Don Mullan remembers a man of peace…
John Hume 1937 – 2020
“Our humanity transcends our identity.”
Don Mullan remembers a man of peace…
Don Mullan remembers a man of peace…
John Hume 1937 – 2020
“Our humanity transcends our identity.”
In 1988 Don Mullan learned of the Choctaw generosity towards Ireland’s ‘Famine’ victims while speaking in upstate New York. In 1989 he travelled to Oklahoma to thank the Choctaw people for their generosity and to invite them to Ireland to lead the AFrI Great Famine Walk in 1990. On that occasion he was made an Honorary Chief of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Thus began a wonderful relationship between Ireland and the Choctaw which is outlined elsewhere on this website.
Little did Mullan realise the impact the highlighting of this little detail of history would have in the years following, including visits to the Choctaw by the Irish President Mary Robinson and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
On May 5, 2020, Mullan began to get texts telling him of a news item on the main Irish (RTE) television news concerning an outpouring of generosity from Ireland to a GoFundMe Covid-19 appeal by Navajo/Hopi Native Americans. The organizers were surprised by the many donations that were coming from Ireland, many of them referencing the Choctaw generosity to Ireland in 1847, the darkest year of the Great ‘Famine’. The story has now gone viral, with international medial outlets also covering it:
Here is a link to the RTE coverage.
Here is a link to CNN coverage:
Here is a link to an Irish Times article.
And here is the link to the GoFundMe appeal that has called forth such an inspiring outpouring of humanity from the Irish worldwide.
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.
In September 2018, 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 Catholic Church in Latin America and offers renewed hope today at a time when the Church is in turmoil.
The following essay 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 to 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.”
Since receipt of the above, Fr. Jim has sent me three other important documents that are key contributions to understand the enormous and historical contribution he has made to the advancement of Justice and Human Rights within the Universal Church:
Inaugural Aer Lingus flight between Ireland (the Emerald Isle) and Seattle, WA (the Emerald City)
“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
Mobile Phone Photography – A new departure
In 2006 Don Mullan was named a NOKIA Ambassador following his proposal to create the World’s 1st Photographic Exhibition based entirely on NOKIA/Carl Zeiss mobile phone imaging capabilities.
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 Independent on 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”.
“Don Mullan who had the exhibition printed directly from phone to A3, and they looked brill”
And from the gallery that hosted the exhibition:
“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.
About Place Journal:
The following testimonials may be accessed by clicking on their names:
Tom Arnold, Former CEO Concern Worldwide
Gabriel Byrne, Actor, Ireland
Professor Sam Dash, Georgetown University Law School, Washington DC
Susan G. Hackley, Program on Negotiation, Harvard Law School, Harvard University, Boston
Rev. Denis Holtschneider, President, DePaul University, Chicago
Woody Kerkslager, Former Mayor, Madison, New Jersey
President Mary McAleese, Ireland
Jim Sheridan, Movie Director, Ireland
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Cape Town, South Africa
UNESCO: Professors Mark Brennan and Patrick Dolan
Waylon Gary White Deer, Choctaw Artist, Author, Lecturer
ORIGIN OF AN IDEA
On 29 September 2017 Don Mullan received a WhatsApp text from a friend, 80-year-old Irish missionary, Fr. Pat Clarke CSSp, who has spent most of his life fighting for the rights of the poor 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. 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. It was the first time Mullan learned of the initiative.
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 may be forced to migrate during the next three decades. 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. When completed it will be the longest living organism upon the planet.
Mullan’s idea of The Laudato Tree’ © Initiative is inspired by the historic and groundbreaking environmental and development encyclical, Laudato Si’, issued in 2015 by Pope Francis and addressed not just to Roman Catholics, but to all the peoples of the world, on Care for Our Common Home. The title of the encyclical Laudato Si’ is, itself, inspired by the great Canticle of Creation by St. Francis of Assisi, after whom Pope Francis is named.
In the following short BBC documentary, you will see Senegalese women, already engaged in growing the wall, who are singing:
“Praise to the trees [Laudato Trees!]
The wall will bring you prosperity”
They have already planted over 11 million trees!
The Senegalese women, along with Pope Francis, inspired Mullan to develop The “Laudato Tree” © Initiative. It is Mullan’s intention to develop the initiative globally, as a living and life-giving expression of Laudato Si’.
“This is an historic moment.” he 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.”
You are encouraged to watch the short BBC video above. For further information on The Great Green Wall Project, click here.
Don Mullan is now a consultant with the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), pioneering the Great Green Wall and has forged important links with the African Union. He has been instrumental in helping to secure a grant of 1.2 million euros for a major inventory that is currently establishing exactly how much of the ‘wall’ has been created and how much more needs to be done to realise this epic project by 2030. Mullan is also an Executive Producer on the award-winning feature documentary ‘The Great Green Wall’, having procured the support of the Irish Government, the Laudato Si’ Challenge, and Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter.
Mullan has discussed with the UNCCD and the African Union the importance of building a popular global movement to ensure the wall is completed by 2030. Key to this will be the John Paul II Foundation for the Sahel whose capacity he hopes to help grow through the Laudato Tree © Initiative. Supporting Mullan in this endeavor is Eric Harr, Founder and CEO of the Laudato Si’ Challenge. Harr’s 9-year-old son, Turner, is an Associate Producer on the Great Green Wall documentary film and his 16-year-old daughter, Vivienne, has agreed to lead the Laudato Tree Initiative in the USA and worldwide. You may listen to Vivienne’s foundational statement by clicking here.
On May 10, 2020, The Laudato Tree © Initiative and the movement being built by young Vivienne Harr was endorsed by Pope Francis. The Initiative has also been adopted by the Vatican as one of the primary projects to celebrate the 5th anniversary of Laudato Si’.
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
“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.”
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.
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:
High resolution images of James Burke’s war memorabilia, including documents, medals and the crucifix, may be viewed by clicking the following europeana 1914-1918 page dedicated to the young Dubliner: http://www.europeana1914-1918.eu/en/contributions/3626
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.
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.
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.
Speaking Truth to Power: The Donal De Roise Affair (Curragh Books, Ireland, 2006) is Don Mullan’s third major investigative book.
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.