Recognise the heroes in your life

A Letter from Ireland

a Chara,

They say you should never meet your heroes, but I meet my heroes every day.

Ordinary people who have done extraordinary things. Some are well known, many are not. They stood in the face of adversity, persisted, and made a difference. n

This week I travelled to Belfast with Larry Downes, a great friend and counsel for many years. Friends of Sinn Féin would not be the organization that it is without Larry. I left him in the company of another good friend and headed to Áras Uí Chonghaile.

Áras Uí Chonghaile (James Connolly Visitor Centre) is on the Falls Road in Belfast. A centre dedicated to maintaining the legacy of the labour leader and Irish Revolutionary James Connolly. The centre was made possible by the support of US labour leaders including Terry O’Sullivan and John Samuelsen. I hope to see both in Ireland in the coming weeks. Key to developing the centre was Rita O’Hare. She was passionate about a project that she would never get to visit.

I met with Gerry Adams and Richard McAuley—neither need an introduction. While having a coffee with my brother, a familiar face looked in the window. It was Gerry McDonnell who escaped from Long Kesh and was subsequently caught and imprisoned in Britain. We have a mutual friend, and it was good to catch up.

When traveling to Belfast I had missed a call from Ciarán Staunton. Like Larry, Ciarán had been central to Friends of Sinn Féin in the USA. He remains a powerful advocate for Irish unity, the rights of our diaspora and has saved countless lives with his campaign on Sepsis awareness.

Ciarán wanted to talk about the new Falls Community Councils. The new centre had been opened by Special Envoy Joe Kennedy the week previous. Ciarán and Niall O’Dowd, publisher of the Irish Voice, had travelled up for the official opening. n

St. Comgall’s at the foot of the Falls Road was derelict for over 25 years. Now refurbished, the new centre is named after the former director of Falls Community Council Eileen Howell. n

Eileen gave me my first real job as a community researcher and trainer in the early 1990s. She knew the reality of life in West Belfast, the poverty, unemployment, repression, and poor housing. All associated with decades of discrimination. The conflict played out on our streets.

At the time the British Government was refusing to talk to Sinn Féin and blacklisting community organisations. The British government was opposed to community led economic and social projects which were critical of government policy.

Eileen never bowed to government. Our proposals had to be of the highest standard and beyond challenge by government agencies looking any excuse to reject.

She saw in the St. Comgall’s site a centre of excellence for the community. Unfortunately, Eileen did not live to see it completed.

Áras Uí Chonghaile and Ionad Eileen Howell stand as fitting tributes to two incredible women. The most unmanageable of revolutionaries. The buildings are alive with the heroes of today.

Have a great weekend and recognise the heroes in your life.

Is mise,


Ciarán Quinn is the Sinn Féin Representative to North America. Each week he writes a letter from Ireland with news and analysis. It is featured in the weekly Friends of Sinn Féin USA Newsletter. Be sure you are subscribed to stay up to date.