‘Derry has a lot to teach in hope and positivity’

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A social entrepreneur on a ‘Hitchhiking for Hope’ listening tour of Ireland has said the rest of Ireland can learn a lot from Derry.

Campaigner and member of Ireland’s Council of State, Ruairí McKiernan, is gathering information from people he meets on his tour before speaking at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties on July 29 and 30.

Having travelled up the west coast since July 1, taking in Connemara, Inishbofin island, Westport, Croagh Patrick, Achill Island, Belmullet, Sligo, Ballyshannon, Letterkenny, Ruairi arrived in Derry this morning.

“Derry is looking amazing at the moment and there’s such a great atmosphere around the city. The people are so friendly and welcoming and it is great to see such pride in what is truly a wonderful and special city,” he said.

He said the city had “transformed” since he last visited five years ago. “The mood is really fantastic, it look to have really turned a corner. From talking to the people, the City of Culture has given an injection of hope to Derry at the right time.”

Ruairi said that the city’s bouyant mood was unlike anything he’d been met with during his tour so far where he said “unemployment and emmigration had decimated communities”. “Derry is a city that has suffered more than most . . . it’s suffering and struggles have led to a spirit in the city that maybe is not so strong other places. Derry has a lot to teach others.”

Ruairí is relying on lifts, meals, offers of campgrounds and places to stay, as well as online donations, to make possible what he says is an effort at listening to different voices and visions which he says badly need to be heard. He is blogging as he goes on his website www.community.ie and updating his ‘hitching for hope’ facebook page and twitter account as he goes. These includes photos, video and audio recordings from his adventures during each day. Ruairí has also been connecting with people through radio stations as he goes and was a guest on BBC Radio Foyle today - he even hit the streets to carry out a vox-pop for the station as he sought the views of local people.

“The idea came about because I didn’t want to just go to the MacGill summer school and lecture people about my vision for the future. I think it is important to start listening to people and finding new ways of progressing the debate on what a new dream for this island might look like beyond the current narrow vision. I considered doing an online consultation but decided that it was better to try and get out there and meet people where they are at. I used to hitch-hike a lot when I was younger, and I know hitching is a dying transport choice, but I think it’s still an excellent way of meeting people, opening up conversations, and finding ideas for where to go next. I’m hopeful the goodwill of people will carry me through as much of the island as possible.

“I am blown away by the kindness, generosity and spirit of people everywhere I go. I am getting lifts no problem and have plenty of offers of places to stay and meals to share. People have been very open with me in sharing their stories. There’s a definite sense of disillusionment and despair out there but at the same time there is an increasing sense that the solutions for the future lie within the community and in people coming together to create change themselves. There has been a lot of talk of getting back to basics in terms of finding peace and happiness, and of making our voices heard when it comes to holding power brokers accountable. On the whole I think people are finding life difficult in many ways but that there is a huge resilience that is inspiring new conversations about where we can go from here. So many people are saying that a peaceful prosperous future is possible, one where politics is driven by people for people, and one that invests in clean green energy, food, farming and technology. I think we’re at a turning point in history and the future can be bright if we seize the moment to take action in bringing about the change we want to see.”

You can follow Ruairí’s progress on his hitching for hope Facebook page, on his blog at www.community.ie and on Twitter at @ruairimckiernan