100th march and Ballyhea remains defiant

It began as a pebble in the shoe of the ECB, but yesterday the refuseniks of Ballyhea rang up the 100th march against the bailout, continuing a display of defiance that shows no sign of stopping.

The chill wind would shake your bones and the inky sky threw down rain and hailstones, but more than 300 protesters — some from as far away as Rathoath in Co Meath and Fenit in Co Kerry — walked the route in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it village. The difference yesterday was the number of protesters stretched the length of the 60km/hr zone.

Led by Diarmuid O’Flynn, the protest movement that began in March 2011 is heading for its second anniversary. Yesterday’s march even attracted the attention of Al Jazeera and the message is as clear now as it was 100 Sundays ago: Ballyhea says no.

For Breda McCarthy, daughter Julie, and friend Yvonne Sugrue, it was at least their 10th appearance at Ballyhea — not bad given they live in Fenit and Ballybunion.

Julie will emigrate to Perth in Australia in July, joining her sister Deirdre who is already living there. It was a common refrain from many of the mainstays at the march: The slow loss of a younger generation to pay for the dents of others.

“It’s all connected,” Breda said. “As long as they keep paying bank debt, and even if they extend it out, it will be affecting our children.”

Breda’s sister, Mary Tobin, said the country’s shattered economy has meant different groups are left “looking for crumbs from the table”. By contrast, she feels Ballyhea is a unifier, a lightning conductor for change from the bottom up. Her three children were with her yesterday, but she said her brother and brother-in-law had already left Ireland with their families, unlikely to return.

Of the Government, she said: “History is going to judge them very harshly,” adding: “Everything achieved by this country was by the few.”

The marchers yesterday included Luke “Ming” Flanagan TD and what Mr O’Flynn called “a cross-section of society”. Watching from the sidelines was Fine Gael backbencher Peter Mathews, one of the speakers, who also included Declan Ganley at a meeting in Charleville the previous night that attracted 400.

Mr O’Flynn, the man behind the Ballyhea march and an Irish Examiner sports writer, said: “I wish it was over and we could all get our lives back. We are doing this because we have to do it.”

Cathleen Quealey, a regular at the Charleville events, agreed: “I think we have started something very special today.”

Mr O’Flynn said Irish people were being betrayed by their leaders when “we are the power”. Then, with no whopping or hollering, the march strung itself out along this stretch of the N20, people holding aloft their banners and placards, an almost silent show of defiance. After the accompanying march in Charleville, he said that Ballyhea had grown from “a little pebble in the show of the ECB” to “starting to become a real nuisance”.

Afterwards, as people thawed out in Geary’s pub, someone thanked Mr O’Flynn as they left and was told by way of a goodbye: “We’re only getting started.”

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