Mythic River

After seven years campaigning the Republic of Ireland legislated a ban on fracking the land in 2017, in the only private member’s bill  to ever pass in the Dáil.  Just over the border, the company vanquished at the eleventh hour from doing a test drill is trying it on all over again. Lack of planning permission was the obstacle last time and now they are making moves to gain those permissions. All within five miles of the border with the Republic of Ireland. The country with a fracking ban down river from where they want to frack. Because they want to drill within miles of the source of the River Shannon, the longest river on this island, the one that runs right down the country, meandering inland and then emptying herself into the Atlantic Ocean in Limerick. The impact is particularly potentially catastrophic since Ireland’s economy is mostly agriculture and tourism. Put hundreds of fracking drill pads across southwest Fermanagh and you destroy not just local lives and livelihoods. You impinge upon a geopark, an area that UNESCO reckons should be recognised and conserved because it is part of the world’s heritage.  We keep its heritage – both natural and built – not just for ourselves but for everyone. And so we are resolved to continue doing so.


Shannon

A river runs through us all

crossing borders underground, in secret,

stealthily raising Her watery head

over The Pot’s lip.

She streams quietly over that parapet,

slips down the rocky slopes.

Breathing easier, she eddies and flows

around Lough Allen, stretching out, 

flexing her new muscle, 

swimming across the Midlands,

stroke upon stroke to meet

the Atlantic Ocean.

What story do we tell ourselves?

How Síonnan reversed

all the Elders’s spells?

The old magic had its strength

before the stench of guilt,

its shiny shaming,

greed grabbing for me and mine, 

absconding before any blame

could be laid, or blood shed.

That, too, is a river.

Just as long.

Poison still circulates

because its the law of flow.

The more dilute, 

the more it lays waste.

What happens upriver

will never stay there.

That’s not just a story.

It’s how a river’s nature goes.

Copyright 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Don’t Frack With The Fairies

It has been ten years since we were first alerted to the fact that this pristine area of the world, a large part of which has the UNESCO recognition for its unique international significance for its natural, as well as built, heritage was under threat from fracking. A good chunk of the what geologists call the Lough Allen Basin lies within the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. It is an international, cross-border venture. As was the initial campaign to prevent drilling in Fermanagh, in Boho back in 2014. At the eleventh hour it was discovered no planning application had ever been made on the quarry drill site. Mark Durkin, the Northern Ireland Secretary of the Environment, ordered that drilling was not possible.

In the meantime, in the Republic of Ireland, activists put through the first ever private member’s bill to ban fracking in the Republic. Just last week the Republic of Ireland was the second nation in the world to declare a Climate Emergency. Much research concludes that the fracking process is catastrophic to the environment. Not only that. Our natural gas isn’t even that good quality.

This week Fermanagh’s newspaper The Impartial Reporter, announced that Tamboran, the corporation vanquished five years ago, has begun the planning application process to frack 600 square kilometers of southwest Fermanagh.https://www.impartialreporter.com/news/17631493.fracking-licence-to-cover-over-600-square-kilometers-of-fermanagh/

This application covers miles of boundary with the Republic. If the whole Brexit worry over the border wasn’t enough, now we have to worry about genocide by enviromentocide. This move feels provocative to me, coming at this time while the Brexit negotiations grind on and the wrangle about how to handle the contentious boundary.

But be in no doubt. Fracking has a well-documented adverse effect on public health, and a negative impact on agriculture and tourism. That’s the backbone of our economy for the many and it will be destroyed. Fracking is another 1% move on destroying people in the name of profit for the very, very few.

But what was miraculous in the campaign against the frackers five years ago, is that it united the population and cut across the sectarian divide. Because everyone here loves the land. And the land herself was under attack. It is again.

So poetry practice meets agitprop today. The new poetry form I found is, appropriately, an Irish one, the treochair. It is made up of tercets, or three line stanza of 3-7-7 syllables. The first and third lines are meant to rhyme and alliteration is strongly encouraged.

Whether you are a fairy agnostic or not, be in no doubt that they helped us upset the Tamboran plan last time. We are allies in this fight.

Don't Frack With the Fairies

Fermanagh
Don't frack with the fairies!
It's a toxic formula.

Forsooth! Frack
at your peril. Don't let loose
cracking egomaniacs.

Believe you me,
Tamboran will have no luck
tampering with those tinies.

Just listen!
It's just never healthy
to snort, give out derision.

Not so wee
The Good Folk. Or the Auld Ones.
Call them as they may be.

Whatever
your position on fairies
this is a doomed endeavour.

Fermanagh
The planet needs patching up.
Join the Fairy Fianna!

Mother Earth
Needs all of us as allies
protecting purity's worth.

Frack fairies?
The truth? Their revenge will mean
apocolyspe, catastrophe.

Not just for
us, or you, or family.
Fracking is forevermore.



Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Some Mornings…

Some mornings you should definately have had your tea before looking at what is in the newsfeed. A friend who lives here in Ireland, but is from Preston, Lancashire, shared a Daily Mail Online news clip about the four minor earthquakes noted in Blackpool a week after controversial fracking re-commenced. Blackpoolsuffers four earthquakes. The fracking company, Cuadrilla, was ordered to cease in 2011, after two earthquakes were over 2.3. Given that the nuclear power station, Sellafield, is just  73 kilometres (or 45 miles) up the coast from Blackpool, it is worrying. The Republic of Ireland opted to ban fracking last year after vigourous campaigning. From the research we did of evidence of fracking in the USA, earthquakes are not uncommon and continue to escalate in Richter rate. In Arkansas, they continued for six months  before the earth settled down after companies were ordered to cease fracking.

And it did put a pall over the day. I am a baby boomer. We are congenitally programmed to be anxious about anything nuclear going  ‘pop.’ I lived in Yorkshire after Chernobyl and many upland farmers in the north of England simply could not market their sheep for a number of years because the rain that weekend had been too radioactive. There are all kinds of radioactive fallout.

 

Some Mornings

 

Some mornings you awaken

with a layer less skin.

The earthquakes in Lancashire

sends shivers in ripples

from Granny’s spinal fractures.

I remember there is

a nuclear reactor

just up the coast from there.

Flashback to telly ads

from the 1980s –

Protect and Survive! Or not.

Far is always too near.

A pall falls, despite autumn

rusts and golds and mist.

 

Then I hear the raw crying.

See whooper swans have come back.

Hear wildness in harsh voices.

Hug hard their absolute grace.

 

Copyright © Bee Smith 2018

 

 

 

Featured Photo

Frack Off!

AgitProp: it’s an old term I first heard back in the 1980s. It’s shorthand for Agitation and Propaganda. Which is what Resist and Persist comes down to. This week, the Republic of Ireland banned on-shore fracking. In a time where many feel oppressed by darkness and powerlessness, let me tell you a story to put some hope in your reservoir. Because people from a small county in a small country have put a ban on fracking into law this week.

In a time when people doubt the veracity of many stories, let me tell you what I witnessed these past seven years living here as I do in a village half in Cavan and half in Leitrim. I attended the very first meetings organised to resist fracking in what we felt was a profoundly toxic threat to a pristine environment, with a lot of areas of special scientific interest. You don’t put a geopark in a region that does not have 4star environmental credentials. Moreover, most of the economy was reliant on agriculture and tourism. Life and livelihoods were at stake here.

In 2010, the Leitrim Observer ran a story about how the Lough Allen Gas Basin was ripe for exploitation by international companies prospecting for natural gas using this new-fangled  hydraulic fracturing. Leitrim is rural and the most sparsely populated in the Republic; in the past it has been not wealthy and its land considered poor quality, except for raising cattle. Land was cheap, which is why it had attracted a number of ‘blow-ins’ from around the globe, many artists amongst them.

Leitrim has a proud political past, with Séan mac Diarmuda, one of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation of Indepence, being it’s most famous son. So when the Frackers came to town these were no ordinary hayseeds. They were politically savvy, well-educated, and, with the recession, many under-employed with time on their hands. Leitrim was also a national centre for organic horticuture and agriculture training. So there were plenty environmentally aware land lovers in the demographic.

By June 2010 the first meetings were held to investigate what this might mean to our rural idyll. While I have a friend who jokes that Irish politics runs on schism, I won’t say it was all smooth sailing at the beginning. But what came about was a unified resolve to resist and each individual came to play to their strengths. Some researched legislation in Ireland and the EU. Some scoured the internet for scientific research. Some looked at planning laws. Musicians wrote songs, cut CDs and sold them to fundraise. Artists designed t-shirts and sold them to raise awareness and fundraise. Sculptors, poets, singers, Irish dancers, photographers, film makers – all used their talents to raise awareness and spread the word. School children drew pictures that were posted in local libraries. My local GP joined the fray and concerned medical practitioners also got on side. People raised petitions and wrote to TDs and just about any media outlet to get it on the national agenda. Newletters colated information and were disseminated by email.

Social media linked us and spread information on research and international developments. Social media was important in keeping us connected. North American speakers came to Ireland to share their experiences in public meetings.

But what brought a lump to my throat was seeing the Tahany Dance Academy presentation set to The Lord of the Dance at The Upset Art Exhibtion, June 2012, in Drumshambo. Irish dancers from age four right up to teenage danced a story of farmers seeing off the frackers, not falling for the lure of big cheques, and retaining solidarity with their cattle and the land. You can see a video of it on You Tube at https://youtu.be/lpzjmEZK31w?list=RDlpzjmEZK31w

When you have kids telling a story in a traditional art, you just know you are on to a winner. How could we fail these kids? But there was plenty graft ahead.

And then the Frackers didn’t come to Leitrim. They decided to try their luck out first in Fermanagh, over the border in Northern Ireland, which comes under UK jurisdiction.  Bear in mind that there was a hard border with a military presence up until 2002 in Belcoo, where Tamboran wanted to do their test drill.

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There were meetings and demonstrations in Enniskillen. There was plenty of cross-border information sharing and support. When Farmers Against Fracking held a slow-mo tractor rally from Fermanagh to Stormont, farmers in potentially affected border counties joined the ranks.

A Protection Camp was formed outside the Belcoo quarry where Tamboran were planning to do the first test drill in Northern Ireland. And the Wednesday night session at Frank Eddies pub just moved up to the camp to entertain the campers. Since it was school holidays, many children were resident. Police presence was softly, softly. Indeed, when I was up at the Protection Camp I recognised a woman police officer I had spoken to at length about the experience of fracking in my home state of Pennsylvania. Friends knew police officers who had family connections with farming, too, and felt personally conflicted about having to ‘protect’ the frackers from the Protectors.

It looked very bleak. And then there was a Ten Minutes to Midnight Miracle.

Two weeks before the deadline (Tamboran had obtained a six month extention to test drill that was just about to expire) some brilliant, tenacious voluntary researcher hit gold. The quarry had never received official planning permission. Hasty court hearings determined that a full planning hearing would have to take place. It went up to the Environment Minister for Nothern Ireland, Mark Durkin. The drill pads were on the move to start at 6pm. Tweets reported photos of the drill pads on huge lorries at the roundabout in Manorhamilton, Leitrim at 5:30pm.

And then Durkin ruled that they could not drill! Tamboran had run out of time. They had had their extention and now time was up. The lorries had to turn around at that roundabout twenty miles from their target destination.

A region that had known sectarian paramilitary tension and action a decade earlier found a unity of purpose in saying ‘Frack Off Fermanagh.’ When a Service of Thanksgiving was held at the Protection Camp, there were Roman Catholic and Anglican priests officiating and the Letterbreen Silver Flute Band made the music! To have imagined something like that happening prior to the Good Friday Agreement in 1997 would have felt sheer fantasy bordering on lunacy. But here everyone was, being respectful of all traditions, united in a love of the land.

So that felt like the second miracle.

Northern Ireland isn’t included in this ban. The frackers did a test drill in Woodburn Forest in Antrim that could not be fended off, but hit water soon enough. Which was a bit of a no-brainer since the drill site was about 500 metres from the North Belfast City Reservoir. (Yes! Let’s drill for gas right next to where drinking water is reserved. How smart is that?!) Ireland is really unsuitable for the process. The land is so soggy you can trampolene on it!

What the frackers had not taken into account were the rural communities they proposed to invade who had plenty of savvy, wit, grit and sheer graft to offer to head them off. There were also lots of people here who are very skilled at getting ‘hard at the prayin’.

It’s taken seven years to get this ban.

It’s not perfect and it’s not completely over. We don’t know what might happen ‘up North’ especially now that Arlene Foster’s DUP is propping up the Tory administration in the UK; Foster’s husband is alleged to have some prime acreage ripe and ready for frackers. There are off-shore concerns not covered in the bill, which was the first private member’s bill to pass in the Dáil.  Yet, against many odds, it has happened. It has been no mean feat.

This is a story of resist and persist that I want to share. We need to know these proud stories of people not being mowed down or cowed by those who assume they are more powerful and more entitled to have their way over our say.

Ben Okri says of story  in A Way of Being Free

In a fractured age, when cynicism is god, here is a possible heresy: we live by stories, we also live in them…We live stories that either give our lives meaning or negate it with meaninglessness. If we change the stories we live by, quite possibly we change our lives.

The story we had inside of us was a love of the land. The story we had inside us was that it was worth protecting. The story we made was that everyone had a talent to give in some way to help make it happen.

And it happened. And that gives me hope.