A Sort Of Homecoming

“Where’s the love song to set us free
Too many people down
Everything turning the wrong way round

And I don’t know what love will be
But if we stop dreaming now
Lord know we’ll never clear the clouds”

Albarn/James /Rowntree

The world is wide, weird, wonderful, and yet wedded together.

Several months ago I was giving a talk in Nashville at the fantabulous ‘Ten x 9’ event when….

“You were giving a talk in Nashville ?”


“About what ?”

My talk was titled ‘I Hate Nashville’, but that’s not important right now. Anyway, after giving my talk, which was surprisingly well received, I was sitting with my friends AnnaMarie, and Tiny Ray when a gentleman called Dan Flynn introduced himself and told us that he’d passed through Monaghan a few times. Naturally we were curious and asked what had brought him to the True Centre Of The Universe, and he told us that he’d been involved in Project Children, and his family had taken in a couple of Catholic and Protestant teenagers during the Troubles for a six week holiday, and that he and his wife now visited these guys , now with families of their own, one of which lives in Lisnaskea, so that’s why he was passing through Monaghan.

I had never heard of Project Children and was too polite to ask.

“What the hell is Project Children ?” Tiny Ray asked.

Dan went on to explain that it was an idea by a cop in New York in the 70’s to take Catholic and Protestant teenage kids out of the conflict in the North for a while each summer, get to know each other, get some respite, maybe show them that there was another life. We chatted with Dan for a while, about the Project, the kids he’d met, Monaghan, and told him that he should look us up on his next visit.

We also met another guy, wonderful chap , Schweezy, who while I was up castigating Nashville, WhatsApped his folks “Do we have relatives in Monaghan, Ireland ?”, and it turned out he did, from Scotstown, a whole three miles from my house. We had a great natter with him too.

And that was that.

A few months ago my friend Glenn was at some function or other here in Monaghan, and there was a documentary being screened. He excitedly messaged me saying “I’m at this thing for Project Children and they’ve just shown this documentary, which was class, and towards the end there’s footage of Bill Clinton switching on the Christmas lights in Belfast in 1995, flanked by a Catholic teenager and a Protestant teenager…the girl is Trevor’s wife !!!”

Trevor is our friend, lives in Tyholland, and married to the long suffering, ever patient, Cathy !

It turns out that next year is the 50th anniversary of Project Children’s beginning and the archive is going to be hosted here in Monaghan in our grand spanking new museum.

Funny how the dots connect, sometimes.

Last week I was at a Monaghan Town Voucher breakfast where tribute was paid to Flemings, the Shopping Centre and Combilift for helping to make it a success. Colin Gray from Combilift asked if I’d like to join them next week when they’d be hosting Denis Mulcahy, the NYPD cop who started Project Children, in Comblift, and showing the documentary. I said yes immediately.

Having found our about it first of all in Nashville, 4,000 miles away, it would be churlish not to find out more, a mile from it’s future home.

They also offered a tour of the factory, if anyone was interested. I asked if I could take Dad, I knew he’d be VERY interested.

They said yes.

So , on Wednesday evening, Dad and I arrived at Combilift’s impressive premises for the tour. We were put into groups of 8-ish, and Dad and I happened to be in the same group as local legend, Brian ‘Beano’ Clerkin, and a distinguished looking American, who turned out to be Denis Mulcahy himself. Our tour was led by Daniel who was so enthusiastic about Combilift that we felt he must have born on site and raised by multi-directional forklifts.

The tour was incredible. The range , and scale, of the machines made, here in Monaghan , and exported worldwide was amazing. Each of the statisitics of shipments, daily production, US sales were more incredible than the last, and if Daniel paid attention to even half of the suggestions Dad made to him, those figures should double next year !

Towards the end of our tour we were joined by Martin McVicar, CEO and co-founder of Combilift. Martin has a gift for making everyone he meets seem , in that moment, like the most important person in the room. I first noticed this years ago when I helped out with a local Foroige/Garda ‘Youth Diversion Project’ run at the time by two Monaghan greats, Brenda Maxwell and Paul Smyth. I organised visits to various Monaghan businesses for the kids on the project so that they could see what may be available to them as ideas, or employment in the future. Combilift were one of the many companies that said yes.

Even then Combilift were a large company, but Martin insisted on taking the kids on the tour himself and Paul commented afterwards that he could see that Martin ensured during the tour that he spent a moment or two with each kid individually, learning their name, repeating it later in front of the others, and making them each feel seen. Martin does it naturally, and I doubt he gives it a moment’s thought. But I know it has stayed with a few of those boys.

As our tour finished and we made our way to meet the others who were gathering for the film screening I approached Mr.Mulcahy and asked if I could take a photo with him. I told him about meeting Dan Flynn in Nashville and how I’d learnt about over there and how odd it was to now meet him here.

“So many good people helped.” He replied, deflecting any praise of himself. “And this is home.” He said of Monaghan.

We all had tea and coffee together before the film. I saw Mike from Mullan Lighting, spoke to David Maxwell, Samanta Leslie, Michael McElroy, Brenda Woods, Michael McMahon, Rory Geary, Sheila Collins, and saw lots of people that I assumed initially that were there through business but then later realised that they were all there because they were all involved in something other than themselves. Some were involved in Tidy Towns, Foroige, Special Olympics, Errigal Truagh Special Needs, Youth Diversion, all were involved in some form of community group, and I know that some were involved in many community groups.

The film itself was heartening, joyful, sad at times, but ultimately uplifting, and inspirational. It deserves the widest audience.

There were so many magical moments captured in it. The two boys, Kevin, a 9 year old Catholic boy, and John, an 11 year old Protestant boy, both from Belfast, travelling on a plane for the firt time. Kevin was in the seat in front of John  and started pressing all of the buttons , making the seat zip back and forth, spilling John’s tapioca pudding. They actually fought on the plane to the States, before they ended up  sharing a room together in Greenwood , New York, for six weeks.

John, years later, said, when he realised that he would be sharing a room with Kevin, he remembered thinking “I’m not walking around in my underpants in front of a Catholic !”. It was when Kevin was picked on by neighbouring American kids that John fought to protect him, and they became friends. Lifelong friends as it turned out.

You need to see the film rather than me blathering about it.

Watch it. You can thank me later.

When it ended Martin stood up and said that he hadn’t seen it before, and he was actually lost for words. Denis Mulcahy stood beside him and thanked him for inviting us all. They were clearly respectful and a little in awe of each other.

Martin said that without Denis Mulcahy, his actions, and the actions of people like him, companies like Martin’s would not be here today.

It took a moment for that to sink in.

We’re sitting there in the auditorium of the purpose built factory of Monaghan’s largest company, employing 900 people, and the founder is saying that if this bomb disposal cop in New York hadn’t decided over a game of cards with his brothers and neighbours in 1975 that they should try and help get a couple of kids out of the North for a few weeks, none of it would exist.

Wow !

If you don’t have peace, or more importantly, if you don’t have the hope of peace, you don’t have a chance.

Monaghan’s new Peace Campus will feature our new library, museum, a new centre for the Youth Diversion Project, and a sort of homecoming for Project Children.

Ripples through time.

Dots that connect.

People meeting the right people at the right time.

Yesterday I came across a performance of ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ by Laufie, dodie, the National Symphony Orchestra, and Jacob Collier. It is STUNNING. At the end there is a standing ovation, and the compere, points to the performers and says something that I think could equally be applied to Monaghan, Martin Mc Vicar, Denis Mulcahy , the 9 year old Catholic ,Kevin, and the 11 year old Protestant John:

“Ladies And Gentlemen, this is your Future ! I think we’re going to be OK !”



P.S. Make yourself a proper cup of tea, switch off your phone and spend 10 minutes watching the performance mentioned above of ‘Wild Mountain Thyme

Author: paul

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