Fr. Jim O’Halloran SDB is one of those people who changed the course of my life – literally.
I encountered Fr. Jim at the Development Studies Course, Kimmage Manor, Dublin, during the academic year 1978-79, where he was lecturing and I was a student, and we immediately became friends. A friendship that endures to this day.
Today, Fr. Jim shared with me a short resume of his life and commitment as an Irish missionary in Latin America and his championing of Basic Christian Communities, a movement that helped democratize the Church in Latin America and offers renewed hope today at a time when the Church is in turmoil.
The following short resume of Fr. Jim’s life and experience is offered to visitors to this website as a testimony to a man of great integrity who not only gave his life the the poorest of the poor, but who remains one of the most enduring influences of my own.
In the email that accompanied the document and which he has given me permission to share with visitors to my website, Fr. Jim wrote:
“Herewith a document… I think has historic significance. It speaks of a ‘new’ church that is trying to emerge since Vatican II. It was there in the beginning after Christ, but Constantine gave secular powers to the bishops which brought in the institutionalized and clerically dominated church that has lasted until John XXIII and Vatican II. This is the Church that Francis is trying to bring in. A community of communities that operates on dialogue and consensus. I brought out a little book in 1986 on pastoral planning that used dialogue and consensus and it was the method Pope Francis used in his recent synods. It’s a church that is run on collegiality and subsidiarity.”
“Mullan’s approach to photography is very exciting and revealing a technological and cultural change. For the great activist/humanitarian that he is, it’s a new way to express his commitment. I love that!”
– Agnès Grégoire, Editor-in-Chief, PHOTO Magazine, Paris
Mullan had no training in photography but his interest was awakened one Saturday afternoon when he heard his son Carl and daughter Emma playfully running through their home. When asked what they were doing, he was informed they were taking pictures. Mullan was confused as he could not see a camera.
“With what?” he asked.
“Our mobile phones,” he was informed.
“Your phones?” he queried, confused.
“Yes,” Emma replied, “there is a camera in our mobile phones.”
Reaching for his own cell phone, Mullan asked, “Is there a camera in my phone?”
“Yes, Dad!” his children answered, somewhat incredulous at their father’s ignorance.
Up until that moment, Mullan was only interested in using the phone for making and receiving calls, and for texting. However, he began to experiment with the camera on his phone, a NOKIA 6131, and an idea began to emerge. Throughout 2007 and 2008 he would be travelling to Asia, Africa, North and South America, Europe and the Mediterranean on various projects. So, he decided to approach NOKIA with the idea of testing the dexterity of their mobile phones, including their imaging capabilities.
With the support of RTE’s John Murray, Mullan was welcomed to NOKIA (Ireland) by a young executive, Aoife Byrne, NOKIA’s Marketing Manager. Mullan had just turned 50 and in the new corporate world of high flying young executives, he was feeling ‘old’. However, Aoife Byrne was hugely respectful and enthusiastic about his proposal. She championed the idea amongst her colleagues, principle amongst them her line manager, Sian Gray, Head of Marketing, and Alan O’Hara, NOKIA’s General Manager.
In April 2009, NOKIA hired Gallery Number One in Dublin for what they proclaimed as the World’s 1st Photographic Exhibition by an amateur photographer, based entirely on cell phone photography.
The exhibition, entitled, A Thousand Reasons for Living, comprised 60 images which Mullan had captured on the NOKIA N73 (3.2 megapixel) and NOKIA N97 (5 megapixel) taken during Mullan’s travels. Not only was the exhibition a pioneering adventure in its own right, it was also clear that Mullan recognised how this new technology could be used as a campaigning tool.
One of Mullan’s photographs showed an elderly woman signing her autograph. The subject was Millvina Dean, the last remaining survivor of the 1912 Titanic tragedy, who, following an accident in 2005, was forced to spend the remainder of her life in a private nursing home close to her rented accommodation in Southampton.
Despite her advanced age she was forced to sell her personal Titanic memorabilia, and her autograph, to pay for her nursing home bills. Mullan considered this situation to be unjust, especially given the money that had been generated through the billion dollar franchise associated with the James Cameron blockbuster movie ‘Titanic’. In 2007 Mullan had written to James Cameron asking his help in supporting Millvina. He received no response. Consequently, he decided to use the opening of his 2009 exhibition as an opportunity to challenge the stars of ‘Titanic’to match him dollar for dollar with the sales of a framed photograph he had taken, detailing Ms. Dean signing her autograph.
A young journalist, Alison O’Riordan, first published the story in Ireland’s Sunday Independenton 26 April 2009. Two days after the article was published, Mullan received a call from Ken Sunshine of Leonardo Di Caprio’s publicity agency, Sunshine and Sachs, New York. After a 15 minute conversation, Sachs informed Mullan that he would speak with his client. The following day he called Don to say that Mr Di Caprio would donate an initial US$10,000 but assured him he was ‘pushing an open door’ if more funds were required. With that, Kate Winslet also donated US$10,000, followed by Cameron, Celine Dion and Sony.
Sadly, Ms Dean died on 31 May 2009, less than five-weeks after a total of US$50,000 was donated by DiCaprio, Winslet, Cameron, Dion and Sony.
The bulk of the money raised by Mullan’s appeal was used to help fund a Millvina Dean Memorial Garden in Southampton, the city from where Titanic’s maiden voyage began and within which Ms Dean had lived most of her life.In addition to the Titanic story, there were a number of other off-shoots of the Mullan/NOKIA exhibition including what Mullan believes is the first full-colour illustrated book, reproduced from his mobile phone photography.
In addition to the Titanic story, there were a number of other off-shoots of the Mullan/NOKIA exhibition including what Mullan believes is the first full-colour illustrated book, reproduced from his mobile phone photography.
And So This IS Christmas
Mullan was asked by a friend, Irish author John Scally, to assist him in publishing an illustrated children’s book, ‘And So This Is Christmas’, through Mullan’s small publishing house, a little book company. The book had been illustrated by the acclaimed Irish artist, Don Conway. Royalties and profits from the book were being donated to an Irish Hospice.
The manuscript that John Scally produced would have required a highly professional studio to photograph the illustrations, or the removal of the illustrations from the manuscript for the purpose of scanning. Mullan, however, decided against both options. Instead, he decided to photograph the illustrations with his NOKIA N95 (5 megapixel) handset, using weights and the natural light of his back garden conservatory.
Initially his designer and printer were incredulous when he said he would provide the images from his mobile phone. They suggested Don Conroy, the artist, would be furious, as they were expecting images of an inferior nature. However, when they saw the quality of the images they were, quite simply, amazed.
Subject to correction, it is the first illustrated colour book ever produced where the images, including the cover image, where taken by a mobile telephone. The cover image formed part of Mullan’s exhibition, ‘A Thousand Reasons for Living’.
REACTIONS TO THE NOKIA/MULLAN EXHIBITION
The exhibition was featured on national television and newspapers and also by El Pais, Spain. Reactions to the exhibition included the following:
“You can get ideas and inspiration [at the] exhibition… Don had no training. Only the phone. It’s hard to believe that these moments of magic were captured on a mobile.”
– RTE National Television News
“They really are remarkable pictures, un-PhotoShopped, and full of incredible moments.”
– The Sunday Tribune
“Amazing! We must get this exhibition to New York and LA.”
Oscar winning director – Jim Sheridan
“What makes [the] exhibition even more interesting is the fact that photographs are neither enhanced, nor edited. This turns the exhibition into what we would call “The world’s most beautiful camera sample gallery”.
“Due to the demand around the Don Mullan show we will be running it up to WEDNESDAY 28th of April!”
– Gallery Number One
“Several people came into the gallery and began to look at the exhibition. They then approached me and ask, ‘But where is the mobile phone exhibition?’ They were amazed when I told them, ‘You are looking at it!'”
– Jen O’Dwyer, Curator, Gallery Number One
“I’m going to get rid of my expensive camera and buy a mobile phone.”
– Written in gallery comment book
Don Mullan was commissioned to produce two other major mobile phone photographic exhibitions for the 2013 UK City of Culture and the France/South Africa Season in Paris. In addition he produced smaller exhibitions on the theme of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s ‘Le Petit Prince’; for an on-line magazine, ‘About Place Journal’; and as part of a re-imaging project associated with the city of Madison, New Jersey – ‘The Rose City’, which also included a book, based on his concept and photography. He was also invited to exhibit at the prestigious Paris Photo Exhibition, and did so alongside the photography of Yann Arthus-Bertrand; and was featured in the French photographic magazine, Paris PHOTO.
During lunch on 29 September 2017 with SMA colleagues, Don Mullan was listening to a discussion about the SMA Thumbprint Campaign for Climate Justice. Gerry Forde (Justice Desk) and Dympna Mallon (Laity Coordinator) were discussing the possibility of involving Irish school children in planting trees in Ireland as a dimension of the Thumbprint Campaign.
Earlier that day Mullan had received a WhatsApp text from a friend, 80-year-old Irish missionary, Fr. Pat Clarke CSSp, who has spent most of his adult life fighting for the rights of the people in Sao Paulo’s favelas, and the indigenous peoples affected by illegal logging in both the Amazon and the remnants of Brazil’s Atlantic Rain Forests.
The text included a link to a short BBC documentary about Africa’s Great Green Wall. Something that Mullan had never heard about. A wall, when completed, that would span the width of the continent of Africa, in the Sahel belt south of the Sahara Desert, aimed at halting the desertification of the continent, due to Climate Change.
Mullan’s imagination was immediately set ablaze. For over a year he had listened with incredulity at the divisive proposal to build a wall along the southern border of the USA, to be paid for by Mexico! A wall with the specific purpose of keeping the poor of Central and South America from entering the territory of the United States.
Africa’s Great Green Wall, however, was different. A wall, which, if successful, will be ranked as a natural Wonder of the World. Mullan immediately recognized that this was a wall that all humanity could believe in because it had several noble objectives. However, he was surprised that, like himself, many had not yet heard of it, in Ireland and abroad, including senior politicians and civil servants.
Due to desertification, caused by Climate Breakdown, 60 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are expected to migrate during the 2020s. African nations have decided to take action with a project aimed at restoring degraded land.
The Great Green Wall will span 11 countries. It will measure 8,000 kilometers from east to west and will be 15 kilometers in depth.
“This is a historic moment.” Mullan says. “For too long colonial powers and multinationals stole the resources of Africa and exploited its people. This is an African initiative that we can all be part of, the growing of a world wonder, that will be a symbol of transformative hope, not just for Africa, but for the entire world.”
Mullan has offered The Laudato Tree Project in Ireland as part of the SMA’s commitment to fighting Climate Breakdown and engaging in a positive and creative way to help heal the earth. He has offered it as an extension of the SMA Thumbprint Campaign for Climate Justice in Ireland. Mullan also sees the Projects potential to have an impact internationally and has negotiated with the World Meeting of Families 2018, scheduled to take place in Dublin from 22-25 August 2018, a prime location.
You are encouraged to watch the short BBC video below. For further information on The Great Green Wall Project, please click here.
Mullan has established a working relationship with the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD),pioneering the Great Green Wall, and is negotiating their support for The ‘Laudato Tree Project’ in Ireland. Mullan has discussed with the UNCCD the importance of building a popular global movement to ensure the wall is completed by 2030.
I have known Don Mullan through a number of his different roles, including his work with Concern Worldwide and his promotion of the legacy of Fredrick Douglass. I am also aware of his ground breaking work in establishing the facts about Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972.
The common threads of Don’s life and work have been a deep commitment to justice and human rights as well as a determination to contribute to a better future. He brings to his various causes a huge creativity, a capacity to see connections between unlikely things and an ability to build relationships between people.
And he does all this with good humour, grace and perseverance.
Former CEO Concern Worldwide
Former Director General, Institute of International and European Affairs
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WWI Christmas Truce and Flanders Peace Field Project
“The Christmas Truce and Flanders Peace Field Project is a gift of the Island of Ireland Peace Process to the European Project and World Peace.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
The First World War – “The War to End All Wars” – lasted over four years and planted the seeds for WWII. It consumed the lives of an estimated 18 million people – thirteen thousand per day. Yet, there was one day, Christmas Day 1914, when the madness stopped and a brief peace, inspired by the Christmas story, broke out along large swathes of the Western Front.
The Island of Ireland Peace Park, Messines, Belgium, stands on a gentle slope overlooking the site of one of the most astonishing events of WWI and, indeed, world history. An event which the British historian, Piers Brendon, described as
“… a moment of humanity in a time of carnage… what must be the most extraordinary celebration of Christmas since those notable goings-on in Bethlehem.”
German soldiers had been sent thousands of small Christmas trees and candles from back home. As night enveloped an unusually still and silent Christmas Eve, a soldier placed one of the candlelit trees upon the parapet of his trench. Others followed and before long a chain of flickering lights spread for miles along the German line. British and French soldiers observed in amazement. As the night progressed they heard the sounds of Christmas carols drift across the gulf of No Man’s Land. A young British soldier, Albert Moren, near La Chapelle d’Armentieres, France, 12 kilometres from Messines, recalled:
“It was a beautiful moonlit night, frost on the ground, white almost everywhere; and… there was a lot of commotion in the German trenches and then there were those lights – I don’t know what they were. And then they sang “Stille Nacht” – “Silent Night”. I shall never forget it. It was one of the highlights of my life.”
German singing attracted almost as much attention as did the candlelit trees, which another soldier likened to ‘the footlights of a theatre’. Many British and French units were spellbound and reacted, as if an audience, with applause. Curious, some soldiers raised their heads. No shots were fired. Tantalizingly shoulders, trunks and eventually entire bodies stood above the trenches.
Troops on both sides began to inch closer and eventually met at the heart of No Man’s Land, surrounded by their fallen comrades. They shook hands and agreed a truce the following day.
Shortly after dawn on Christmas morning they met again, exchanging food and drinks, swapped cap badges and buttons, posed for photographs and showed one another pictures of their families and loved ones.
This extraordinary encounter continued throughout the day during which they held joint religious services and helped bury each other’s fallen comrades. Contemporary correspondence and reports from the period report several footballs were produced and a strong tradition persists that a regulation game of soccer between German and British soldiers was played with the German’s emerging 3-2 winners.
We do know that the Irish took an active role in the 1914 Christmas Truce. The regimental history of the 13th London Regiment, the Kensingtons, records:
We were a little embarrassed by this sudden comradeship, and, as a lasting joke against us, let it be said that the order was given to stand to arms. But we did not fire, for the battalion on our right, the Royal Irish Fusiliers, with their national sense of humour, answered the enemy’s salutations with songs and jokes and made appointments in No Man’s Land for Christmas Day. We felt small and subdued and spent the remainder of Christmas Eve in watching the lights flicker and fade on the Christmas trees in their trenches and in hearing the voices grow fainter and eventually cease.
Today, the debris of war, the mud, the wire and the thousands of corpses and wounded that inhabited the location of the Christmas Truce are but a memory. When Don Mullan first visited the site, close to the town of Messines and Ploegsteert Woods, Flanders, on 28 August 2008, only a small wooden cross memorialized the Christmas Truce. It stood on an embankment, dwarfed against a backdrop of a seven-foot tall maize harvest.
Unable to see the length and breadth of this part of No Man’s Land upon which one of the most moving encounters of human history occurred, Mullan asked permission to enter a nearby two-storey house. From an upstairs window he looked upon neat rows of maize stretching towards St. Niklaas Church, Messines, and the Round Tower of the Island of Ireland Peace Park, a kilometre or two distant.
As Mullan surveyed the site of this small but momentous and hope-filled moment in history, he imagined, by 2014, a Flanders Peace Field for the children and youth of Europe and the world. A field upon which, over and over again, that moment of humanity would be memorialised through the energy of the young. Thus was born the idea of The Christmas Truce and Flanders Peace Field Project, which the 1984 Nobel Laureate, Desmond Tutu, has described as:
“… a gift of the Island of Ireland Peace Process to the European Project and World Peace.”
A Story for All Seasons
The story of the 1914 Christmas Truce has captured the imagination of people across the world. It is not simply a story for Christmas, but a story that touches people wherever and whenever they hear it, irrespective of the season. As such, this story has the power to attract people to French and Belgian Flanders 365 days of the year.
In his poem ‘A Carol From Flanders’, about the 1914 Christmas Truce, the poet Frederick Niven (1878-1944) concludes with an inspiring hope-filled aspiration which the region can help fulfil:
Oh ye who read this truthful rime
From Flanders, kneel and say:
God speed the time when every day
Shall be as Christmas Day.
The American Folk singer, John McCutcheon (1952 – ) states that he first learned about the 1914 Christmas Truce from a backstage janitor during an interval in a Birmingham, Alabama, concert hall in 1984. He states: “I was so taken with the woman’s story, I wrote the entire song “Christmas in the Trenches” during the intermission of my concert that night.”
The popular song is now the subject of a beautifully illustrated book, written by McCutcheon and published by Peachtree, USA (2010). In his Author’s note, McCutcheon echoes the sentiments of the poet Frederick Niven:
I first thought I would only sing the song and tell the story during the Christmas season. I soon learned it deserves –no needs–to be told 365 days a year.
Don Mullan argues we need to grasp the fact that we have an opportunity to develop, unquestionably, the most powerful and hope-filled story of World War I. A story that can help to make French and Belgian Flanders (between Armentieres and Messines) one of the great peace regions of the world.
It is a story that touches people everywhere and which has the seeds of optimism and inspiration that our world so desperately needs today. It is a story that is laced with the spirit of humanity, human kindness and goodwill: a story for children, youth, young men and women, the middle-aged and old.
At a time when the European experiment is under enormous stress due to economic and political upheaval, and neo-nationalism is on the rise, Mullan believes the 1914 Christmas Truce is a story to remind the world, and especially all Europeans, of the trauma of two world wars, of our common humanity and our post conflict commitment to a shared future.
It is a sacred story and we have a duty to embrace it with great reverence and respect. It is the story of a seed, planted by ordinary soldiers and low ranking officers, in the fields that Messines and Armentieres overlooks – inspired by the first Christmas – that we must now take and tell:
365 days a year – to… speed the time when every day Shall be as Christmas Day.
The Christmas Truce and Flanders Peace Field Project
Inspired by the spontaneous Christmas truces during WWI, Don Mullan’s Christmas Truce and Flanders Peace Field Project aims to create a major centenary legacy through the following initiatives:
1. To create a UNESCO World Heritage Site in French and Belgian Flanders, in memory of the 1914 Christmas Truce;
2. To create, with the support of senior academics from the universities of Galway, Penn State, Aberdeen and Harvard, a Centre for the teaching of Human Empathy;
3. To create a major visitors center, likely around St. Nicholas Church, Messines, Belgium, that explores the religious, cultural and trans-national elements of the 1914 Christmas Truce and its relevance for today;
4. A UNESCO and UNOSDP backed Flanders Peace Field in an area to be agreed in consultation with communities representing French and Belgian Flanders, aimed at drawing the youth of the world to explore and experience the role of sport in building a better world;
5. An international UNESCO sculpture trail, inspired and led by the Anglo-Irish artist, Andrew Edwards, and his internationally acclaimed Christmas Truce Monument, linking participating French and Flemish communities.
Much work has already been invested in the realization of this project, with crucial groundwork already done. Considering its Irish roots, a patron of the project, the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has described the initiative as:
“… a gift of the Island of Ireland Peace Process to the European Project and World Peace.”
Two relevant documents that outline work already undertaken and accomplished are the following (with particular reference to the 2014 Centenary Report – Christmas Truce Project, which has several supporting links to relevant articles and references):
On 11 November 2018 the centenary commemorations of WWI will come to an end. It will mark the conclusion of over four years of commemorations across the world.
Commemorations are primarily focused on remembering the past. Hope Initiatives International (HII) is primarily concerned about legacy. How do we remember in a way that is empowering and in ways that are infused with transformative hope?
HII has two major WWI legacy projects that it will pursue during the current decade:
‘Mercy – Trócaire is a public art project inspired by an actual story involving a young Dublin soldier in the British Army, seriously wounded during the 1918 German Spring Offensive, and who maintained his life was saved by a metal crucifix given to him in 1915 by his mother, and a young German officer.
The Background Story
James Burke was born in Dublin in 1896. He is a first cousin of the late Fr Tom Burke, a co-founder of the annual Irish Young Scientists Exhibition.
In 1915, aged 19, he enlisted in the Royal Irish Fusiliers. Before leaving for the Western Front, his mother gave James a small metal crucifix which he carried with him throughout the war. James fought in many of the major campaigns, including the Battle of the Somme.
On 21 March 1918, in the opening stages of the German Spring Offensive, 22-year-old James Burke was seriously wounded outside St. Quentin in Northern France. The German attack was so overwhelming that British units were forced to retreat, leaving their dead and wounded behind.
The bullet that wounded James Burke hit the right arm of the metal crucifix that his mother had given him and was deflected over his heart. James, nonetheless, was seriously wounded. There are varying accounts of how long he lay wounded, ranging from one to three days. However, the two details that remain clear are (i) James always attributed his survival to the crucifix and (ii) the humanity of a young German officer.
James told his family that as he lay seriously wounded, the young officer came upon him and showed enormous compassion. He lifted James and carried him to a field hospital where his wounds were treated and bandaged.
James spent the remainder of WWI as a prisoner of war in Stendal, Germany, close to Berlin.
Much of James’ war memorabilia has survived, including the crucifix which bears the indentation of the bullet. The body of Christ is worn smooth, likely clasped and rubbed during times of prayer and anguish throughout the three years James was in the trenches. On the back of the crucifix James etched the years 1915 – 1918.
James returned from the war with great devotion to St. Thérèse of Lisieux (affectionately called ‘the angel of the trenches’ by Catholic soldiers). He married Teresa O’Connor of 4 Ranelagh Road, Dublin 4, and lived there for the remainder of his life. He worked as a cinema usher at the Deluxe Cinema on Camden Street (the original entrance of which still survives) and died at the age of 56. James and Teresa had a daughter, Ethne, and a son, Gary. Gary Burke was the godfather of Margaret Beatty, the wife of Don Mullan.
James’ son, Gary, died in 2003. Before he died he entrusted his father’s war medals and memorabilia to Don and Margaret Mullan.
The artist who will likely be commissioned to create this monument is Andrew Edwards, part of the Irish Diaspora, born in Stoke-on-Trent, England. Mullan has worked with Andrew on three major monument projects:
(i) Gordon Banks, Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent (2008) unveiled by Pelé and Archbishop Desmond Tutu;
(ii) 1914 Christmas Truce, Messines, Belgium (2014) unveiled by the Mayor of Messines on Christmas Eve 2014;
(iii) Frederick Douglass, University of Maryland, USA (2016) unveiled by Nettie Douglass, great great granddaughter of Frederick Douglass.
Andrew is a master craftsman with the ability to breathe life into bronze. His attention to detail is extraordinary.
WWI James Burke – German Officer Monument:
Having discussed the idea and concept with Andrew Edwards, he took inspiration for the monument from Le Bon Samaritan by Francois Sicard in the Jardin des Tuileries, Paris, part of the Louvre Museum complex, as the story evoked the parable of the Good Samaritan as described in the Gospel of Luke 10: 25-37. Sicard’s monument, coincidently, was unveiled in 1896, the same year that James Burke was born in Dublin.
Accompanying his initial maquette , which he describes as a ‘rough draft’, Andrew wrote, on the 4 May 2013:
There are many things emerging from this study as always happens, unsurprisingly as sculpture is a language – which reveals through re-presentation of a story into it, the same new insights as a verbal language translation often reveals. For instance, in placing Private Burke into the arms of the officer, I wanted to show the struggle and determination to bear the weight (and intense cold, fatigue and adversity in general). The bracing of the half dead soldier’s legs against the supporting knee of the German soldier, as if just lifting him ready to advance, creates the most wonderful pieta – and as we know there is a resuscitation (resurrection) to follow, and indeed a rebirth of faith made available to all viewers. (Photo: Andrew Edward’s Maquette ‘Mercy – Trócaire’)
Two weeks later, on 27 May 2013, Andrew wrote:
… after studying my finished maquette (attached), which was an interpretation of your account largely instinctive, I see a different responsibility required by our words. Dr King, in his “I’ve Been to the Mountain top” speech said: “And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
Mercy – Trócaire
As part of a WWI legacy project, Hope Initiatives International intends creating a major public sculpture, inspired by an act of mercy during WWI involving Private James Burke and a young German officer. The project will have the following aims:
The sculpture will be created in a public space over a period of six-weeks, which will be open to visits by schools and the general public;
The making of the sculpture will be broadcast on the worldwide web, so that people from across the world can observe and participate in the process of its creation;
The project will seek private and crowd funding with all excess funding being donated to Trócaire Development Project (75%) and the initiatives of HII (25%).
The project aims to link Ireland, Germany and France in a triangle of amity. Ultimately, the monument will be produced in triplet and unveiled in Dublin, Berlin and Saint Quentin, France, as part of a WWI UNESCO legacy project to encourage the teaching of human empathy.
The project will have an accompanying book to be written by Irish author, Don Mullan, the originator of the idea.
Don Mullan’s ability to utilize historical symbolism, as a method of informing and influencing the present day, first manifested itself with a major International Conference on World Peace and Poverty to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the birth of St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226).
Mullan hitch-hiked from Paris to Assisi in the summer of 1978 with a friend from Derry, John Coyle. They travelled on a budget of 2.50 per day, and slept in a tent. That journey became the inspiration for the international conference in 1982.
Mullan was particularly drawn to the universal appeal of St. Francis of Assisi, which transcended both Roman Catholicism and Christianity. St Francis is the patron saint of peace, animals, ecology and stowaways, all of which offered to Mullan’s creative mind the opportunity to explore related themes pertaining to the local, national and international community. Recalling the quotation of Mahatma Gandhi that ‘”he Earth has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed,” Mullan was particularly drawn to St. Francis’ commitment to simplicity of lifestyle which, again, resonated in a world of growing inequalities.
During his time at the Development Studies Centre, Dublin, Mullan came to realise the importance of listening, especially to the voice of the majority world, then referred to as the ‘Third World’. The St. Francis Conference, therefore, had participants from Asia, Africa, Latin America, as well as Europe and North America. The conference was particularly unique as AFrI decided to hold it, not at a conference centre or hotel, but within the inner-city parish of Sean MacDermott Street, involving the local community both as presenters, as well as organizing volunteers.
It was chaired by the Nobel and Lenin Peace Prize winner, Sean MacBride SC, and was attended by, amongst others, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Desmond Tutu (via video, as his passport had been confiscated by the apartheid regime).
The Irish media largely ignored the conference, much to the ire of Sean MacBride who was deeply critical at a poorly attended Press Conference on Monday, 1 October 1982. Unfortunate for AFrI, on the weekend of the conference, an attempted overthrow of the then Taoiseach, Charles J. Haughey TD, had occupied the attention of the Irish media. However, the highly popular BBC Radio programme, ‘Sunday Sequence’, sent an outside broadcasting unit and dedicated an entire programme to the conference.
Related to the St. Brigid’s Peace Cross Campaign, AFrI brought a large group of young people to Assisi in 1995 to explore themes related to justice, peace and human rights.
Mullan is currently thinking about a follow-up conference in 2026 to mark the 800th anniversary of the death of St. Francis of Assisi.
He has begun to explore with members of the Franciscan Order and the Roman Catholic hierarchy the possibility of a five-year global pilgrimage of the relics of St. Francis of Assisi.
Sean MacBride SC became AFrI Special Adviser and Desmond and Leah Tutu accepted Mullan’s invitation to become the patrons of AFrI.
Haiti’s history is inspiring, yet it is the poorest nation in the Western World. Why?
Haiti is yet to be properly acknowledged for its seminal role in ending slavery worldwide through the astute and courageous leadership of one of the great unsung heroes of humanity, Toussaint Louverture. Haiti also changed the course of USA history by forcing Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte to relinquish interest in the Louisiana Territories, following his defeat by the Haitian people.
Haiti’s poverty was a punishment, imposed and compounded in the immediate aftermath of the Haitian Revolution which saw it become the first black Republic in 1803. Haiti’s victory was viewed as a threat by four superpowers in the region whose economies were being fueled by the slave trade: France, Spain, Great Britain and the United States of America. All four conspired to lock Haiti down and prevent it from opening trading agreements with its neighbors, effectively depriving the Haitian economy of oxygen.
Twenty-two years later, with Haiti severely weakened, France returned and under threat of war, forced Haiti to pay a Reparation Tax of 150 million gold francs, to former French slave owners. There was little mercy shown, and the Haitian people had to endure, for more than a century, externally imposed austerity, stretching across several generations, from 1825 to 1947. Therein lies the primary cause of Haiti’s poverty and why it is the poorest nation in the Western World today.
An additional injustice perpetrated against the Haitian people was the abduction of their leader, Toussaint Louverture, having been invited to peace negotiations. Toussaint Louverture was taken prisoner and transported to France where he died in solitary confinement at Fort de Joux in the Spring of 1803. The remains of Toussaint Louverture have yet to be repatriated from France to Haiti.
Hope Initiatives International, in collaboration with international academics and activists, will launch the following two major projects aimed at highlighting Haiti’s contribution to the ending of slavery and encouraging a review by France of the historic injustice of the Reparation Tax:
An international symposium on the historic contribution made by Toussaint Louverture to the ending of slavery, with the aim of establishing an international commission of inquiry to:
(i) Establish a chain of custody of the person and remains of Toussaint Louverture from the moment of his abduction in the Fall of 1802 until his death and burial at Fort de Joux on 7 April 1803;
(ii) Seek accountability from France concerning the whereabouts of the mortal remains of Toussaint Louverture today;
(iii) Support the Haitian people in their historic request for the repatriation of the remains of Toussaint Louverture to the Haitian Pantheon.
To build an international coalition aimed at encouraging France to repay (from 2025 – 2147) the modern equivalent of the 150 million gold francs (later reduced to 90 million gold francs) it imposed on the people of Haiti between 1825-1947, as reparation to former French slave owners. It is estimated that in today’s currency, Haiti was forced to pay approximately US$22 billion to France over a period of 122 years.
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Sam Dash, Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Centre
Ms. Louise Kantrow Executive Director International League for Human Rights 823 United Nations Plaza Suite 717 New York, NY 10017
I very much regret that health reasons prevent me from attending the Defender’s Awards Ceremony. My very special reason for wanting to be with the League on this wonderful occasion was to pay honour and tribute to Don Mullan who will be receiving one of the awards. I have known Don for many years in our common effort to keep alive the meaning of Bloody Sunday to the cause of freedom and democracy in the world.
Don[‘s]… commitment to human rights began in the midst of the cruel hail of bullets shot by British paratroopers which killed so many of his young friends who were demonstrating with him for democracy in Northern Ireland on that tragic day of January 30, 1972. From his survival on that day to the present, Don has been a witness to government abuse of the rights of free people. He has written a lasting account of that horrible day and has probed and investigated other abuses by government and exposed them publically. His voice is constantly heard, often in the United States, reminding a sometimes complacent public of the need to be alert and to speak out for human rights.
Don is a true defender and fully deserving of the Defender’s Award the International League is giving him.
You may view a copy of the original letter by clicking here.
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Speaking Truth to Power: The Donal De Roiste Affair
The power of Mullan’s book lies in his meticulous research, which is of the quality you’d expect from the author of Eyewitness Bloody Sunday… de Róiste’s case would appear to underline something we already know: that the defence of freedom and justice requires eternal vigilance. We’re lucky to have people as vigilant as Don Mullan.
Mullan was first contacted by De Roiste while he was campaigning and researching The Dublin and Monaghan Bombings book. He was a friend of De Roiste’s sister, Adi Roche, whose unsuccessful campaign for President of Ireland he had supported in 1997. It was during that campaign he first learned of Donal De Roiste’s ‘retirement’ from the Irish Army in 1969, as it was used to undermine and damage his sisters presidential bid.
De Roiste sent Mullan a number of letters and enclosed supporting documents in the hope of encouraging Mullan to take up his case. Mullan was initially reluctant as he was dealing with a number of projects in development, including Dublin and Monaghan campaign and the Bloody Sunday movie.
However, one day in 2002, while searching his filing cabinet, he pulled the file on De Roiste he had opened and began to read its contents. He was perturbed and immediately called De Roiste and informed him he was willing to support his campaign.
Over a four year period, Mullan researched the puzzling case, trying to understand why De Roiste had been ‘retired’ by the Irish President. Over that period he invested a full year and a half of his time. His only funding was a £20,000 stg grant from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.
Mullan could not find a plausible reason to justify the determined speed with which Irish Army top brass moved to have De Roiste ‘retired’. The speed instinctively made him suspicious, especially when he discovered the young Irish Lieutenant had been denied his Constitutional rights to face his accusers and challenge their accusations, through the use of a loophole in the Irish Defence Act.
After more than a year of following leads that took him to dead-ends or cul-de-sacs he recalled a conversation with a Commandant Patrick Walsh, an officer in De Roiste’s graduating class, who retired after a distinguished career which included serving as a UN Peacekeeper. Walshe remained supportive of DeRoiste throughout his career, believing he had suffered a grave injustice.
Commandant Walshe told Mullan he recalled a phone call from De Roiste as a young officer, in 1968. He said De Roiste was distressed because senior officers were pressurising him to lie about a vehicle collision in Tipperary, involving a young female teacher who had been seriously injured. De Roiste was one of three passengers in a vehicle driven by a senior officer whom De Roiste claimed was drunk when his vehicle collided with the young teacher.
Mullan eventually tracked down the young teacher who gave him the legal documents related to the car accident.
Upon careful examination Mullan discovered that just two weeks before De Roiste’s difficulties began in the Army, lawyers representing the young women issued a plenary summons against the senior officer. The proximity of the summons and De Roiste’s expulsion seemed suspect.
Mullan proposed the hypothesis that the rush to expel De Roiste under a cloud of suspicion, invoking a Defence Act loophole, was directly related to the summons served upon the senior officer, Commandant Sean T O’Kelly. The stakes were now raised with the case heading to the High Court. Irish Army top brass knew that De Roiste had already refused to lie internally and, most likely, would not do so under oath. Consequently, O’Kelly, a senior Transport Officer, was facing the probable termination of his career, having already perjured himself in relation to the serious injuries sustained by a civilian due to his intoxication.
On 29 June 2002 the Irish Times ran a two-page article by Don Mullan which rocked the military establishment. On the day of publication Mullan received a phone call from a relative of Commandant O’Kelly who suggested Mullan’s hypothesis had validity due to a meeting and conversations he had been privy to.
Sr. Helen Prejean, author of ‘Dead Man Walking’, who was portrayed in an Oscar winning performance by Susan Sarandon, was in Ireland at the time of publication, and was staying with Mullan and his family. She agreed to attend a press conference to voice her support of De Roiste and his call for the restoration of his good name.
Mullan also secured the support of Irish actor, Gabriel Byrne, who helped launch a USA campaign at the New York Irish Arts Centre.
The controversy created by Mullan’s Irish Times article lead to the then Minister for Defence, Michael Smith, ordering an internal investigation by the Judge Advocate General, Una McCrann SC, on 1 July 2002. McCrann’s report was deeply flawed and was eventually quashed by the High Court after De Roiste’s lawyers challenged its fairness.
And it was not as if Mullan was a sentimentalist: this was a tenacious investigative journalist whose working life was intrinsically linked to the events and enquiry into Bloody Sunday in Derry. He was no stranger to fame and his ferocious work as a human rights campaigner took him into the company of global figures like Rosa Parks, Bill Clinton, Mick Jagger, even the Dalai Lama. But with Banks it was different. This was the person to whom Mullan had attached all his childhood ambition and fears growing up as a child in the Creggan, just as the nationalist movement in Derry was about to combust.
Keith Duggan, Irish Times ‘Saving Grace during Troubled Times’
Over dinner at an Italian restaurant in midtown Manhattan in 2004, Don Mullan told Irish actor, Gabriel Byrne, about the positive influence the great English goalkeeper, Gordon Banks, had on his growing up in war ravaged Northern Ireland. The story also included Mullan’s fondest memory of his father, who somehow managed to arrange for his teenage son to meet Gordon Banks just six weeks after Banks had pulled off what many consider the greatest save in World Cup history from Brazil’s Pelé during the 1970 Mexico World Cup.
Byrne listened attentively and at the end he the meal he encouraged Mullan to write a book about his experience. “That’s one of the most moving sports stories I have ever heard, Byrne told the Irish author and humanitarian.
And, so, in the lead-up to his 50th birthday, Mullan decided to write a boyhood memoir on how, his hero, the 1966 World Cup winning England goalkeeper, had filled his childhood and adolescence with the magic of dreams.
For the cover of the Irish edition of the book, a photograph of Gordon Banks in full flight was illustrated by the accomplished English sports artist, Alan Damms. “As a child, this picture filled me with awe,” Mullan says. “To me, it portrayed Banks as Superman!”
To Don Mullan, his boyhood memoir is important as it offers a unique insight into the period immediately preceding the outbreak of the Northern Ireland troubles:
“Derry’s Creggan Estate where I was born and grew up, was a peace loving community. Our neighbours were the most decent and caring one might ever wish to live amongst. Yet, in the 1970s many in our community turned to violence. The question is ‘Why?’ Was it because we had a genetic defect that made us prone to violence? Or, because we were violent by nature? Of course not! The root of violence is systemic injustice of which there was plenty in Northern Ireland.
“When I played for my street soccer team, I was the England goalkeeper. I wore a yellow top with three lions, blue shorts and white socks, the same colours worn by Gordon Banks when he played for England. No one ever told me I shouldn’t or that I was betraying Irish nationalism or republicanism or my nation. In fact, adults enjoyed my boyhood enthusiasm for Gordon Banks, a sportsman they too respected for his humility and decency, as well as his mastery of the art of goalkeeping. Indeed, many of the articles and photographs in my famous scrapbook were given to me by adults who knew about my boyish fantasy.”
Mullan’s memoir places the role of sport within the developing crisis, including his own struggle with violence in the aftermath of Bloody Sunday when he seriously considered following his best friend into the IRA. One fascinating insight is of an aggressive raid on his home by the British Army which ended with him holding court before several soldiers in which he had them agreeing that they too would be angry if the shoe was on the other foot and Irish soldiers were doing to them in England what they were doing to in Derry.
Don Mullan, did not follow the path of violence. He sought to achieve systemic change through non-violence.
His memoir was optioned by the BBC in 2006. It was also republished by the British publisher, Legend Press, in 2013, as “The Boy Who Wanted to Fly” with a foreword by Pelé and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
The book is currently being translated into Portuguese in Brazil and all royalties will be donated to Hospital Pequeno Principe (The Little Prince Hospital), Brazil’s largest pediatric hospital.
The foreword by Pelé and Tutu may be read by clicking here.
The following two reviews of Mullan’s memoir can be accessed by clicking:
The political and journalist world can boast of very few heroes who compare with Father Damien of Molokai. It is worthwhile to look for the source of such heroism.
– Mahatma Gandhi
The Prophesy of Robert Louis Stevenson – Damien of Molokai – The Leper Saint (a little book company, Dublin, 2009).This book was published to commemorate the canonization of Fr Damien on 11 October 2009 and the fulfillment of Robert Louis Stevenson’s prophesy.
Damien of Molokai, the leper priest, was ‘no saintly philanthropist’ according to a Rev. Hyde in 1889. Damien was, in Hyde’s words, ‘a coarse, dirty, headstrong bigot – not a pure man in his relations with women’, a man whose own leprosy was ‘due to his vices and carelessness’. Damning accusations.
In a powerfully impassioned response, Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Treasure Island, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and other great books, upholds Fr Damien and accuses his fellow Presbyterian of unjustly maligning a man of virtue and humanity who would one day, he prophesized, be canonized a saint.
Stevenson, in this virtually unknown text, composes a powerful work of evidence-based humanitarianism, about compassion, ecumenism and reconciliation, about human failings and the importance of justice.
The forward, introduction and afterword by Mullan, Burns and Drury highlight the relevance of Stevenson’s text, and the life and witness of Damien, for our times.
In his introduction to this book, Don Mullan writes:
“Children need heroes. My mother understood that. She understood that strong role models can inspire and motivate children to grow into respectful and caring citizens; citizens who try to make the world around them a better place; citizens who recognize that family extends beyond the confines of one’s home and includes the downtrodden and marginalized.
It was at my mother’s knee that I first learned of Fr Damien, the Belgian priest who died from leprosy on the island of Molokai. It was the early 1960s in Derry, Ireland, and I was only seven or eight years old. But the stories she told me of Fr Damien left a lasting impression…”
That impression might be seen in the causes and concerns that Mullan subsequently dedicated his life to.
Royalties to the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation.
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Susan G. Hackley, Program on Negotiation, Harvard Law School, Harvard University
Don Mullan visited the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School in 2004 for a discussion on the film “Bloody Sunday” and the event of that day in 1972 in Derry, which he had witnessed as a schoolboy.
Don was extremely generous with his time, and our faculty and students learned a great deal from his personal accounts of the conflict in Northern Ireland and the subsequent investigation into the events of Bloody Sunday. His discussions about his book, Eyewitness Bloody Sunday, helped explain the roots of the conflict in Northern Ireland, and his personal quest for justice was an inspirational story of how one individual can make a difference.
Many of us felt that Don’s talks were highlights of the spring semester, and we would highly recommend him to others looking for a knowledgeable speaker on the Irish conflict and human rights.
We also encouraged Don to apply for the prestigious Nieman fellowship offered by Harvard University. The fellowships are awarded to working journalists of accomplishment and promise for an academic year of study in any part of the university.
We also encouraged Don to stay in touch with his future plans and any ways we can be of assistance. Indeed, we have been delighted to welcome Don back on other occasions.
On Easter Sunday 2001 the relics of St. Therese – a small casket containing a thighbone and foot bone – at the start of an eleven-week pilgrimage. Among those who turned out for the event was Don Mullan, a bestselling Irish author and media producer. Mullan had mixed feelings about the whole affair. Advanced publicity for the relic tour had promised the arrival of an anonymous “she” who would be bigger than U2 and draw larger crowds than Madonna. When the “she” turned out to be the bones of a nineteenth-century saint, Mullan and others wondered if the organisers had lost their minds. They were predicting that a million people might come out to see the reliquary as it made its way across the country.
As it turned out, the reliquary drew nearly three million people. And Mullan, who from childhood had a deep interest in St. Therese, was so impressed that he decided to do a book about those who came to pray before her earthly remains. The tour attracted devotees, of course, but also doubters and cynics, many of whom found themselves nevertheless strangely and profoundly moved. More than one hundred of them submitted their personal accounts and reflections. The resulting book, A Gift of Roses, disoriented Mullan’s previous readers. “I was gaining a reputation of a hard-nosed and impactful investigative journalist. Then I do a respectful book about a box of bones, and some saw me as losing my marbles,” he said.
What struck Mullan was not only the size of the crowds who came to see the relics but also the atmosphere of prayerful reverence. There was no triumphalism about this relic tour, he explained, no “bishop bandwagons” to proclaim victory over secularism – only thousands of people, whether the elderly, middle-aged couples, teenagers or young children, lining up to pay their quiet respect. They would wait for hours, often in pouring rain or cold wind, in order to stand in front of Therese’s reliquary for a few seconds. For many of them, St. Therese was a figure planted in their spiritual memory by their mothers.
From ‘The Vatican Prophecies: Investigating Supernatural Signs, Apparitions, and miracles in the Modern Age’, by John Thavis (New York Times bestselling author of ‘The Vatican Diaries’); Viking, New York, 2015.
Dr Smith had learned of Mullan’s work to highlight the connection between Frederick Douglass – the man whom many African Americans consider the father of the US Civil Rights Movement – and the ‘Irish Liberator’, Daniel O’Connell.
Mullan had first come across Frederick Douglass while developing the Great ‘Famine’ Project (1984-1996) and included reference to Douglass’s 1845 visit to Ireland in his presentation: ‘Ireland: 5000 Year in 20 Minutes’ which he co-produced with artist Robert Ballagh in 1996.
Following the publication of his memoir ‘Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass – an American Slave’ in 1845, Douglass was encouraged by the abolitionist movement to leave the USA for his safety. He travelled to Ireland and Britain for two years, during which he promoted his book and the cause of ending slavery in America.
Douglass was aware of Daniel O’Connell and had the opportunity to encounter him on one occasion in 1845 at Conciliation Hall, Dublin. While the encounter was cordial and O’Connell invited Douglass to address the crowd, there is no evidence that both men ever met again. However, the encounter was to considerably alter the trajectory of Douglass’s future commitment.
In 2011, in advance of the visit to Ireland of the USA’s first African-American President, Barack Obama, Mullan re-published the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass – an American Slave to mark the historic occasion, in both softback and as a limited edition hardback. The foreword to this edition was written by the President of Ireland, Her Excellency, Mary McAleese, with an epilogue by the Chief Executive of Concern Worldwide, Tom Arnold.
Mullan’s introduction charts key correspondence between Douglass and the head of the American Abolitionist Movement, William Lloyd Garrison, following his encounter with O’Connell. Mullan demonstrates how Douglass’s thinking was influenced by O’Connell’s address that fateful evening. Mullan argues that the greatest gift Ireland gave to Douglass wasn’t simply welcoming him as an equal human being, but the fact that having arrived as a single issue campaigner, Douglass departed a determined internationalist. For the rest of his life, Douglass fought, not just for the ending of slavery in America, but, like O’Connell and Ireland, for the oppressed worldwide.
Mullan’s 2011 edition of the Douglass Narrative was awarded a 2012 Nautilus Book AwardsSilver Medal. Mullan’s introduction to the edition may be accessed by clicking here.
Dr. Smith and the National Center for Race Amity later invited Mullan and Hope Initiatives International to partner in an ambitious project with the working title: ‘Two Men Meet Project’. It is a multi-disciplined race amity project inspired also by the unique relationship between Frederick Douglass and Daniel O’Connell. The Two Men Meet Project aims, in four key areas, to build on the transformative hope with which a young Frederick Douglass left Ireland in 1846, greatly inspired by Daniel O’Connell. The Project aims to:
Renew the fight for Civil and Human Rights at a time of growing neo-nationalism;
Emphasize our common humanity through stories of race amity and ‘The Other Tradition’, especially through the story of the O’Connell and Douglass encounter in Ireland;
To make the future wellbeing and recovery of Haiti a special cause, in keeping with Frederick Douglass’s love and respect for the Haitian people, in particular, the founder of the 1st Black Republic, Toussaint Louverture.
To gather the elements of the project around a major piece of public art, entitled ‘Two Men Meet’, depicting the encounter of Frederick Douglass with Daniel O’Connell in Dublin in 1845, for the cities of Boston and Dublin. When accomplished, the monument will, simultaneously, be the first monument depicting Frederick Douglass in Europe, and Daniel O’Connell in the Americas.
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