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Category: Work Experience

Student Years and Early Work Experience

Student Years and Early Work Experience

Youth & Community Work Student

Don Mullan (24) is welcomed by an Indian family, Fathima Nagar, Tamil Nadu, India, 1977

While studying Youth and Community Work at the University of Ulster (formally the Ulster Polytechnic) between 1977-79, Mullan spent his 1979 summer holiday’s in India, where he visited Mumbai (formally Bombay), Bangalore, Thiruchirapalli, and the Holy Family Hansenorium at Fathima Nagar, Tamil Nadu, in the deep south of the Indian subcontinent.

There he met a young doctor, Dr. Jacob, who invited Mullan to observe and photograph a series of operations he was conducting on various patients.

What impressed Mullan most was that Dr. Jacob could have chosen a lucrative position in a Western hospital, yet he chose to remain in India where he literally performed miracles is helping young leprosy suffers regain the use of their limbs, especially their fingers and hands.

Before Mullan left the Hansenorium, a young married couple who had met at the hospital, and who had been cured by Dr. Jacob, presented Don with a painting which the husband had painted. It depicted a deer standing by a brook in a tranquil valley. Across the painting, in Tamil, were the words from Psalm 23: 2-3: “Near restful waters he leads me to revive my drooping spirit.” Mullan retains and cherishes the gift to this day.

While in India Mullan purchased a copy of the autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi, “The Story of My Experiments

Gandhi: “My Life is My Message”

with Truth”. Mullan was deeply moved by Gandhi’s fortitude and commitment to non-violent change, particularly his emphasis on active non-violence over pacifism.

In 1999, on a return visit to India to interview His Holiness The Dalai Lama in Dharmsala, Mullan, before returning home, visited the site of Gandhi’s assassination on 30 January 1948. Mullan was particularly taken by Gandhi’s saying: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

By coincidence, Mullan was in India when the IRA killed Lord Louis Mountbatten on 27 August 1979. He was deeply moved by the outpouring of grief and sadness  with which the Indian people greeted the news. As Britain’s last Viceroy to India, who had overseen India’s Independence, it was clear from newspaper coverage and his conversations with Indian people that Louis Mountbatten was remembered with deep affection and respect.

Parkmore Youth Club, Ormeau Road, Belfast

Joseph Bratty

While studying Youth & Community Work at the Ulster Polytechnic Mullan was required to work at a youth club in Belfast. As a Catholic, he was assigned to a Catholic youth club in the sectarian divided city. Mullan, however, asked to be placed in a Loyalist youth club, as he wished to cross the divide and encounter the common humanity of youth from ‘the other side’. There was considerable risk associated with this decision as the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’ were still at their height, and a

Scene of Sean Graham’s Bookmakers Massacre, February 1992

Catholic youth worker had been assassinated the year before, less than a mile from his preferred Youth Club, on Belfast’s Ormeau Road. One of his assignments was an essay on a group of students he worked with. Amongst these was a youth named Joseph Bratty, who was latter assassinated by the Provisional IRA just weeks before the 1994 IRA ceasefire, in retaliation for his involvement in the murder of Catholics living in the vicinity of Lower Ormeau Road. Bratty was suspected by security forces of playing a role in, or at least orchestrating, around 15 killings, including the Sean Graham’s Bookmakers Massacre, in February 1992.

Following a presentation at Bologna University, Italy, Mullan was asked to contribute his 1978 essay to their media archives, detailing his experience, which can be accessed by clicking here. In 2015 Mullan was contacted by one of the youth mentioned in the essay, ‘Sammy’, who had found the essay on-line, and both he and Mullan have rekindled their friendship.

Early Work Experience:

Don Mullan began his working life, aged 19, as a successful insurance salesman for Canada Life. However, he quietly resigned his position on ethical grounds. He also worked as a night porter at the Everglades Hotel, Derry, and as a clerical officer at Altnagelvin Hospital, Derry, responsible for coordinating hospital maintenance, before resuming full-time studies at the Ulster Polytechnic (University of Ulster) Jordanstown, in 1977.

AFrI Years and Legacy: 1979 – 1994

AFrI Years and Legacy: 1979 – 1994

Fr. Sean McFerran SDB, founder of AFrI (Action From Ireland) who recruited Mullan as the agency’s first full-time Director

Don Mullan was Director of AFrI (Action from Ireland) for 14 years (1979-1994), a responsibility he assumed at the age of 24. He spearheaded the transformation of the organisation from an ‘aid’ agency into a dynamic justice, peace and human rights organisation. It was here his skills as a concept developer, including re-imagining symbolism, began to find expression.

Fr James O’Halloran SDB

AFrI was founded by Fr Sean McFerran, SDB, in 1975. While studying at the Development Studies Centre, Dublin, Mullan met Fr James O’Halloran SDB, a confrere of the founder. Fr. Jim, as he is affectionately known, spent most of his life working as a missionary in South America during which he became interested in the phenomena of Basic Christian Communities. He is the author of a series of acclaimed books which have been translated into several languages. In later life Fr. Jim became a much sought after lecturer on the subject, travelling extensively in Asia, Africa, the Americas and Europe to speak on Basic Christian Communities. An insight into Fr. Jim’s rich life, dedicated to the gospel of the poor, and his global contribution to the development of such communities, may be accessed by clicking here. 

Fr. O’Halloran recommended Don to Fr Sean McFerran and following a number of meetings McFerran offered Don the role of Director, adding that his main reservation was Don’s age, but nonetheless, decided to hand the reigns to him.

Joe Murray

Mullan invited Joe Murray to join the AFrI Executive Committee and later brought him on board as his assistant. After Mullan left AFrI in 1994 to take up a position with Concern Worldwide, Murray assumed responsibility for the organization. He remains in that position today and continues to develop and manage many of the legacy projects and concepts that Mullan introduced.

A number of Don Mullan’s AFrI initiatives can be accessed by clicking the following links:

1982: International Conference on World Peace and Poverty

1983: St Brigid’s Peace Cross Campaign

1983-84: Olinda-Recife, Brazil: Dom Helder Camara

1984-87: The Dunne Stores Strike

1984: Fr Niall O’Brien and the Negros Nine Campaign

1984: Wedding Day – AFrI HQ burned down

1985-87: Fr Rudy Romano and the movie ‘Missing’

1986: ‘Just a Second’ Campaign

1987-1994: The Great ‘Famine’ Project:

1988: The Annual Doolough Famine Walk

1989: The Choctaw-Ireland Great Famine Connection

1990: Famine Graves and Markers

1992: 500th anniversary of the ‘discovery’ of America by Christopher Columbus

1992: Tom Hyland and East Timor

1993: White Paper presented to Irish Government

1993-1994: The Grosse Ile Campaign

1993: Don Mullan discovered he is dyslexic

1994: Inauguration of President Nelson Mandela

1994-1996: Concern Worldwide

1995: The Carrigaholt Collection

1996: Concern Universal – Children in Crossfire







1982: Interenational Conference on World Peace and Poverty

1982: Interenational Conference on World Peace and Poverty

The monastery of St. Francis, Assisi, Italy

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.

St. Francis with the wolf and lamb

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.

1983: St. Brigid’s Peace Cross Campaign

1983: St. Brigid’s Peace Cross Campaign

St. Brigid’s Cross

Inspired by the generosity of five young boys from his hometown neighbourhood, who made and sold St. Brigid’s Crosses to support his work with AFrI, Mullan developed with them the St. Brigid’s Peace Cross Campaign. The five boys were brothers Eddie and James Doherty, Peter and Maurice McGowan and their friend Neil Mahony. The Nobel and Lenin Peace Prize winner, Sean MacBride SC, travelled to Derry to launch the initiative in 1993.

With Sean McBride SC – sitting: Neil Mahony; standing; James Doherty, Maurice and Peter McGowan, Eddie Doherty

Taking the ancient tradition of making St. Brigid’s Crosses on 1 February, the first day of Spring in Ireland, Mullan helped AFrI reinterpret much of its ancient symbolism in a 20th Century context. Of primary interest was the discovery of the story of Brigid giving away her father’s sword to a poor man. Mullan saw in this story a Celtic parable of disarmament and development.

His research also lead him to the site of St. Brigid’s Fire Temple in Kildare Town, which had burned perpetually for over 2000 years before it was extinguished during the Reformation. Only women could be keepers of the fire. Mullan became determined to help rekindle the ancient flame.

The St. Brigid’s Peace Cross Campaign became the seed of several other ongoing initiatives, including the rekindling of

Sr Mary Teresa Cullen rekindles Brigid’s Fire in 1993

Brigid’s Fire and the annual Feile Bride Festival, Kildare (1993), and greater involvement by the Brigidine Sisters in Justice and Peace initiatives, including the establishment of Solas Bhride Centre and Hermitages. Mullan developed a strong relationship with the Irish Brigidine Sisters and invited Sr. Eileen Deegan onto the AFrI Executive Committee, a role she fulfilled for several years.

Working with Mullan, Youghal Carpets, Cork, designed a hand-woven carpet depicting St. Brigid giving away her father’s sword to the mendicant. Two carpets, containing over 100,000 individual woolen pieces, were made by Irish school children and presented to the peoples of the USA and the former USSR.



1983-84: Dom Helder Camara, Recife, Brazil

1983-84: Dom Helder Camara, Recife, Brazil

In 1983-84 Don Mullan spent six months in the diocese of Recife and Olinda in Brazil’s north-east, then under the leadership of Dom Helder Camara, a world figure renowned for advocating social justice and change through non-violence. Mullan had been deeply influenced by two books written by Camara: The Desert is Fertile (1976) and Spiral of Violence (1971). These small volumes deeply influenced his work with AFrI and remain sources of inspiration to this day.

Dom Helder with Don Mullan in Durham, England, 1981

While in Brazil Mullan learned of an area north of Recife known as the Seca region where drought had raged for over a decade, causing famine and mass migration. Working with his AFrI colleagues, and Irish missionaries in the region, he helped organize relief to the area.

In December 2016 Mullan returned to the diocese of Recife and Olinda to testify before an Ecclesial Commission investigating the sanctity of Dom Helder Camara.

Mullan’s favourite quotations of Helder Camara are the following:

“Without justice and love, peace will always be the great illusion.”

“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”

“Become an expert in the art of discovering the good in every person.

No one is entirely bad.

Become an expert in finding the truthful core in views of every kind.

The human mind abhors total error.”


1984-87: Dunnes Stores Strike

1984-87: Dunnes Stores Strike

The Dunnes Stores Strikers

“The protest by Mary Manning and her colleagues was exceptional—they were joined only by a single worker at another store—and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions withheld even rhetorical backing for over a year. Nor at first did their actions appear to engender much sympathy among members of the public… Public perceptions of the strike were to change, however. There was growing support for the movement, partly as a consequence of a meeting in London in December between the strikers and Archbishop Desmond Tutu while he was on his way to collect the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo.”

– Professor Tom Logue, History Ireland

In the summer of 1984 Bishop Desmond Tutu, then Secretary–General of the South African Council of Churches (SACC), accepted Don Mullan’s invitation to visit Ireland as the guest of AFrI. It was the beginning of an enduring friendship between both men.

Shortly after Tutu’s visit to Ireland, Christine Mulvey, an AFrI colleague, informed Mullan that an anti-apartheid strike had begun at the Henry Street branch of Dunnes Stores in Dublin, and recommended he investigate. After visiting the picket line and meeting with Mary Manning, Karen Gearon and other strikers Mullan recommended that AFrI should support the young strikers in whatever way possible.

Fortuitously, that same year, Desmond Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prize. Mullan informed him about the strike and Tutu, who had already begun to call for economic sanctions against the apartheid state, agreed to publicly back the young shop workers. At Mullan’s suggestion, Tutu agreed to meet

Bishop Desmond Tutu meets Dunnes Stores Strikers at Heathrow Airport

representatives of the Dunnes Stores Strikers at Heathrow Airport en route to Oslo. The meeting proved to be a major turning point in the strike. For the duration of the strike Mullan was Tutu’s adviser.

In 1985 Mullan negotiated with the SACC and Bishop Tutu, then the 1st black Bishop of Johannesburg, to invite the Dunnes Strikers to South Africa for the first anniversary of their strike. Along with the strikers he was detained at Jan Smuts Airport and refused entry. The strikers, their trade union representative, Brendan Archbald, and Mullan, were all handed a legal document before being escorted onto a London bound flight. The document informed them that the non-visa privilege, available to Irish and British citizens, had been withdrawn by the apartheid regime.

Mullan raised the funding for the majority of the strikers to travel to South Africa.

President Nelson Mandela and Bono of U2

Later in 1985 Principle Management called Mullan and asked him to bring the Dunnes Stores Strikers to Windmill Studios as U2’s Bono wished to record with them his contribution to the Artists Against Apartheid song, I ain’t gonna play Sun City. Don collected some half dozen strikers from the picket-line on Henry Street and brought them to the studio where Bono welcomed them.

In April 1987, the same month the strike ended, Don Mullan’s first child, Therese, was born. The Dunnes Stores Strikers, despite their hardship, bought her a baby high-chair, which all of the Mullan’s three children enjoyed.

At Mullan’s invitation, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his wife, Leah, became joint patrons of AFrI.

1984: Fr Niall O’Brien and The Negros Nine Campaign

1984: Fr Niall O’Brien and The Negros Nine Campaign

Fr Niall O’Brien and his mother Olivia, following his return to Ireland in 1984

Don Mullan returned to Ireland from Brazil in March 1984.  By then the case of an Irish missionary Fr. Niall O’Brian, who had been imprisoned in the Philippines together with eight companions on trumped-up charges, was making headlines. AFrI was actively engaged in the campaign to have them released, primarily through the involvement of a member of the AFrI Executive Committee, Jack Hynes, a former missionary, who had spent most of his adult life supporting the struggle for human rights on Negros Island, the Philippines, the same island where O’Brien had been imprisoned. Hynes and Mullan had become friends during the summer of 1978 while Mullan was a volunteer with the Catholic Agency for World Development, Trócaire.

Fr. O’Brien was working on the sugar-rich along with an Australian missionary, Fr. Brian Gore, Filipino priest Fr. Vincente Dangan, and six Filipino co-workers: Geronimo Perez, Lydio Mangao, Jesus Arzaga, Ernesto Tajones, Peter Cuales and Conrado Muhal, when they were imprisoned in May 1983. They were accused of the murder of Mayor Pablo Sola and four companions, on the outskirts of the town of Kabankalan, 88 kilometers south of the capital, Bacolod City.

The accusations were a fabrication and an attempt to undermine their work for justice on behalf of peasant labourers

The Negros Nine in their prison cage

and their families – virtual slaves to powerful sugar barons whose loyalty was with the Filipino dictator, Ferdinand Marcos and the Filipino military, including dedicated death squads, ruthlessly imposing martial law.

Working closely with other development agencies, including Trocaire, human rights groups, missionary orders and the Filipino Irish Group, Mullan joined Jack Hynes and his colleague Joe Murray in mobilizing popular and political support for the Negros Nine in the lead-up to the 1984 visit of President Ronald Reagan to Ireland. This included a hugely effective AFrI initiative, the brainchild of Murray, of placing Fr. O’Brien’s mother, Olivia, inside a makeshift prison cage outside the US Embassy in Dublin and, again, outside the Garden of Remembrance at the very moment President Regan’s Air Force One landed in the Irish capital. By then the profile of the Negros Nine was such in Ireland that President Regan was asked on Irish television to intervene. Shortly afterwards they were released and the charges dropped.

Upon his triumphant return home to Ireland, he was greeted by thousands of people at Dublin Airport, Whitehall Parish, Sean MacDermott Street Parish and the Mansion House, Dublin. Don Mullan was asked to travel with Fr O’Brien from Dublin Airport into the city in recognition of the seminal work done by AFrI and other Irish justice and human rights organisations. The visit to the inner-city parish of Sean MacDermott Street was particularly poignant as it was the location of AFrI’s headquarters and AFrI had engaged the local people in fighting for the freedom of the Negros Nine.

The 1984 RTE Report of Fr. O’Brien’s homecoming can be viewed by clicking here:


1984: Wedding Day – AFrI HQ burned down

1984: Wedding Day – AFrI HQ burned down

On 6 October 1984, Don Mullan and Margaret Beatty were married. As well as families and friends, all of Mullan’s AFrI colleagues and Executive Committee attended, as did the AFrI special adviser, Sean MacBride SC. Many AFrI supporters also attended, including the Derry boys who had inspired the St. Brigid’s Peace Cross Campaign. AFrI’s patron, Fr Robert Nash SJ, officiated, assisted by, amongst others, Fr. Niall O’Brien. Mullan’s AFrI colleague, Joe Murray, was groomsman.

On the evening of their wedding AFrI’s headquarter’s, The Third World Centre, Summerhill, Dublin, was attacked and set on fire. It was the third attack in as many months, but on this occasion it was to end AFrI’s very positive engagement with the local Summerhill and Sean MacDermott Street community. The newly weds spent the afternoon of their first day of marriage sifting through the rubble of AFrI before leaving on their honeymoon around Ireland.

Irish Independent, Monday 8 October 1984

AFrI moved temporarily to nearby Buckingham Street where they were welcomed by the Prisoners Rights Organisation (PRO). Following discussions with Mullan and his colleagues, the PRO made discreet enquiries locally to determine whether the attack had been carried out locally or by outsiders. Originally, when AFrI suffered its first attack, its premises had been ransacked in a manner that could have been the work of petty thieves from the locality looking to see if money was kept on the premises. They got nothing. The second attack and finally third attack in which its premises were set on fire, showed a degree of intent and intimidation that seemed beyond the motivation of petty thieves. Furthermore, Mullan and his colleagues had developed a very good relationship with the local community, the highlights of which were the 1982 international conference on world peace and poverty; the stop-off by Fr Niall O’Brien upon his return to Ireland following his imprisonment in the Philippines; and the visit by Bishop Desmond Tutu in the summer of 1984.

Karen Gearon, Dunne’s Stores Striker, with AFrI Special Adviser, Sean MacBride SC

AFrI suspicions that the attack may have been my outsiders was heightened by the opinion of the organization’s Special Adviser, Sean MacBride SC. All three attacks happened in the aftermath of the visit to Ireland by Bishop Desmond Tutu, hosted by AFrI, during which he again called for economic sanctions against the apartheid regime. And, more recently, Mullan had persuaded Tutu to publicly declare his support for the Dunne’s Stores Strikers.

MacBride was of the opinion that the attacks may have been politically motivated by agents of the apartheid state whom, he said, were active throughout the world; and who were tasked with disrupting the work of groups and organizations who were running effective campaigns against the regime.

Irish Independent Report, 8 October 1984

Following their investigations, the Prisoners Rights Organisation informed AFrI that their contacts in the locality had reported back to them that locals had not been involved in the attack.

Those responsible were never identified.

Within a couple of months of the destruction of their premises, AFrI moved to premises on Mountjoy Square, Dublin. A major part of AFrI’s spirit – its relationship with the Sean MacDermott Street community – was lost.

The move, however, was to have a silver lining for Mullan. A floor above the new AFrI offices in Mountjoy Square housed the premises of Wolfhound Press, one of Ireland’s leading publishers, founded by Irish poet Seamus Cashman. Occasionally Mullan and Cashman met on the stairwell leading to their respective offices. The two men became friends, a friendship which remains strong to this day.

Poet and Publisher, Seamus Cashman

In 1996, when Mullan was working on Bloody Sunday, it was to Seamus Cashman and the Wolfhound Press he turned. Their partnership was to play a significant role in changing the course of history.


1985 – 1987: Fr Rudy Romano and the movie ‘Missing’

1985 – 1987: Fr Rudy Romano and the movie ‘Missing’

Campaigning for Fr Rudy and the disappeared

‘As a family, we were lucky to learn that Charles was dead. The torture of not knowing is the cruelest of all.’

  • – Joyce Horman

Fr Rudy Romano was a Filipino Redemptorist priest associated with the Irish province. He was committed to the work of social justice and joined the popular movement for political and economic change. On 11 July 1985 he disappeared and has not been seen since, presumed murdered by a pro-Marcos death squad. Amongst the campaigns Mullan spearheaded in AFrI was the sending of 1000 postcards to the head of the Filipino military who later complained about them to the head of the Redemptorist Fathers in the Philippines, and asked that the people of Ireland stop sending them. That news was a confirmation that we were on the right track and we intensified our efforts.

AFrI also funded a documentary film about the disappearance of Fr. Romano and the inconsistencies in the Filipino

Fr. Rudy Romano

State’s denials about his whereabouts. The documentary was featured on RTE’s main television news on the night it was publicly screened at Trinity College, Dublin, on 26 April 1987, the same day Mullan’s first child, Thérèse, was born.

To help highlight the campaign, Mullan and his AFrI colleagues organized a special screening of the 1982 Costa Gavras movie ‘Missing’, about the disappearance and murder of Harvard graduate, Charles Horman, following the US-backed overthrow of the Chilean President, Salvador Allende in 1973. Charles’ young widow, Joyce (played by Sissy Spacek), and his father and mother, Ed (played by Jack Lemmon) and Elizabeth, came for the screening at the Savoy Cinema, Dublin, and stayed with the Mullan family in their modest home in Clondalkin, Dublin.

Joyce Horman, left, and Terry Simon, right, who both feature in the movie ‘Missing’; during a reunion with the Mullans, New York, 2007

At the end of the screening Joyce addressed the packed cinema stating: ‘As a family, we were lucky to learn that Charles was dead. The torture of not knowing is the cruelest of all.’

The Mullan family on a visit to the home of Elizabeth and Joyce Horman, Manhattan, NY, in 1988.

Elizabeth Horman, a distinguished New York artist, returned to her home in Manhattan where she completed two paintings reflecting on her visit to Ireland. One, of children playing on a swing at a tree close to Mullan’s home; and the other portraying a young Don Mullan in a field, seeking a lost sheep. She told Mullan that it was how she thought of him.

Detail of Elizabeth Horman’s painting, depicting Don Mullan

Following the death of Ed Horman in 1991, Elizabeth presented the painting of the children to Don on a visit to New York later that year. She told him that it was Ed’s favorite painting and it hung on the wall of his nursing home room until he died. Elizabeth Horman passed away on May 10, 2001, aged 96.

The Mullan family and Joyce Horman remain good friends.


1986: ‘Just a Second’ Campaign

1986: ‘Just a Second’ Campaign

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.  This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children… Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, April 1953

Mullan created AFrI’s ‘Just a Second’ Campaign. Its primary objective was to demonstrate the wastage of the Arms Race in a world of hunger and poverty. The campaign, working with schools in Ireland, raised the equivalent of ten-seconds of Arms Race expenditure (based on UN figures) 1980s to:

(i) fund small poverty projects in the developing world and

(ii) demonstrate how resources could be used for life-giving rather than death dealing purposes.

Amnesty International, quoting the think-tank journal ‘Solutions’  estimate that the global arms trade is currently approaching US$100 billion annually.

AFrI made available the results of the ‘Just a Second’ campaign in a publication by the same name.

In 2015 AFrI revived Mullan’s idea.


1987-93: The Great ‘Famine’ Project

1987-93: The Great ‘Famine’ Project

“I went once to a so-called ‘Homeland’ – which are dumping grounds for the displaced people. I met there a little girl coming out of a hut where she lived with her widowed mother and sister. I asked her, “What do you do for food?” She answered, “We borrow food.” I looked around and wondered who even would have enough food to loan. I then asked her, “What do you do when you cannot borrow food?” She replied, “We drink water to fill our stomachs.”

“We drink water to fill our stomachs in a country that is a net-exporter of food to the world. People die of starvation in South Africa, not because there is no food, but because of deliberate Government policy.”

Bishop Desmond Tutu, Secretary-General, South African Council of Churches, Dublin, Ireland, 1984

Don Mullan was inspired to conceive and launch AFrI’s Great ‘Famine’ Project, based on the quotation above. It was delivered in Sean MacDermott Street Church during Bishop Desmond Tutu’s AFrI visit. Within it Mullan heard echoes of Ireland’s Great ‘Famine’ (1845-1852) during which a million people perished and another million fled Ireland as immigrants and refugees.

The Great ‘Famine’ Project was a multi-disciplined project that involved campaigning, lecture tours, theatre, publications and extensive news items, including three consecutive years of coast-to-coast coverage by the US networks ABC, NBC and CBS. Mullan was one of the first in the Irish world to recognise the approaching 150th anniversary as a ‘unique historical moment’.


Mullan consistently described its purpose as focusing on the moral imperative of harnessing the memory of a major injustice, not for bitterness or hatred, but as a catalyst to show solidarity with today’s marginalised and, inspired by Michael Davitt’s 1879 Land League, to work for systemic change.

The several initiatives and legacy ideas Mullan inspired are recorded in the following pages.


1988 – 93: The Annual Doolough Famine Walk

1988 – 93: The Annual Doolough Famine Walk

The 1988 Doolough Famine Walk was the first major initiative undertaken by Don Mullan for AFrI in the lead-up to the 150th anniversary of Ireland’s Great Famine.

The Doolough Valley, Co. Mayo

Mullan was not interested in history for the sake of history, nor was he interested in harnessing the memory of the Great ‘Famine’ as an anti-British bludgeoning weapon – though he was never shy of naming British colonial culpability. Rather, his focus was on the contemporary world. He argued that if the Irish, at home and abroad, believed that the Great ‘Famine’ was a seminal injustice, then we had a moral imperative to harness that memory in support of people struggling with the injustice of poverty and hunger today in a world of plenty.

Mullan was particularly taken by the story of the Doolough Tragedy which he first came across in 1987 in a book by Áine Ní Cheanainn, The Heritage of Mayo (first edition 1982). In her book Ní Cheanainn had a chapter about the impact of the Great Famine on her native County Mayo, and finished with a story headed ‘The Doolough Tragedy’.

Mullan first read the story in bed one night and was so taken by it that  the following day he read it to the AFrI staff.

Within a week, accompanied with his colleague Joe Murray, Mullan travelled to Mayo to explore the terrain. He recalls the impact of that journey as follows:

“I will never forget the feelings I had when, traveling south from the town of Louisburg, the Doolough Valley opened before us. We parked the car and went walking through the commonage. While a somber and tragic place, it is still one of the most beautiful and evocative valleys in Ireland, if not Europe. The long dark lake stretched for over a mile and a half towards a far shore, surrounded by the Mweelrea Mountains on either side, with Croagh Patrick to the east and the endless horizon of the North Atlantic Ocean hidden to the west. At that moment the possibility of re-creating the Doolough Walk, undertaken by 600 starving poor in March 1849, was born.”

The power of Mullan’s idea is illustrated by the fact that the Doolough Walk has been organized annually since 1988, apart from a couple of years, after his departure from AFrI in 1994, when it was dropped. However, popular demand encouraged AFrI to bring it back. While Mullan has nothing to do with the annual walk anymore, professionally it remains one of his most satisfying creations, allowing historical memory to act as a powerful catalyst in highlighting the plight of the world’s poor and dispossessed today.

The 1st Great Famine Walk in 1988

Logistically the walk is challenging to organize and required, and still does, the cooperation of the local Louisburgh community who work closely with AFrI.

The first walk was addressed by Fr Niall O’Brien, for whose freedom AFrI had campaigned in 1984. O’Brien’s speech eloquently linked the suffering of Ireland’s 19th Century dispossessed with the on-going suffering of the dispossessed of the Philippines and the majority world in the late 20th Century.

The power of the Doolough Walk should not be underestimated. For the first three years of the walk, Mullan was successful in attracting not just Irish television coverage, but also the three big US networks: NBC, CBS and ABC. For three years in a row, each of the broadcasters respectively carried a story about the Great ‘Famine’ coast to coast across the USA. There is little doubt that many of the subsequent Great ‘Famine’ initiatives that sprung up in the USA amongst Irish-American communities found their seed in those broadcasts.

Don Mullan addresses participants at the 1st Doolough Famine Walk in 1988

From a media perspective, the most successful Doolough Walk was in 1990, when AFrI invited representatives of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma to lead the walk. The invitation was due to the fact that their forebears sent US$170 in famine relief to Ireland in 1847.

In addition to RTE and the American network, ABC, Mullan also attracted the interest of Worldwide Television News who went on to broadcast a news piece on the walk in 56 countries worldwide. The coverage clearly demonstrated that AFrI, while small, could impact globally.

Amongst many high profile leaders of the Doolough Walk was the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his wife, Leah. At a press conference prior to the walk, he was asked why he had travelled from South Africa to such a remote part of the western world. With characteristic wit and humour he looked at the journalist asking the question and responded: “Why Bethlehem?”


1989: The Choctaw-Ireland Great Famine Connection

1989: The Choctaw-Ireland Great Famine Connection

Famine Walk 1994, lead by, amongst other, Gabriel Byrne, John Pilger and Waylon Gary White Deer.

Choctaw/Ireland Connection: During a lecture in upstate New York, Mullan learned of a little known story of a donation of $170 by the Choctaw Nation to Ireland in 1847, all the more remarkable considering they had suffered their ‘Trail of Tears’ removal from Mississippi to Oklahoma beginning in 1831. This story was important as it demonstrated the humanity of indigenous people, often characterized as ‘uncivilized’ by European colonizers who were responsible for their suffering, oppression and in some instances, their genocide.

In 1989 Mullan was the first Irish person to travel to Oklahoma, accompanied by his father-in-law, Dermot Beatty, to thank the Choctaw for their humanity and invited the First Nation to lead the annual AFrI Famine walk in 1990.

The Choctaw’s participation in the AFrI walk in 1990 was broadcast in over 50 countries by Worldwide Television News (WTN). WTN, now part of the Associated Press, has the story listed in their archive, but it has not yet been digitised. Mullan was made an honorary Chief of the Choctaw Nation at the start of the walk, an honour he shares with former Irish President, Mary Robinson.

President Robinson followed Mullan’s lead in 1995, travelling to Oklahoma to thank the Choctaw for their humanity.

The Doolough Famine Walk has since been joined on several occasions by the distinguished Choctaw artist and author, Waylon Gary White Deer.

Initiatives which the Choctaw/Ireland connection inspired are, amongst others:

  1. A commemorative plaque in Dublin’s Mansion House;
  2. A National Geographic and Turner Broadcasting documentary, ‘When Ireland Starved’ (1994), presented by Irish actor, Gabriel Byrne and featuring Waylon Gary White Deer, Professor Christine Kinealy and Don Mullan;
  3. Professor Christine Kinealy’s book, “Charity and the Great Hunger in Ireland – The Kindness of Strangers,” highlighting global generosity during the Great Famine;
  4. The commissioning by the Irish State in 1997 of Choctaw artist, Waylon Gary White Deer, to produce a painting for the 150th anniversary, commemorating the Choctaw gesture. White Deer donated his $20,000 fee to Concern Worldwide;
  5. A monument in Middleton, Co. Cork, unveiled by a Choctaw delegation in June 2017;
  6. The connection has also inspired several poems, songs, artwork and radio and television documentaries. The most recent documentary was by RTE’s Nationwide on 7 March 2018.
  7. The Long March, a children’s illustrated book by the award-winning artist author,  Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick
  8.  A massive outpouring of Irish generosity during the Covid-19 pandemic in response to appeal by a Navajo/Hopi community, with many of the Irish donors recalling the generosity of the Choctaw during Ireland’s Great ‘Famine’ in 1847.
1990: Famine Graves and Markers

1990: Famine Graves and Markers

Jose Carneiro, Brazil, visits the mass Famine grave, Swinford, Co. Mayo, marked by AFrI.

Mullan began to question the whereabouts of Ireland’s Famine dead. He discovered that there were, literally, hundreds of unmarked mass graves peppered throughout the island, containing the sacred remains of Ireland’s poorest and most vulnerable people. He sought to bring about a consciousness that would lead to their marking and respectful restoration. AFrI lead the way by initiating a number of monuments and memorials throughout the country. It is a process that continues.

AFrI Famine marker on the road to Doolough, Co. Mayo
1992 – 500th anniversary of the ‘discovery’ of America by Christopher Columbus

1992 – 500th anniversary of the ‘discovery’ of America by Christopher Columbus

In response to the 500th anniversary of the so-called ‘discovery’ of America by Christopher Columbus, Mullan organised a one-month sponsored walk from Oklahoma, through Arkansas, to the sacred and ancient Choctaw mound of Ninih Waiya, Winston County, Mississippi. The walk had two purposes: (i) to emphasise that America was ‘discovered’ long before Christopher Columbus and (ii) to raise funds for the 1992 Somali Famine. Mullan travelled in advance to organise logistics.

The walk was led by veteran RTE personality Donncha Ó Dúlaing who said it was the best organised walk he had ever been asked to lead. The walk was covered by several local US networks, radio stations and newspapers, and was the subject of a special RTE documentary, broadcast on Christmas Day 1992, and a two-part RTE radio documentary.

Representatives from two Brazilian First Nations, Mauricio Guarani of the Guarani tribe, Sao Paulo region, and Gerson Baniwa of the Baniwa tribe from the Amazon, travelled to participate in the latter stages of the walk – and then to Ireland – to highlight threats they still faced to their ancestral homelands, 500 years after the arrival of European colonisers.

General Philip Sheridan and the Indian Wars

While in Ireland the Baniwa and Guarani representatives participated in a conference co-sponsored with Trocaire.

Mullan, on behalf of AFrI, also invited JoAnn Tall, representing the Oglala Lakota, for a ceremony organised at Killinkere, Co. Cavan, the ancestral homeland of General Philip Sheridan. The ceremony, which acknowledged the role Irish emigrants,  and their offspring – including Sheridan – played in the brutal colonisation of the Plains Indians.  The ceremony was attended by Irish descendants of General Sheridan. JoAnn Tall, and her three-year-old daughter, RayAnn, planted a tree of reconciliation during the ceremony at Killinkere, close to the ancestral homestead of General Sheridan’s parents.

1992 – Tom Hyland and East Timor

1992 – Tom Hyland and East Timor

Don Mullan was invited to address Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) during a weekend gathering of possible

Tom Hyland

VSO volunteers in Mornington, Co. Meath, on AFrI’s Great ‘Famine’ Project. Amongst those attending was Tom Hyland, a CIE bus driver from Ballyfermot, Dublin. Hyland was very taken by Don’s talk and asked if he could travel back with him to Dublin as he wished to continue a conversation Tom initiated at the end of Mullan’s presentation.

At the conclusion of their journey Don invited Tom to visit the AFrI office in Harold’s Cross the following Monday where he introduced Tom to his colleague, Joe Murray. It was to be the beginning of an enduring friendship between both men.

In 1993 Tom, by chance, saw a John Pilger documentary, “Death of a Nation: The Timor Conspiracy.” [30] The documentary graphically exposed the brutality of the Indonesian occupation of the small island and the massacre of some 200,000 Timorese people. Tom was so incensed by the documentary that he began the East Timor Solidarity Campaign, with the enthusiastic support of AFrI. Don Mullan was interviewed, amongst others, in Tom’s Ballyfermot home by RTE journalist, Joe Duffy, then working on the Gay Byrne Radio Show, at the launch of the campaign. Tom excelled in the role and skilfully built the campaign into a major national human rights campaign and one that would later be recognised as amongst the most effective internationally by the new East Timor Government, following their independence from Indonesia.

In the immediate aftermath of the 30 August 1999 UN backed referendum, in which 78.5% of the population voted for independence, pro-Indonesian Islamic paramilitaries began to attack East Timorese pro-independence groups, including the Catholic diocese of Dili, whose Bishop, Carlos Filipe Belo, had won the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize along with political activist, José Ramos-Horta. Terrorised, tens of thousands of East Timorese fled to the mountains, while a tense stand-off ensued around a UN compound, within which civilians sought protection.

President Taur Matan Ruak presents Joe Murray with the ‘Order of Timor-Leste’ medal on behalf of the East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign

At the height of the crisis, Mullan travelled at the request of Tom Hyland to Washington DC to meet with bi-partisan Congressional committees, the State Department and representatives of the Clinton Administration, to ensure US pressure was brought to bear on the Indonesian Government to respect the results of the referendum and to end of violence against the Timorese people.

AFrI’s role in supporting the East Timor Ireland Solidarity Campaign was recognised when Joe Murray was given the honour of accepting on behalf of the Campaign, the Timor-Leste Presidential Medal, in recognition of its role in supporting the Timorese peoples struggle for independence.

1993: White Paper presented to Irish Government

1993: White Paper presented to Irish Government

“In 1993 representatives from AFrI met with Fianna Fail Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Tom Kitt, and offered recommendations for an official commemorative programme based on a five-point agenda: the similarity of the eventual plan adopted by the government to AFrI’s proposals leave no doubt as to its central influence on the eventual shape of the commemorations. Indeed, it was during AFrI’s seventh annual Famine walk in Louisburgh, Co. Mayo, that Minister Kitt officially announced the establishment of the government’s National Famine Commemoration committee in May 1994, to be lead under his direction.”

Emily Mark-Fitzgerald

“Commemorating The Irish Famine – Memory and the Monument” (Liverpool University Press 2013)

National Famine Memorial, Murrisk, Co. Mayo

In early 1993 Don Mullan saw a letter published in both the Irish Times and the Irish-American newspaper, the Irish Voice, criticising the Irish Government for doing nothing to commemorate the approaching 150th anniversary of the Great Irish Famine. He considered the criticism unfair as most politicians find it hard to think beyond their four year term. Consequently, he initiated a White Paper on behalf of AFrI which was presented to the Minister for State at the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, Tom Kitt.

Minister Kitt acknowledged that the AFrI paper was the first presented by any organisation in Ireland or the Irish

The Jeanie Johnston crossing the Atlantic Ocean

world to the Government with concrete proposals concerning the anniversary. The White Paper included suggestions for a national memorial in Co. Mayo, an Atlantic crossing to commemorate those who perished as political and economic refugees; and linking an increase in Official Development Assistance to the 150th anniversary. The AFrI proposals were, variously, implemented.

Furthermore, the paper led to the then Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, instructing Minister Kitt to establish an inter-departmental committee to plan for the 150th anniversary. The influence of this committee is still ongoing and eventually led to the establishment of an official Great Famine Commemoration Day in 2009.

In her book, “Commemorating The Irish Famine – Memory and the Monument” (Liverpool University Press 2013), Irish academic, Emily Mark-Fitzgerald, wrote: “In 1993 representatives from AFrI met with Fianna Fail Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Tom Kitt, and offered recommendations for an official commemorative programme based on a five-point agenda: the similarity of the eventual plan adopted by the government to AFrI’s proposals leave no doubt as to its central influence on the eventual shape of the commemorations. Indeed, it was during AFrI’s seventh annual Famine walk in Louisburgh, Co. Mayo, that Minister Kitt officially announced the establishment of the government’s National Famine Commemoration committee in May 1994, to be lead under his direction. “

1993-1994: The Grosse Ile Campaign, Canada

1993-1994: The Grosse Ile Campaign, Canada

Grosse Ile, Quebec. Each grave represents, not a single burial, but a mass grave of Irish immigrants who made it to America and expired.

Grosse Ile Campaign: Grosse Ile, a 19th Century quarantine Island on the St Lawrence Estuary, some 30 miles upstream from Quebec City, is the site of mass graves containing the remains of thousands of Irish immigrants who reached the shores of North America but who, due to disease and exhaustion, expired on the island.

In May 1993, Mullan was asked by Action Grosse Ile to assist in their campaign to ensure the island was preserved by Parks Canada as a sacred historic site of particular historic interest to Ireland and the Canadian-Irish community. Mullan addressed a public hearing in Montreal at which he told the assembled panel and public that he had come specifically “to ensure that the sanctity of Grosse Ile, as a place of profound Irish significance is protected and preserved. Outside of Ireland, Grosse Ile is recognised by us as the most important and evocative Great Famine site on earth.”.

Historian, Marianna O’Gallagher, speaks with President Robinson, during her visit to Grosse Ile in 1994.

In August 1994, by then working with Concern Worldwide, Mullan was invited to lead a walk from Quebec to Grosse Ile to coincide with a visit by President Mary Robinson to the Island.

1993 – Don Mullan discovered he is dyslexic

1993 – Don Mullan discovered he is dyslexic

Left-handed Don Mullan during his 1st year at school

“Discovering that I am dyslexic… set me on a road to new and unimagined adventures”.

In 1993 Don Mullan discovered he is dyslexic, a discovery that opened up new possibilities heretofore he never thought possible.

From childhood Mullan harboured profound self-doubt because of his reading and writing difficulties and some traumatic memories from primary school. His essay, ‘Breaking Free from the Lie’, in which he writes about his experience, was published in 2009 by the Dyslexia Association of Ireland in a book entitled, ‘Living with Dyslexia – Information for adults with Dyslexia’. The cover of the book carried the quotation from Mullan’s essay: “Discovering that I am dyslexic… set me on a road to new and unimagined adventures”.

Master John Flood, 2017, with his grandson Sean.

Mullan’s essay discusses the nobility of teaching, including the power of words to wound or heal. From his primary school days he recalls two teachers in particular. The one he recalls with deepest respect and affection is his first male teacher, in Primary 4, Master John Flood, then a young man in his mid-20s. Mullan’s most profound memory of Master Flood is that of a man of great kindness who always made him feel respected. Today they share a friendship.

Mullan is a strong advocate on behalf of children and adults with dyslexia. He was the keynote speaker at a European Conference on Dyslexia held in Dublin in 2004 and regularly engages with educational associations, librarians, and local dyslexia groups throughout Ireland. A number of websites list Mullan amongst ’25 famous authors with learning disabilities’.

Mullan is a member of the International Dyslexia Association.

To access a pdf copy of Don Mullan’s essay ‘Breaking Free from the Lie’, please click here.

1994 – Inauguration of President Nelson Mandela

1994 – Inauguration of President Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela is inaugurated as the first democratically elected President of South Africa

Mullan attended the inauguration of President Nelson Mandela as the guest of Archbishop Desmond Tutu along with AFrI colleague, Joe Murray. Later they attended a symposium on Robben Island to discuss the future use of the former prison that incarcerated many of South Africa’s black leaders, including Nelson Mandela. Archbishop Tutu invited Mullan to address the gathering on the Great Famine Project, as a demonstration of remembering the past in an empowering way.

After 14 years, Don Mullan concluded it was time to leave AFrI. He left AFrI in the knowledge that the organisation was financially stable and he was leaving it with a positive legacy of ideas to build upon.  Indeed, almost a quarter of a century after his departure, the Great Famine Project, the Doolough Famine Walk, the Choctaw/Ireland connection and St. Brigid’s Peace Cross Campaign remain solid bedrocks of AFrI’s annual activities.