About Don Mullan

About Don Mullan

Introduction

In 2014 the celebrated French photographer and filmmaker, Yann Arthus-Bertrand, director of the acclaimed movie ‘HOME’, invited Don Mullan to participate in his movie ‘HUMAN’.

Based on edited interviews with thousands of people from across the Earth, the movie is a unique insight into the collective human experience and a timely reminder – despite wars and weariness – of the bonds that connect us all.

In March 2017 Arthus-Bertrand publically stated that from an early stage in the ‘HUMAN’ project he had decided to end his movie with a section of Don’s interview. Mullan’s comments were an ode of gratitude for the gift of life, distilling the essentials of what it is to be Human on a journey that intersects and rhymes in what Mullan says, “all comes down to Love”.

You may access Mullan’s contribution to HUMAN by clicking here.

It is true that Mullan has witnessed much suffering and cruelty in the world. He has seen the impact of human greed and political domination that continues to plague the lives of the Earth’s most vulnerable people, as well as inflicting irreparable damage to delicate eco-systems upon which all life depends. Damage that is edging humanity ever closer to the threshold of no return.

Don Mullan in the Yann Arthus-Bertrand movie, HUMAN

And yet, Mullan has also been a witness to the nobility of the human spirit which, even in adversity and subjugation, stubbornly refuses to surrender our inalienable right to FREEDOM and DIGNITY. It is a determined and focused stubbornness that is giving birth to a new infusion of global activism that is determined to fight for humanity and the healing of the planet. It is an activism which reflects much of Mullan’s legacy and of what Hope Initiatives International is about and to which it is linked.

All human beings have a story. A story that intersects intimately with those closest to them, and which expands through the discovery that our hearts beat as one humanity.  Stories that are filled with triumph and tragedy, hate and love. And as part of that story, Mullan also learned that, perhaps, the greatest tragedy in life is the loss of hope.

“Sometimes,” wrote Albert Schweitzer, “our light goes out but is blown into flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light.” Don Mullan acknowledges the debt of gratitude he owes to many who, over the years, rekindled the light within.

Daytime on Earth as viewed from below the rings of Saturn – “We exist, literally, upon a moisturized speck of dust.”

“I am filled with awe,” Mullan has written, “when I ponder the fact that we exist, literally, upon a moisturized speck of dust in a fathomless Cosmos within which we are nothing but for our unique gift of consciousness. A speck which inspired the astronomer Carl Sagan to write his short, masterful, reflection entitled ‘The Pale Blue Dot’. I concur with Carl Sagan when he says, “… it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”’

It is in the sharing of our humanity that we find meaning in the universe and become more fully human.

Albert Schweitzer found his meaning in what he named “reverence for all life”. If humanity is to survive Schweitzer offers us a moral compass with which to challenge greed, racism, misogyny, fundamentalism and indifference. But reverence for life is not enough in and of itself. We must be agents of transformative hope, committed to the interlocking causes of Human Rights and Climate Justice.

This website is a window into the work for justice and humanity Mullan has, with the support of many diverse colleagues, at home and abroad, sought to do over four decades. There is still so much to do and retirement is not an option.

To those who have supported his work in the past, and to those who will support it in the future, Don Mullan sincerely says: “THANK YOU!”

About Don Mullan

L – R: Moya, Deirdre, Liam (at back), Don and Cathal

Don Mullan was born in 1956, the youngest of five surviving children of nine, born to Charles Mullan and Sarah Redden. He was born to a working class Catholic family in the Creggan Estate, Derry, Northern Ireland, into a society that was in political turmoil and spiralling towards crisis.

 

 

 

 

 

Mullan’s paternal grandmother, Mary Zammit, was the eldest daughter of a Maltese merchant seaman who, having sailed into Derry port as Chief Engineer on the SS Harrington in 1894, decided to make the small northwest Irish town his home, having fallen in love with Derry woman, Mary Mellon. They became successful entrepreneurs with several small businesses, establishing a home inside the famous Derry Walls, at 3 Artillery Street.

Alexander and Mary Mullan (nee Zammit) with Mullan’s father, Charles, circa 1921.

Mullan’s paternal grandfather, Alexander Mullan, came from Limavady, Co Derry. (One of Limavady’s most famous citizens was Jane Ross, a collector of ancient Irish tunes, who first found and noted in the region the hauntingly beautiful Irish melody known worldwide as ‘The Londonderry Air’). Alexander was hired as the chauffeur to the Zammit family. However, much to the chagrin of his employers, he fell in love with their eldest of three daughters, Mary. Mary and Alex covertly married without the secret being revealed for several months. A hilarious story has survived which recalls how, one evening, Alexander called to the Zammit household and asked for Mary. Having been sent away he returned five minutes later and demanded, “I wish to see my wife!”

circa 1994 Mullan visits the then unmarked grave of his great grandmother, in Philadelphia, PA.

Mullan’s maternal grandmother, Mamie Redden (nee Donaghy), was born of Irish immigrants in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. At the birth of her youngest sister, Annie, their mother died. They were brought back to Ireland by their father and placed in the care of their maternal grandparents in Inishowen, Co. Donegal.

William and Mamie Redden on their 50th wedding anniversary, with their grandchildren

Mamie married William Redden, who was born in Glasgow, Scotland, to Irish emigrants from Inishowen. William found a job on the Derry docks, loading and unloading merchant ships, and having married Mamie, they rented a small house at Deanery Street, in Derry’s Brandywell, where they raised a large family.

Meanwhile, Mamie’s younger sister, Annie, married a farmer, Eddie Hutton-Doherty, from Buncrana, Co. Donegal. Both sisters, born in Philadelphia, settled down just 14 miles apart. However, when in 1922 the British partitioned Ireland, the sisters found themselves raising their respective families in two entirely different political jurisdictions.

Charles and Sara Mullan with their eldest children, Moya and Liam, in the back garden of their new home, 41 Leenan Gardens, Creggan, Derry.

One of Annie’s children, Eamon Doherty, went on to become Commissioner of An Garda Siochana, the highest rank in the police force of the Republic of Ireland. Mamie’s family, and their offspring, grew up in Northern Ireland and lived through the ‘Troubles’.

Police brutality on 5th October 1968 ‘the day the ‘Troubles’ began’.

As a teenager, Don Mullan was to witness some of the seminal events of modern Irish history, including the birth of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement and the outbreak of the modern ‘Troubles’ (5 October 1968); the introduction of Internment without Trial (9 August 1971), the tragic events of Bloody Sunday (30 January 1972), and Operation Motorman (31 July 1972).

Violence was an option he faced. However, Mullan chose the path of non-violence, influenced by the words of the 1998 Derry-born Nobel Peace Prize winner, John Hume:

“Living for Ireland is better than dying for it…”

British Centurion Tank in the Creggan Estate during ‘Operation Motorman’
Bloody Sunday

There are several stories Mullan tells about actual incidents that turned him away from violence, including a moment when a British soldier awakened the killer instinct within him. However, when he weighed this alongside years of horrific suffering inflicted by a bullet on Maureen McCann, a neighbour just two doors away from his home – and many other incidents – he embarked on a journey that lead him to befriend Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, Dom Helder Camara of Brazil, and Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.

Caring for Other

Fr Don Redden

From an early age, Don Mullan was introduced to the importance of caring for others. As a child he and his siblings helped their mother organise fundraising events to support her younger brother, Fr Don Redden, a missionary in Peru and Ecuador, before ministering to Latino migrants in Florida for the last 25 years of his life. Mullan was named after his uncle who deeply influenced his thinking and life choices, especially encouraging his nephew to read the works of Dom Helder Camara, the Archbishop of Recife and Olinda, Brazil.

Don also assisted his mother in the care of their next door neighbour, Mrs Campbell, who

Bingo Night, when Don’s mother, Sara, (right) and Auntie Rosaleen (left) took Mrs Campbell (centre) to Bingo in neighboring Donegal.

suffered from multiple sclerosis. Mrs Campbell was easy to love for she was a generous and good humoured woman who never complained. Mullan was often called upon by Mrs Campbell to run errands and, once a year, to go door-to-door in the neighbourhood selling her consignment of raffle tickets in support the Northern Ireland MS Society.

In school and in his sports club Don Mullan was also an enthusiastic and leading fundraiser.

As a student, 1976-78, Mullan volunteered weekends at the Northlands Centre, a Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Centre, Derry. Following training, for two years he worked the Saturday to Sunday roister, allowing the fulltime staff weekends off from very intense therapy sessions. Mullan was responsible for interacting with residents and, after they had retired, ensuring the building was safe and secure.

Education

1st year at School

Don began his education at St. Eugene’s Boy’s Primary School. His first male teacher was in Primary 4, Mr John Flood, whom he recalls was a young man of great kindness and for whom he retains deep respect.

Aged 11, he failed the 11+ examination and was sent to St. Joseph’s Boys’ Secondary School (now St. Joseph’s Boys’ College), where he was privileged to meet some of the greatest teachers of his life. His favourite teacher of all time was Mr Paul Duffy, Mullan’s music and maths teacher and the school football manager. St. Joseph’s found itself in no man’s land during the ‘Troubles, nestling on the edge of the Creggan Estate and Rosemount, where there was a major police and army barracks. Gun battles between the British Army and IRA, bomb explosions, riots and evacuations were, between 1971 and 1973, the year when Mullan graduated, a common occurrence.

Mullan studied at St. Patrick’s College, Buchlyvie, Stirlingshire, Scotland (1973-74) where he was elected school sports captain. From there he went to St. Patrick’s Missionary College, Kiltegan, Co. Wicklow (1974-75); St. Kieran’s College, Kilkenny (1975); the University of Ulster, Jordanstown (1976-78 – from where he graduated with a professional Diploma in ‘Youth & Community Work’); The Development Studies Centre, Holy Ghost College, Dublin (1978-79 – from where he graduated with a Diploma in ‘Development Studies’; and Iona College, New Rochelle, New York (1988-90) from where he graduated with a Degree in the ‘Humanities’).

He is the recipient of three honorary doctorates from: Iona College, NY; Mount Aloysius College, PA; and DePaul University, Chicago.

Testimonials

Legacy Projects