Saturday: Irish night at the Labour Club: Family, friends and supporters celebrate truth together
The third and final formal event of the Manning Truthfest (discounting the communal breakfast expedition on Sunday morning on the way to the ferry) was a truly collaborative effort between the family home team and their visiting supporters. Chelsea’s relatives had organised the night in their local social club, decorated it on an Irish theme, donned hats, wigs and costumes to match and conjured up a buffet feast that definitely wasn’t going to run out. In addition, Chelsea’s Mum Susan had donated a beautiful and striking wall-hanging she had made to be raffled and Tydfil Morgan of the local Women’s Institute had kindly sewn on a backing. Long-time WISE Up activists Genny and Ciaron brought along their Manning banners, an info stall and a donations bucket, while the Irish crew provided everything else: music, poetry and performance.
It’s hard to put the magic of the evening into words, but it had a lot to do with the power of people coming together for a common cause that all are deeply connected to in one way or another, as well as being open to all the emotions such a gathering can elicit, from the lighthearted and celebratory to the serious, angry and determined. From the moment we arrived, with the newly formed Truthfest band (watch out for them – they’re going far!) practising in a corner to the very end of the night, the spirit of Chelsea Manning and the example set by her commitment to truth-telling were with us and made this an unforgettable experience.
Donal O’Kelly, who conceived the idea of a Irish-Welsh Truthfest after meeting members of the Manning family in Dublin last November, did the introductions.
Sorcha Fox performed extracts from her poetic work Who Am Ireland? She spoke of the inspiration – and anger – that came after she visited those resisting the Shell Corrib gas project at Rossport on the west coast of Ireland. The project, a disaster for the local environment, has been delayed for years by the determined locals and the many outside supporters who have joined in the resistance effort. Like Rossport, the solidarity network building between Ireland and Wales in support of Chelsea Manning is also bringing diverse and far-flung people together; both Rossport and the local Pembrokeshire port of Milford Haven are adversely affected by oil and gas corporate interests, and both Rossport and Pembrokeshire have Broadhaven bays – our accommodation for the weekend was at Broadhaven.
It was the courage of the people in Rossport to be true to who they were, recognise wrong and stand for what they believed to be right against a tidal wave of state intimidation and pressure that inspired my poems. Chelsea Manning has the courage to be who she is and to act according to her conscience despite that tidal wave of opposition. As a woman and an activist that is truly inspiring.
Brian Fleming, also a consummate percussionist, performed extracts from his one man show Has Yis No Homes To Go To?
It all began with a phone call from the president of Clowns Without Borders Ireland. He was asking me to go on an expedition to Rwanda.
“I’m not a clown.”
“It’s OK, I need a musician.”
“It’s Africa, man. Why would you want to bring a drummer to Africa?”
“Well, we used to work with an African musician before, but he disappeared.”
Brian spoke afterwards about his experience of Truthfest:
It was a life affirming weekend full of laughing and learning. As artists, journalists or activists, we always hope we can make some little difference. Often we have to settle for some abstract aspiration that what we’re doing is on the right track. This weekend it felt very tangible. It was a privilege to be able to sit shoulder to shoulder with the Fox family and lighten their burden for a few hours.
Later, Brian reappeared as the caller for the Truthfest ceilidh. The couples teamed up for the first dance: Chelsea’s Mum and Ciaron; Chelsea’s aunt and the retired headmaster; another aunt and Fluffy, who’d impressed everyone with his dancing Friday night; an uncle and cousin; some of the Irish crew and more, including the elderly gatecrasher in the white coat, apparently an off-duty stripper…
In between all this, the Truthfest band came into their own, all on stage at once and in various combinations. It was hard to believe that most of them had never played together before. As well as own compositions, there were plenty of well-known Irish tunes to sing along and dance to.
Towards the end of the evening, we drew the Truthfest raffle for Susan’s tiger wall-hanging, having sold £160 worth of tickets in two days. The prize went to Eve, who goes to bingo with Chelsea’s mum and aunties and who’ll be celebrating her 70th birthday next week. She drew the next ticket for one of RoJ Whelan’s FREE BRADLEY MANNING CDs, won by Robin Donnelly of Newport.
Other funds raised over the weekend were £380 in tickets for Saturday night, the vast majority sold by the family, and £230 in donations and CD sales, a total of £770 in all with the raffle takings. This money will go to the Manning Family Fund to help family members with the ongoing costs of prison visits. You can donate here:
A record of the evening wouldn’t be complete without a few photos of the Little People spotted in attendance.
As our visitors left to return to Ireland on Sunday, pictured here with members of Chelsea’s family on Fishguard Quay, there was plenty of talk of organising other events in the future.
As Sorcha has said:
It was a very special weekend and a privilege to be able to celebrate truth and the courage of Chelsea Manning with her family and friends. Chelsea’s family have had little cause to celebrate over the past few years with the outrageous severity of Chelsea’s sentence and the torture she has undergone. To be able to celebrate her courage and not forget what motivated her actions in her home town was fantastic. May it be the first of many solidarity events between Ireland and Wales.
More photos on flickr.