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Merthyr to Mayo - Castlerea Prison

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Merthyr to Mayo

We woke up refreshed after a nights sleep to be proud of – no midnight meetings and no early start- hooray! After a leisurely breakfast, we gathered for an 11am meeting to finalize the plans for our solidarity demonstration at the prison... Pat O Donnell (local fisherman) and Niall Harnett (long term resident of the Rossport Solidarity Camp) are currently serving 5 and 6 months in prison for convictions due to their involvement in the Shell to Sea campaign. For many of us on the ride coming to Castlerea to show our love and respect for Pat and Niall is one of the most important events of the ride. The meeting ended with a lengthy discussion of slogans we can prerecord to blast over the prison walls. In the end we agree to a chaotic (and slightly unintelligible) English/Gaelic/Spanish combo. After faff, and some more faff, around 60 of us set off en mass to the prison.

Mickey Coleman plays to a crowd and a wall

Every Wednesday afternoon there is a solidarity demonstration at the prison, but today a concert is also being held. We arrive at the prison gates to meet up with lots of local people from Erris and musicians from across Ireland; in total we form a group of well over 100 people. As the cyclists and people from the local community meet together our collective energy increases, and the mood is vibrant as we move towards the prison walls. While microphones and speakers are set up, a crew of people grab chalks write large messages of solidarity across the prison walls (which are apparently still there several days later). And then the music begins... Mickey Coleman plays first with a song he has written about Pat; he is followed by Jimmi Collen who traveled all the way from Wexford to participate in the concert. Local Erris musicians play traditional Irish folk and then the mic is opened up to the crowd and an eclectic international mix of musical genres follows. We know that Pat (who is in the open section of the prison) is able to hear us, but Niall (who currently remains in the more secure section) cannot. However, Niall knows we out here and we'll be sure to send him photos and letters describing it all soon. After the music, the whole demonstration gathers around the microphones and we send our support over the walls in a crescendo of shouts, whoops and hollers. When our voices finally quieten we hear Pat (and others) respond from behind the walls.... We roar again and, for a short period, we breach the walls with our voices and share direct communication with our friend inside.

 

The font might be bad but the message is clear

A couple of people who went to visit Pat and Niall that day then address the crowd. We are all silent as Niall's partner Carol delivers a powerful and heartfelt speech. She tells us that Niall is doing well, but that she knows this is in no small part due to the support he is receiving from the outside. She tells us how EVERY letter makes a difference; she says it doesn't matter if you don't really know what to say, even a few sentences simply saying that you know the situation and that you care is enough. Both Pat and Niall sent out a big thank-you message to everyone supporting them.

Later, we break round the back of the prison into the ''no entry” area to try and make some noise that Niall will hear... Finally, we head to Topaz for a quick musical occupation and another chorus of “Topaz – My Ass. We all know it's Shell” before heading back to our generous host for more soup and music round the camp fire.

 

Topaz my ass - We all know it's Shell !

A final note: Maybe you're reading this blog because your son/daughter or a friend is on the ride, or maybe you found it randomly... Whoever you are, if you could put 5 minutes of your life to writing a card to Pat and Niall it would be super appreciated. Both men are warm and generous people, and they shine with integrity; they deserve our support. It can be hard to know what to write to someone you've never met, but, as Carol stressed, it is the gesture of writing that counts, even if you just write simply to say you read this blog and wanted to say hi... that would be enough. For more information about their imprisonment check out:

Pat O'Donnell's imprisonment
Niall Harnett's  imprisonment

Niall Harnett/Pat O Donnell,
Castlerea Prison,
Harristown,
Castlerea,
County Roscommon,
Ireland

And finally, here's a video of the solidarity concert made by some of the Madrid to Mayo cycle ride crew LaRevuelta, :-)