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Merthyr to Mayo Solidarity Bike Ride: Green Kite Midnight at Castlerea Prison

By: 
Amelia Gregory

Irish activists Niall Harnett and Pat O'Donnell have been unjustly jailed at Castlerea Prison for daring to stand up to the might of Shell. We paid a solidarity visit en route to Rossport.

Written by Amelia Gregory

 

GKM Roadtrip Castlerea Prison

For the past 10 years the local community in Rossport, County Mayo, have been campaigning against plans to pipe raw untreated gas from an offshore well in the Corrib Gas Field through the beautiful unspoilt countryside to a refinery 9km inland. The pipeline will be the first of it’s kind in the world and despite assurances that nothing could go wrong the canny residents quickly smelled a rat. Refinery tailings have already poisoned Carrowmore Lake which supplies water to 10,000 people on the Erris peninsula, and many houses are situated in the “kill zone” – Shell consultants have conceded that those living within 200 metres of the pipeline “could burn spontaneously from heat radiation” in the event of an explosion from the highly flammable untreated gas. The current preferred route for the pipe takes it across a highly unstable bog. Hmmm, sounds very safe to me.

GKM Roadtrip Castlerea Prison

On top of this, the rights to profit from Irish resources were quietly signed away by the Irish government during the 80s and 90s (to the extent that extracting companies now have to pay less than 8% tax when compared with 50% in the UK and 78% in Norway), but despite this the Irish government has acted in complicity with Big Oil by placing compulsory purchase orders on furious local farmers. Quite apart from the human rights atrocities that are being inflicted on a daily basis against the residents of Rossport there is the need to preserve sites of spectacular beauty and of course lobby to leave fossil fuels in the ground in order to avert catastrophic climate change.

GKM Roadtrip Castlerea Prison
GKM Roadtrip Castlerea Prison

This is the backdrop against which locals and activists are campaigning against Shell in Rossport. Because of their actions two activists are currently imprisoned and it was in support of them that we went to Castlerea Prison.

GKM Roadtrip Castlerea Prison
GKM Roadtrip Castlerea Prison
Practicing our chants.
GKM Roadtrip Castlerea Prison

On numerous occasions local fisherman Pat O’Donnell has stood up to bullying by Shell despite numerous recorded assaults by the Gardai (Irish police) Last summer his fishing boat was boarded by masked men who held him at gunpoint and then sunk his boat.

Niall Harnett I know better – he’s a gentle giant of a man that I met at the Earth First gathering last year and I can’t imagine him harming a flea. He was sentenced earlier this year for alleged assault, an outcome that highlights the failings of the Irish judicial system, currently upholding the use of excessive force against ordinary citizens to appease the might of corporations.

For more on either of these cases I recommend that you read about Niall here and Pat here, but the main point is that we were at Casterea Prison as part of a prolonged campaign in support of these brave men, who have dared to stand up to the might of a multinational oil company.

GKM Roadtrip Castlerea Prison
GKM Roadtrip Castlerea Prison
GKM Roadtrip Castlerea Prison

Cycling en masse through the town we arrived to find the cheery faces of local supporters awaiting our arrival at the gates. A short cycle ride later through sun dappled fields of horses, and we were settled down for the sounds of a traditional band, who were soon joined by various musicians from the bike ride.

GKM Roadtrip Castlerea Prison
Lunch.
GKM Roadtrip Castlerea Prison
GKM Roadtrip Castlerea Prison
They can hear us!

The finale was a Green Kite Midnight ceilidh, against a backdrop of high concrete prison walls on which we had daubed some messages of solidarity in chalk. It was absolutely sweltering so thereafter I had to retire to a cool pub, but others continued and held a small dance in the local Topaz garage – in Ireland Shell has received so much bad press that all petrol stations have been renamed Topaz. This had led to the immortal phrase Topaz My Arse amongst the activists we were travelling with.

GKM Roadtrip Castlerea Prison
GKM Roadtrip Castlerea Prison
GKM Roadtrip Castlerea Prison
GKM Roadtrip Castlerea Prison
GKM Roadtrip Castlerea Prison
Pedals.
GKM Roadtrip Galway to Castlerea
Pub.

From Castlerea we took an extremely picturesque trip to Ballina the next day: some of us swum in a lovely lake, and we all clambered up an old castle we found along the way. I wish it had been easier to take photos as we rode because the Catholic roadside shrines are great, and I particularly love the way that all the signs are plonked on top of each other all higgledy-piggledy – never mind that you may not be able to read the ones beneath.

GKM Roadtrip Ballina
GKM Roadtrip Ballina
GKM Roadtrip Ballina
GKM Roadtrip Ballina lake
GKM Roadtrip Ballina lake
GKM Roadtrip Ballina
GKM Roadtrip Ballina castle
GKM Roadtrip Ballina castle

Ballina is the nearest big town to Rossport so many people there are involved with and support the struggle against Shell. We put our tents up in the back garden of a big house and were completely spoilt for dinner.

GKM Roadtrip Ballina
GKM Roadtrip Ballina
GKM Roadtrip Ballina
GKM Roadtrip Ballina
GKM Roadtrip Ballina
GKM Roadtrip Ballina
GKM Roadtrip Ballina castle
GKM Roadtrip Ballina

The next day our final leg began with a quick critical mass around Ballina, joyfully dinging our bells to the sounds of Madonna and co, as played by Pedals, the Bicycology sound system that is present at so many of our direct actions as amplification for my voice and the instruments in Green Kite Midnight. We even had time to briefly blockade a Topaz tanker on the way.

GKM Roadtrip Ballina
GKM Roadtrip Ballina Topaz
GKM Roadtrip Ballina Topaz
“I don’t give a shit about Rossport.” That is literally what this man said.

Yoga on the top of a coastal bluff at lunchtime was followed by the hardest part of the ride – struggling into the wind past multicoloured sheep across a long long moor. At the end we were again greeted by hot tea and huge amounts of home-cooked food, courtesy of the friendly locals. By this point I was starting to wonder if we deserved so much goodwill.

GKM Roadtrip Ballina to Rossport yoga
GKM Roadtrip Ballina to Rossport
GKM Roadtrip Ballina to Rossport
GKM Roadtrip Ballina to Rossport
GKM Roadtrip Ballina to Erris
GKM Roadtrip Ballina to Erris
GKM Roadtrip Ballina to Rossport
GKM Roadtrip Ballina to Erris
GKM Roadtrip Ballina to Erris
GKM Roadtrip Ballina to Erris

From then on it was but a quick pedal over to the half built refinery site, a testament to the power of Shell. The pipeline to feed the refinery is in no way ready to be built, let alone operate! After a bunch of rallying speeches we freewheeled most of the way down to the location of this year’s Rossport Summer Gathering.

GKM Roadtrip Shell Refinery
GKM Roadtrip Shell Refinery
GKM Roadtrip Ballina to Rossport Shell refinery

I’ve heard a lot about how gorgeous Rossport is but nothing could have prepared me for the view that greeted us as we struggled up one last steep rise…. No wonder everyone who comes here falls in love – it’s a beautiful wild place on the edge of the world.
GKM Roadtrip Rossport

GKM Roadtrip Rossport

Nothing between Glengad Beach and America. We erected our tents against a backdrop of billowing sand dunes humming with clattering biting (as I was later to discover) bugs and bird calls I have never heard before. Places like these desperately need our protection and I challenge anyone to visit Rossport and come away unmoved by the sheer beauty of the natural world. That evening we partied with the locals in the pub despite being half-asleep with exhaustion.

GKM Roadtrip Rossport
GKM Roadtrip Rossport
GKM Roadtrip Rossport donkeys
There are donkeys everywhere!

More about the Rossport Gathering in my next blog post.