Taking Centre Stage – Bray People, September 10 2016

In part one of this special report, Amy Lewis looks at Wicklow’s role in the film industry – who works in it, what it means for the garden County and what can be done to improve it.

Wicklow has served as the backdrop for hundreds of big-name films and TV series and the county has certainly reaped the rewards.

It is estimated that the film industry is worth €70m to the Wicklow economy. However, Wicklow Film Commissioner Vibeke Delahunt reckons that the reality is much higher.

‘Unfortunately there is a lack of data available. We have heard very conservatively that it could be worth about €70m every year but I think it is much more,’ she explained. ‘The industry has a huge ripple effect across the county and its services.’

Following the construction of Ardmore Studios in 1958, more international and homegrown producers began to flock to the county. Recognising the county’s potential in the world of film, Wicklow County Council looked to our neighbours in the states for ideas on to harness it and allow it to flourish. The result was the establishment of the Wicklow Film Commission in 1992 – the first of its kind in the country.

‘Because Wicklow was unique in Ireland with Ardmore, and now also with Ashford, it was felt by the county manager at the time that setting one up would be good for economic development and promoting Wicklow.’

The Wicklow Film Commission’s roles include promoting the county as a film location, liaising with filmmakers and providing them with various services and facilities.

‘We have had up years as well as down years such as in the 1990s and even after 2000. But in the last five or six years, production based here has gone up,’ said Vibeke, who added the opening of Ashford Studios and additional Film Factory at Ardmore means that production is going up all of the time.

Wicklow’s long showreel of films includes ‘Braveheart’, ‘Michael Collins’, ‘Excalibar’, ‘The Guard’, ‘Dancing at Lunasa’ and ‘Breakfast on Pluto’, while TV shows ‘The Tudors’, ‘Penny Dreadful’, ‘Ripper Street’, ‘Mooneboy’ and ‘Raw’ have also used Wicklow as their stage. There are a number of reasons why film and TV producers flock from across the globe to Ireland’s Garden County.

‘Rich tax incentives here have a lot to do with foreign productions filming here,’ she explained. ‘They also need to work out of a studio and we have the main two in the country here. Wicklow also has well-trained, experienced and talented crew, along with a wide range of locations that can double up for other places in Europe. All of these elements come together and that is recognised internationally.’

It’s a case of a lot done, a lot more to do. The Wicklow Film Commission is currently working at addressing any skills gaps by consulting with people in the industry. A recent introductory course to ‘hairdressing on a film set’ marked the beginning of this. It saw twelve trained hairdressers get to grips with working on a film set under the instruction of Vikings hairdresser Dee Corcoran.

Developing Wicklow County Campus at Clermount by expanding the number of film-related courses on offer is the next step in addressing these skills shortages.

‘We are looking at different sectors at the moment,’ said Vibeke. ‘We have been told by people in the industry that we need more trained people in props, model-making, prosthetics and electricians for example.’

‘There’s also a lot of work we could do for schools to incorporate film into the school curriculum.’

Another welcome move is the application for expansion at Ashford Studios.

‘We are very excited about Joe looking to expand and we support him in his work. It’s great to have a local man looking to develop infrastructure which we badly need. They are turning away work because they don’t have the space,’ she said.

‘There are a lot of interesting projects at the moment,’ said Vibeke. ‘We have ‘Into the Badlands’ and ‘I Killed Giants’ filming at the moment.’

(First published in the Bray People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.independent.ie/regionals/braypeople/news/taking-centre-stage-35026806.html)

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Angling boost for Wexford – Wexford People, September 3 2016

An estimated 240 competitors will hope to reel in some success this November when they flock to Wexford’s coastline for the 2016 World Shore Angling Championships.

Teams of anglers from countries across the globe will compete over a full week on beaches dotted along the Wexford coast. This year’s event, which is organised by the Irish Federation of Sea Anglers, will prove to be particularly significant as it is the first time that an Irish all-female team will take part.

Kilgorman, Ballinoulart, Morriscastle, Ballineskar, Curracloe, White Hole, Ballyhealy, Rostoontown, Rosslare Strand and Burrow have been earmarked as suitable beaches for the competition, along with Wicklow North beach and Woodstown in Waterford. Decisions on where competitors are to cast their lines will be determined according to tides on the day.

While competitors will arrive from faraway shores such as South Africa, Portugal and Spain, the Irish team will include some anglers from much closer to home. Killinick man Martin Howlin will serve as team captain while Courtown’s Joe Byrne is also one of the team members. On the women’s team, Jane Cantwell from Wexford town will fly the flag for her county.

Commenting on the upcoming championships, Martin Howlin said that Wexford were very lucky to get the opportunity to host it.

‘We had the bid against other parts of Ireland so it is great that we were awarded the opportunity to hold it in Wexford,’ said Martin, who will serve as team captain for the second time. ‘The beaches in Wexford are very suitable for hosting major championships as the beaches are very even so nobody has one real advantage against another.’

Martin and Joe also fished in the competition last year and helped the Irish team to take home a gold medal. Martin said that the Irish team should have a good chance of taking a medal this year.

Organised by the Irish Federation of Sea Anglers in association with Abbey Tours and hosted by the IFSA Leinster Branch, the championship will run for a full week from November 12 to 19, with many of the competitors and their families expected to arrive a week early to practice. This will be the second time that the Championships are to be held in Wexford, as the first one of its kind took place in the county.

Business Development Manager with Abbey Events Greg Carew said that their visit will provide a huge boost for the local economy.

‘We estimate that it will result in 3,000 bed nights for Wexford. Considering that it is midweek and mid-November, this will be fantastic for the town,’ he said. ‘We hope to make a good impression and hopefully, attract similar events here in the future.’

The event will kick off on Saturday November 12, with a parade of the nations through Wexford town and an opening ceremony at the National Opera House. This year, three new nations will take part: Poland, Cyprus and Turkey.

The parade will be followed by a dinner in Clayton White’s Hotel, where all of the participants will be based for the week. A training day will be held on Sunday before the lines are cast on Monday and the competition officially begins. Competitors will aim to land as many points as possible each evening during the hours of 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. as they fish for species such as dab, flounder, plaice, turbot, whiting, bass and cod, among others. They will be awarded points based on species, size and number of fish caught.

Along with assisting with the organisation of fishing event, Abbey Tours will also facilitate some local tours to sites of interest for visitors who wish to get a glimpse of the county.

In a written address to the competitors, President of the Irish Federation of Sea Anglers Pat Walsh said that the fishing in Wexford ‘is some of the best Europe can offer’.

(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/angling-boost-for-wexford-35006837.html)

Wexford group raise an incredible €191,118 for Nepal victims – New Ross Standard, July 16 2016

Eight Wexford trekkers escaped with their lives when they were caught up in the devastating Nepal earthquake last year and in an effort to give something back, they raised €191,118.72 for its victims.

Following several large fundraisers including a concert in the National Opera House and a Midsummer’s Night Ball in Whites, the group donated the money to Trócaire, who pumped it back in to rebuilding Kathmandu. They soon got people from across the county on board and according to one of the eight trekkers Joan Etchingham, it was their generosity and goodwill that made the fundraising initiative as successful as it was.

‘We were completely blown away by the generosity of individuals, groups and businesses in Wexford,’ she said. ‘Everyone was overwhelmed with the amount of support from everyone in Wexford. They did everything, from giving us a fiver to putting on an event to donating their money from birthday parties. We couldn’t have done a fraction of it without their support.’

Concerts, sponsored walks, cake sales, garden parties and church collections were just some of the events that took place over the course of almost three months.

‘It took on a life of its own,’ said Joan. ‘Everyone just went hell for leather when they were hearing about the earthquake on the news. It took us a while to realise how much we had raised and it was only when it all came together that we realised how much of a success it was.’

The eight Wexford trekkers caught up in the quake, which killed more than 8,500 people and made hundreds of thousands homeless, were: Catherine Jordan, Mary Moran, John Nolan, Jimmy Morrissey, Fr. Tom Dalton, Jim McGillicuddy, Ger Colfer and Joan Etchingham.

On witnessing the devastation that occurred all around them, from which they escaped unharmed, they decided they needed to help.

‘We experienced extreme kindness and help from local people in Nepal,’ said Joan. ‘We wanted to repay the kindness that they had shown us.’

The money that the group raised has gone towards building wells for clean water, supplying tents for shelter and providing food, among other things.

The eight trekkers are considering returning to Nepal next year to see first hand where all of the money from Wexford has gone.

‘We would obviously be paying for it ourselves. All of the money has gone to the charity,’ stressed Joan. ‘We would like to go back and see how things are going.’

(First published in the New Ross Standard newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.independent.ie/regionals/newrossstandard/news/wexford-group-raise-an-incredible-191118-for-nepal-victims-34875338.html)

Colm Neville on Brexit – Wexford People, July 9 2016

Chairperson of Visit Wexford Colm Neville believes that the recent Brexit decision is a source of huge concern for Wexford and the South East.

Exchange rates, economic uncertainty and the knock on effects of Brexit on the EU are three of the main concerns for Neville, who owns The Crown Bar, Riverside Park Hotel and the Portlaoise Heritage Hotel.

‘Possible recession in the British Economy would obviously affect the foreign travel choices of the British citizen and in turn potentially affect the number of British tourists coming to Ireland,’ he said.

‘There is nothing more disruptive and destabilising to markets and economics in general than uncertainty and the recent vote will have generated uncertainty in abundance. It’s impossible to know where this may lead and what the eventual ramifications it may have on the overall general Eurozone economy which is where our second biggest market comes from.’

According to Mr Neville, nobody can be certain what the outcome of Britain’s exit will be. He believes the most important thing to do is ‘stay calm’.

‘I believe that central Government should use the next couple of months as a cooling down period during which it should set up a dedicated taskforce of tourism industry and economic leaders with the express task of analysing the future and deciding how best to protect our tourism industry against the potential negative impact of Brexit,’ he said.

‘Losing our value for money is clearly one of our biggest threats and so we as an industry need to try and keep our costs of doing business under control and in turn remain price competitive.’

(First published in the Wexford People: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/business/chairperson-of-visit-wexford-colm-neville-34870373.html)

Wexford woman was moments away from bomb blasts – Wexford People, March 29 2015

A Wexford woman living in Brussels was only moments away from the devastating bombings in Maalbeek metro station as she made her daily commute to work last Tuesday.

Sarah Cooke O’Dowd from Glenville Road, Wexford left her home on the outskirts of the city at 9 a.m. just before news of the terrorist attacks broke. However, in what could only be described as an incredible moment of luck, she was running late for work that day.

‘Yesterday morning I was trying to get in on time but because I had a meeting, I went back to change my shirt. Then some of my friends started messaging me asking was I okay so that held me up a bit,’ she explained.

Unaware of what was taking place further down along her metro line, Sarah walked to her station and headed to work in the city. After four stops, the train came to a halt and everyone was asked to evacuate.

‘They didn’t give us any explanation. My friends were on Whatsapp telling me that there had been explosions at the airport,’ she said. ‘When we left, the police were outside and told everyone to move on. In the beginning I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know if it was a terrorist attack or not. It was very confusing.’

‘I started walking to the next station and then one of my colleagues rang me. She was closer to where the bombing took place and was very stressed and very panicked. We both started crying. She just said, “Sarah go home”‘.

Sarah was relieved to find that everyone she knew was safe after the attacks.

‘They were telling us not to be using telephones but of course, everyone was on Facebook right away. I was glad to see that nobody I knew had been hurt.’

With the metro service brought to a halt following the attacks last week, Sarah was forced to work from home for several days. Speaking on Wednesday afternoon, she said she hadn’t left her house since the attacks.

‘I haven’t been into town since yesterday so I don’t know what the mood is like in there at the moment. But from what I could see from people yesterday, they were very shocked and surprised,’ she said. ‘There has been an outpouring of solidarity and unity since it happened. When people couldn’t leave their offices to go to lunch, people put their stuff together. I know in my work they were trying to figure out how to get people who lived far away home.’

‘Everyone wants to show that we will face it together.’

Although she doesn’t believe that the problems in Brussels are over, Sarah said that she hopes the authorities begin to ‘get their act together’.

‘The problem has been going on for a long time and was never tackled very well. The Belgium system is very complicated with different communes and areas so a lot of information probably fell through the cracks and it was easy for people to get away with things.’

As an employee with Equinet – European Network of Equality Bodies, Sarah works to counteract discrimination on a range of grounds, including religion and ethnicity. She feels that any racial hatred against Muslim people in the aftermath of these attacks is ‘very unfair’.

‘I think people who have a certain message to send about closing borders will use this [the attacks] as an excuse. Muslim people are very peaceful and wouldn’t hurt a fly. It certainly isn’t their fault and it’s very unfair to point the finger. They are being used as scapegoats,’ she said.

‘The people behind these attacks want to create fear. But to stop living life is giving in. Belgian’s are very fun-loving people and I don’t think they are going to give that up.’

(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/wexford-woman-was-moments-away-from-bomb-blasts-34581962.html)

Evening of movie magic at Brooklyn premiere – Enniscorthy Guardian, November 7 2015

Make it happen.

Those were the words of author Colm Toibín when the chances of pulling off the Brooklyn premiere in his hometown appeared slim. Yet, make it happen they did. After months of lengthy discussions, problem-solving, technical issues and ballroom renovations, crowds of people finally converged on Enniscorthy to witness Brooklyn make its return home.

However, the true homecoming was the arrival of Colm himself, who served as guest of honour at the important event. For the proud Enniscorthy native, bringing the story back to his hometown was extremely important.

‘It’s just amazing coming back down here with the film and it’s great to see how the audience feels about it,’ he said. ‘It feels great to see places such as Johns Street, Court Street and the Athenaeum and to see the way that it’s captured and lit.’

Colm’s sense of pride in Enniscorthy was evident throughout the evening as he spoke to hordes of reporters and fans about his novel during numerous interviews and panel discussions.

‘First and foremost, the book is for people you know and the place you’re from,’ he said. ‘I think that really matters to everyone and it certainly matters to me.’

Although the novel version of Brooklyn is based in Enniscorthy, shooting the film in the town was not always a certainty. However, when Colm told the director to take a look at the place, the decision was soon made to set up the cameras there.

‘They had to pick the place that would work best for filmmaking,’ he explained. ‘The director went down on his own and drove around. He then said that we can shoot in the town and not only that, but we can shoot the beach scene in Curracloe. It looks absolutely fantastic. People all over the world will want to know if they can come to that beach.’

According to Colm, the Enniscorthy community couldn’t have been more welcoming to the film crew when they arrived to shoot the scenes. Brooklyn and its stars attracted plenty of attention from the local and wider community, particularly Saoirse Ronan, who plays Eilis in the film. Although she was unable to attend the premiere last week, Colm was quick to sing her praises as an actress.

‘She’s not anyone’s girlfriend, daughter or sister in this film. It’s her film and it’s a great part for her,’ said Colm. ‘We were really lucky that she was free to do it. She can do something in a second with her face that it takes me 30 pages to do. It’s been wonderful working with her.’

Based in 1950s Ireland, the film follows Eilis as she makes the journey from Enniscorthy to Brooklyn in search of a new life. Pervading throughout much of the movie is the theme of homesickness, which is partially based on the author’s own experiences.

‘I went to Texas and was there teaching for 14 weeks and I got a bit lonely. So, when I came back, the whole idea of what it is like for so many Irish people going away was on my mind. I then started the book,’ he explained. ‘It was my own life in that I had those feelings of wishing I was home and wanting to go home.’

The idea of experiencing and getting over homesickness is one that many people can relate to. Although Brooklyn is set in 1950s Ireland, Colm believes that it is just as relevant today

‘I don’t think it makes any difference whether you get a letter from home or Skype home. When the Skype is over and you close the computer, the feeling of “I’m here and they’re there” is still the same.’

Colm was not the only star to grace the red carpet at the Riverside Park Hotel for the occasion. Also present on the night was actress Eve Macklin, who plays Diana, and Gary Lydon, who stars as Mr Farrell in the film. Commenting on his involvement with Brooklyn, Gary said that he was honoured to be part of it.

‘There’s a sense of pride that people are talking about your home place,’ said Gary, who grew up in Wexford.

According to Gary, who came to the event with his two sons, the film should be commended for its bravery.

‘It stays with the characters and doesn’t feel the need to be brash or try to sell the film. It trusts the characters and trusts the story and that will make it successful,’ he added.

Chairman of Enniscorthy Municipal District Cllr Paddy Kavanagh echoed the thoughts of all in attendance when he said that he was ‘immensely proud’ of Colm.

‘I’m delighted that he brought it back to his own,’ he said. ‘The reviews so far are all positive. Wouldn’t it be fabulous for Enniscorthy if Brooklyn won an Oscar? It’s mindboggling, actually, the potential that it has if it goes to the top.’

(First published in the Enniscorthy Guardian: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.independent.ie/regionals/newrossstandard/news/evening-of-movie-magic-at-brooklyn-premiere-34163198.html)

Sheer desperation of migrants, Wexford People, September 8 2015

Europe’s current refugee crisis has been dubbed the largest since WWII, with a record number of 107,500 asylum seekers crossing the EU’s borders in July.

According to the UNHCR, one in every 122 people in the world is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. Between the first quarters of 2014 and 2015, there was an 86 per cent increase in the amount of people claiming asylum in Europe.

Kosovars, Afghans and Syrians like the Kurdi family made up half of the asylum seekers.

According to Wexford man Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director for Amnesty International, we need to understand why these people are fleeing their home countries.

‘A lot of people use the term ‘migrant’ to describe these people. They aren’t migrants coming over here to find a better job or find a better life. They are people fleeing persecution and barbarity,’ he said.

David Williams, Manager of Media Relations with GOAL and another Wexford native, believes that people need to make the distinction, though he feels that recent media attention regarding the issue is increasing awareness.

‘People are beginning to distinguish between economic migrants and refugees,’ he said. ‘Some people come into a country looking to earn money and send it home, and that’s fine. Syrian refugees fall into a different category. It is important not to mix them up. People need to know that these refugees have no choice.’

The decision of these people to take perilous journeys with their families highlights the sense of desperation that pervades their communities.

’12 million people have been displaced from their homes in Syria,’ said Mr. Williams. ‘They are living in old school buildings and mosques and some have no shelter at all.’

According to Mr. O’Gorman, these people should not have to resort to such dangerous means to find security.

‘Why were these people in the sea at all? If Europe provided safe and legal routes to people who are entitled under law to protection and asylum, we wouldn’t see the Mediterranean turning into a graveyard. It has been a graveyard for a number of years.’

Although he does feel that the EU have responded to the crisis, he does not believe that the correct measures have been taken.

‘The EU has reacted,’ he said. ‘The reaction has been to put up walls to prevent people from getting in here in the first place. I think their reaction has been disgraceful, a sham.’

Former Wexford-based MEP Avril Doyle also feels that no real progress has been made to solve the refugee crisis.

In 2001, the issue was tragically brought home to the local community, when the bodies of eight refugees were found in a container in Wexford Business Park. According to Ms. Doyle, there has been a ‘lack of progress in solving the problem causing the people to flee.’

‘There would appear to be a lack of resolve to sit down and talk,’ she said. ‘Only through talk will we resolve war.’

Despite these sentiments, Mr. O’Gorman believes that there is a need to acknowledge the positive work that has been done by Ireland in these countries, citing the efforts of the Irish Naval Service.

Operations carried out to date by LE Eithne and LE Niamh have involved the recovery of over 6,000 refugees and the rescue operation is set to continue as LE Samuel Beckett takes over from the LE Niamh at the end of September.

‘We at Amnesty have been providing humanitarian aid to these people for a number of years so that these people can stay in their neighbourhoods,’ said Mr. O’Gorman. ‘That’s what these people really want; they don’t want to flee.’

GOAL have also been running a programme in Syria since 2012, the biggest programme in GOAL history. Last week, they also launched a new campaign, titled ‘Now You Know’.

‘We are trying to let more people know about the conflict in Syria,’ said Mr. Williams. ‘We have put up a petition calling on EU leaders to do more in terms of the refugees and put pressure on leaders globally to solve the problem.’

Although Ireland has so far agreed to take in 600 refugees, this figure is expected to increase.

According to Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald, the number of refugees admitted by Ireland may treble following an emergency meeting of the European Commission next Monday, September 14.

Calls for the government to offer refuge to more than 600 people are widespread.

At the time of writing, over 28,000 signatures were on an online petition by Uplift calling on Taoiseach Enda Kenny “to commit to allowing thousands not hundreds of refugees seek refuge in Ireland”.

Despite strong support, there has been a small amount of public opposition, with some saying that we need to give priority to domestic issues.

Colm O’Gorman recognises that Irish problems such as the homelessness crisis must be acknowledged, but he feels that ‘the reality cannot be ignored.’

‘We can’t close our eyes and ears to what is going on,’ he said. ‘We understand emigration in face of crisis. We have a historic understanding of it.’

Avril Doyle is optimistic that Ireland will respond to the crisis but she believes that efforts need to be made immediately.

‘We have to start talking,’ she said. ‘It would be a push in the right direction. Otherwise we could be looking at it for years to come.’

The image of young Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach, struck a chord here in Wexford as elsewhere around the world, leaving many feeling helpless in the face of such a huge problem.

However, local efforts are being made which allow people in the Wexford community to lend their generosity.

One example is the efforts of Gary and Nicky O’Brian who are accepting donations at the People Support Centre on Mary’s Lane in Wexford town which will be delivered to refugees in Calais.

Accepted items include tents, clothes, toys and books, though food is not currently being taken in. According to Nicky, the campaign has already received a huge response.

‘It is unreal,’ she said. ‘We are already running out of space.’

She is urging anybody with donations to get in touch.

Among the other ways to get involved is Uplift’s “pledge a bed” campaign – a national campaign which has already seen 63 beds being offered in County Wexford.

(First published in the Wexford People: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/sheer-desperation-of-migrants-31516371.html)