of weeks to see what we were doing. They produced a beautiful documentary that was sensitive, inspiring and gave both the participants and I hope.
That's what it's about, it's not about a sharp, short headline or sensationalism. It is about sharing the stories. The media can help, our website made a difference too, in terms of contact.
I'm a little bit wary of it sometimes because I ramble a lot, so whenever there is a media event; people keep me away because I could shoot myself in the foot very easily!! I care deeply about what I do and I expect the media to do the same. I don't want sensationalism I want thoughtful journalism and we have waited a long time to do this. We are getting appropriate airplay now and that's fine.
Jim MurrayOur Scottish Ambassador
"Our minds are not apart from the world - The harmony and beauty of the face of Nature is at root, one with the gladness that transfigures the face of man"
Sir Arthur Eddington (Physicist)
As a frequent visitor to the Cloughaneely area of Donegal, I have found that the above words are entirely appropriate when wandering the hills and seashores of the region.
It is a deeply spiritual place that touches all my senses. For many decades upon reaching Dunfanaghy, I roll down the window in my car and I can almost smell my way home via the turf fires burning in the homes along the way.
The warmth of the hugs and welcomes of my family has further enhanced the notion of 'my own personal green space'. A place which is an oasis of wellbeing and contentment. Many a time I have made journeys in my own minds eye for solace and occasionally simply respite from times of personal suffering and grief. Believe me an occasional visit beats prescribed medication hands down.
I came across Solas about eighteen months ago and readily took to their ethos - people can recover from their own personal difficulties using a very simple plan involving the outdoors and a pair of boots.
On a recent walk, whilst I was taking some photographs, I noticed a young woman whose face seemed to reflect all her problems which were obviously weighing down on her.
An hour later when finishing the photo shoot she passed me by again. Something appeared to have happened to her that day in Meenaclady, and as Eddington had written, her face had been transfigured after her ramble along the mountain track. She looked relaxed and happy - gone were the frowns and the aura of gloom.
Spencer Davies had a hit record during the '60's called 'Keep on Walking' - good advice for all.
Purveyors of Botox - take note. If the above mentioned young woman is anything to go by, maybe you should start selling boots instead of fixed smiles.
Geraldine McLeanby Geraldine McLean
My name is Geraldine McLean from Greenhill, Dunfanaghy. I have found Solas very helpful; it gets you out amongst others. I have found the people in Solas kind and helpful. I wish it every success.
Memories of the USAby Nora Doherty
Preparations included getting clothes ready and fundraising. Little John Nee did a comedy night in A´ras Beaglaoich. I went on the Boxing Day fundraising walk & although I didn't get to the Easter walk I collected money. I organised my own saving programme in the bank I saved 50 euro a week. I packed very little clothes so I would have room to bring some back. The journey back from New York was longer than the way out.
New York! The experience was great. People were friendly, food was lovely, and the sights were amazing. The best part was the company of friends from Solas. Coming home was also good, seeing family and giving presents.
Memories from New Yorkby Murt Collins
There are many things we do in a lifetime. Some memorable, some forgettable, but the Solas trip to the U.S.A recently certainly fits the former. When the idea was first mooted by our boss Brendan Hone in the autumn of 2008 it seemed like a great idea: the holiday of a lifetime, a chance to visit the Big Apple, New York the city that never sleeps.
A target date of May 2009 was set for departure and thirteen of the group indicated they would like to make the journey. Planning the event began in November 2008 with funding our number one priority. Little John Nee performed his one man show to a full house in Aras Begley, Falcarragh, While a highly successful 5k walk/run was held on Boxing day.
Another well attended walk was held in Letterkenny, while the Lifford Players also performed their award winning play "The Black Stranger" to boost the coffers. Indeed, while fundraising events raised significant monies, it must be noted that all who travelled also paid a large lump sum towards the costs involved for the trip.
Ciaran T who has extensive knowledge of the city was appointed trip co-ordinator and he wasted no time in drawing up a to-do list. This list included flights, passports, visas, accommodation, sightseeing and methods of transport within the city.
At this point I feel it is important to note that key to the success of the trip was the forward planning and the fact that Ciaran knew the city so well. Indeed I would now like to publicly thank him for the outstanding leadership qualities he displayed in ensuring that everyone had such a safe and enjoyable holiday.
Our base was the Broadway Hostel on 101 street on the upper west side of Manhattan, just a ten minute bus ride from Times Square. Reflecting upon the highlights of the trip, the usual suspects come to mind: The Empire State building, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, China Town, Little Italy, Central park and not forgetting Times Square at night (A sight to behold).
Other memories include the Natural History Museum, Greenwich Village and the big dipper ride in Coney Island which scared the life out of most of us! Another Highlight was our lovely evening in New Jersey with our dear friend Kate Freed and her family. Kate had spent the summer of 2008 on placement with Solas and has become a great friend and supporter of the programme. Yes indeed, wonderful memories from a great trip.
In conclusion I must say that while I really enjoyed seeing the sights and soaking up the atmosphere of New York, the memories I will treasure most are those of just spending time with that special group of people: the fun in the hostel, getting breakfast in the bagel bar and sharing stories and jokes at dinner in the Metro diner,
snoring, strange aromas, no clothes hangers, the unused wheelchair, the subway, the laughter at the evening de-briefing meetings, these are all memories I will carry and cherish, Indeed, the Solas trip to New York in the summer of 2009 will forever have a special place in my heart.
Feeling the paceby Pauric Gallagher
I am struggling to keep my head above water
Drowning in my own misery.
Awoke from this nightmare, a constant state of purgatory.
Helpless I crawl seeing only darkness.
What is happening to me?
Confessing to nothing I admit he did it all.
Did I give up too soon feeling the pace.
Could not make it to the bell.
Can you help me to my feet the past echoes a sad story.
What I see is not really there
Imagination running wild, this life can be a tough ride.
I cannot carry this world on my shoulders.
Way back when I marched to the tune.
Can't find my way back to that old familiar song.
Hell is no place for the weary.
The one who cried here paid dearly.
The Making of Solas
by Johnny White
Making documentaries has, for me, always been a very selfish activity. I often imagine a programme to be an iceberg where the final 25 minutes that the viewer sees is just the tip and the real learning, the hard work, the growth and friendships which make up the bulk lies hidden to all but those of us who made the programme. 'Solas' proved to be no exception.
Since meeting Brendan Hone a few years ago I've always had an interest in Solas. I am a great believer in the power of nature, exercise and human connection (dare I call it love) to heal a wounded spirit. And what better example of all of this in action than Solas?
When a young friend of mine, after suffering for many years took his own life it reinforced my determination to make a programme about depression and hope, darkness and light, dúbhrón agus Solas.
í TG4 were supportive. When Proinsias Ní Ghrainne, the commissioning editor commented that there is hardly a house in Ireland that isn't affected in some way or another by depression I knew she understood why the programme should be made.
I was always aware of the great trust placed in me by the participants, too many times film crews think they have some God given right to invade people's privacy and twist peoples words to suit their own editorial. I am still touched by the courage and trust shown by all the participants. Cormac, Patrick and Aidan told their very personal stories with eloquence and no doubt gave inspiration and hope to many people throughout Ireland.
Editorially the programme was very simple, 3 people talking honestly and from the heart. Visually I felt the many moods of the Donegal weather nicely reflected the changing moods of the mind, as the Buddhists say, our thoughts are just like clouds in the open sky, the clouds come and go, but our essence the vast open sky remains the same.
On a personal level I learnt so much. People where so kind on the walks. It was so lovely just to walk, talk and listen. It's basic nourishment for the soul. So simple yet so powerful. It's such a fundamental human need to listen and to be heard, to feel that someone cares.
It's often sad to finish a programme as mostly when I move on to another project I lose contact with the people I have got to know. Solas, however, has been different. I know I will always have friends in Falcarragh and I look forward to returning for regular walking, talking and listening.
When do we lose it?by Nuala Marie Gallagher
My favourite part of the day is first thing in the morning, strange, I know. Every morning my routine is the same and shortly after getting up and organising a few things for the day, I go into my daughter's room to wake her. Sadhbh is now 10months old and I just love to watch her. She wakes up really slowly, lifting her head upon hearing me enter the room, her immediate reaction is a big smile, and this just makes my day.
She plops her head down again, wriggles around, stretches every inch of herself, smiling all the time. I watch her do this every morning and one day it occurred to me - when do we lose this instant happiness in the morning? How do we go from this to waking up with a start from the piercing alarm clock and grumping out of bed, un-refreshed and unenthusiastic about the day ahead?
When does it change from this content, natural happy feeling to moaning and groaning at the prospect of having to get up? Or perhaps I should be asking - How do we get that happy feeling back? Now that's something to think about, children can teach us so much...
Solas sa Dorchadasby Cathal Ó Gallachoir ex manager of an tSean Bheairic
I was asked by Brian Smeaton recently to write something for the next Solas newsletter. The angle being: what were my experiences of Solas through my interaction as manager of An tSean Bheairic-sort of "what Solas means to me in 500 words or less? And in Brian's inimitable way I was told to "just do it!"
But it's not that easy , because since that request I've decided to move on to another job which I will probably have done before anyone reads this, so it takes on the feel of a farewell and because I believe that Solas is something so important and too hard to try and capture in a few paragraphs. But here goes anyway- or as Brian say's "I'll just do it!"
Like all the best stories I'll start at the beginning! The first day I started in an tSean Bheairic, the girls in the café kept talking to me about Solas and what they have for lunch and when they come in and so on. And I had to ask "Hold on-who are what Solas are? They just looked at me and said "the gang upstairs".
And since then that's what I've called Solas "the gang upstairs" And though that may seem flippant, it's actually a good way to describe it-gangs are usually made up of a group of unique individuals , who have a common bond or goal and get support and loyalty from " the gang".
In the case of Solas that common bond is mental illness or depression or whatever horrible clinical term we tend to use - I prefer Cormac's use of the term darkness - and their common goal is "the light" (an solas) And boy , does that gang give support!
I've just had a conversation with Murt after he came back from a funeral of the mother of one of the group. And I couldn't help but be moved by the way the others attended and by the support he told me that their member was getting from his friends.
In terms of my work here I could simply use " pobal speak" and say that " as a community services project that the Solas project dovetails very nicely with an tSean Bheiaric's objectives to support other projects within and for the community, whilst also providing s secure and constant source of additional revenue etc. etc"
While in effect this is all true, to me Solas is a lot more -it's what brings an tSean Bheairic alive , it has helped create a very unique community within the walls of this old building .
Where do I see that I see it in the way the staff here Rosaline, Eileen, Helen, Brid, Sally and more recently Aisling interact with the Solas group. They're the people Brian should be talking to! They're the ones who know what people like or don't like, or who like what soup etc.
But they also know when people are "down" or in bad form and likewise if people are happier or more "up" than usual. So Like I said- a special wee community has developed here.
Brian and Murt have often asked why I haven't gone on the Wednesday walk or attended the diary, and I always make excuses even though I'm ashamed of not having done it. A lot of the cause is pure laziness, but a lot is down to fear.
I'm afraid of what I would have to face -in my own emotions. But I personally believe that everyone has their own time to share their own and maybe more importantly, those of others. I also know that none of us know what's really going on in anyone's life or their minds- so we should never make assumptions!
So as I leave an tSean Bheairic what will I remember about Solas? I will remember the unmistakeable noise of Brian on a Wednesday--the unique sound of the heels of Brendan's cowboy boots on the timber hallway and conversations with him about obscure1970s country Rock acts.
Also Liam who's always singing (not always in tune I might add) Margo sitting out the back having a smoke& looking so deep in thought, but when she smiles it's lovely. Nora and her beautiful happy looking face. Murt and the way he has time to speak to everyone.
Giving Joe Carr a lift to meet the others one day because he didn't want to miss the barbeque Mark was going to make. Kieran and his passion for horses. Bernard and his eternal politeness. And in particular Ciaran T's sincerity.
When you look into Ciarans eyes there is so much depth and you know he is looking deep into yours and when Ciaran shakes your hand-it hurts and when Ciaran asks "how are you?"-it's not a pointless greeting, he means it & he probably doesn't know that my own little boy is called Kieran. I'll miss those painful handshakes. Thank you for all those memories.
I'm just realising that in gaeilge only two fadá's distinguish Solas from Sólás. Sólás means to comfort and what else can give better comfort from "an dorchdas" than to come into the light. And I hope in these days of recession and cut backs and bord snip nua that the people who make the decisions come and see the little community in an tSean Bheairic, and that the light will keep shining!
"Gheobhaidh an Solas i gc&0acute;naí an bhua ar an dorchadas, ach caithfidh sé fáíl isteach"
Isn't daylight great?by Neil O'Shea
Oops! I forgot what I was thinking well anyway, what about this economy thing, do you believe in it? I don't. I think it's all made up numbers and collections of inirills, who knows? it could be true but I don't own it so I don't care. I do own some space Martians and a wee fortress to put them in and a nice wee collection of DVDs because you have to these days there is never anything on the telly.
Space marsians are little model soldiers you make up and paint yourself, so you need to be patient but I think it's a good hobby, it keeps me happy! There was one good thing on the telly last night, it was a documentary on about woolly mammoths and how they went down the pan because of a big rock from the sky. Simpsons is good too.
Isn't daylight great? Most people take it for granted but I like to stop and think and just absorb every now and then. You can see some lovely interplay with light and shadow on a cloudy day. Then when the sun shines it seems everybody shines with it. It's marvellous.
I like what I do these days. I get to see a lot of beautiful things, you know like hills made of ancient stone; layers of lava and magma and other mineral loaded stone and fields and forests. Not to mention the marvels of engineering in nature that can put a tonne and a half on a pole made of wood, water and leaves that are only 5 1/2 inches thick.
I see all this when I'm in a group called Solas. They are really good people. You can say what's on your mind without being judged and you get to go places and meet people you wouldn't otherwise. We all have our troubles but when we're together they seem a lot smaller.
Do we live to eat or eat to live?by Mark Kenny
Food, the vital substance we feed ourselves to nourish our bodies. What did you eat today? Was it healthy? Will you benefit from todays intake?
Food can be consumed for pleasure; it can be enjoyed as a treat. You can pay a lot of money for food when you are dining out. What would you consider value for money: an 8 oz fillet steak with all the trimmings for 30 Euros in a restaurant, or a bowl of porridge with cinnamon and honey for 50 cents to get you started on a winter's morning? Both are enjoyable, both are tasty, both are eaten with a specific purpose.
Nowadays we are bombarded with information about food and what's good for you and what's bad for you. I've lost track of things. Maybe the answer is to go back a generation or two and consider what our forefathers ate. It was simple, basic, healthier and they were healthier. They most definitely ate to live. Food for thought.