‘ Ar Scáth a Chéile…’ by Joe McVeigh


Last night I attended the reopening of St Macartin’s Church of Ireland Parish Hall in Enniskillen. A very large crowd from all sections of the community was present. The Dean in St Macartin’s is appropriately called Kenny Hall. His motto is ‘Hall  together Now’. The ceremony was performed by the very popular bishop of Clogher, John McDowell. The Church of Ireland in Enniskillen now have a fine hall with offices and meeting rooms. They received grant aid from the Special Investment Fund(SIF) which is a fund for projects in deprived areas. Fermanagh is certainly a deprived area.In his remarks at the end, Dean Hall  stressed that in Enniskillen there is one community-not two. While there is a political division here as elsewhere we can still manage to live and work together as one community. It can be difficult when there are so many obstacles but that is the challenge for all especially for the churches- and all the different community groups.


In the Irish language there is an old saying: ‘Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine’ – which means the people live in each others shadow. The people here in Fermanagh have a strong sense of community. That is how the Irish people have lived and survived through good times and bad times –especially through times of persecution and famine over many centuries and that is how most still live. There have been and will be closely fought elections but when they are over we have to go on living and working together.

We see the community solidarity most clearly at times of trouble and sickness and at the time of a death and a funeral. There is still in Ireland in most places a great reverence and respect for the dead and a great sense of support for the bereaved – in all faith communities and none. That is how the people have lived out their deepest human instincts and also their Christian faith by referencing Jesus on the Cross with a few of his friends around him.

That sense of community has survived here in spite of the difficulties imposed by partition and political strife and the times of violent conflict. Enniskillen suffered as much as anywhere else.

That wonderful sense of community has taken a battering over the last forty years or more with the many changes that have taken place in Irish society. With the advent of television and the end of the custom of ‘celidhing’ in houses, that sense of local community has been greatly reduced. The mobile phone has also changed the whole pattern of relating among younger people. ‘Texting’ is now as popular as talking.

It would be a great pity if the customs and sense of local community solidarity ever died out. Maybe it needs to be promoted and practiced in a more modern form.  Perhaps one night a week without TV or mobile phones and with people sitting around chatting might make for a more entertaining evening.

There seems to be a revival in some parts of Europe of the old practice of visiting each others houses. In Denmark there is a revival of Hygge which is a similar practice of community living. It would seem that it is slowly coming back in vogue judging by the fact that I now see a number of new books in the bookstores promoting this practice.I also see the growth of walking groups and cycling groups out and about Enniskillen. I believe that anything that promotes community living and togetherness is good. Conversely anything that interrupts community life is bad and damaging to people and their sense of being on a journey together. The Churches –clergy and laity-  have an important role in building and promoting community. They must decide to cultivate community. That is why a facility like St Macartin’s Hall is so necessary. Those who worked to make it possible deserve great credit.



13 Responses to ‘ Ar Scáth a Chéile…’ by Joe McVeigh

  1. Scott Rutherford May 11, 2017 at 12:26 pm #

    Nice piece Joe.

    I never bought the argument that there are two completely separate communities in NI. Unless a individual is living a completely ghettoised life they are bound to work, live and love with members of all faiths and none.

    The sooner we realize we are just one community with different political views the better.

    • Oriel27 May 11, 2017 at 12:50 pm #

      Segregating education was a massive mistake. Should never have happened.

    • Jude Collins May 11, 2017 at 1:37 pm #

      I share your sentiments, Scott, but Alex Kane was on Nolan this morning, reminding us that over 80% of us live lives separated from t’other lot – in housing, in socialising, in sport, in education…

      • Scott Rutherford May 11, 2017 at 1:50 pm #

        I rarely disagree with Alex but I think he’s got it wrong on this one Jude.

        Suppose we can only see things from our own perspective but I have friends, work with, watch/participate in sports with, have relatives and even am in love with people from the opposite so called “community”.

        Maybe I’m some kind of unusual case, but I don’t think so. I’d say I’m a fairly standard guy.

        Education is a stumbling block though and I accept society is divided clearly here. There doesn’t seem to be much of a appetite (going by exchanges I’ve had on here) for the Catholic Church to relinquish its control of education either in NI or the ROI.

        • Wolfe tone May 11, 2017 at 2:00 pm #

          The Catholic Church will never relinquish control of education as it has too much to lose, and it ain’t anything to do with politics.

        • Jude Collins May 11, 2017 at 5:47 pm #

          I think he’s largely right, Scott. I agree there are people who live their lives in a largely integrated way but they are the minority. Brian Feeney has written about this too and I think the figures show that the great majority want to live among their own lot, want to play with their own lot (the GAA is almost exclusively Catholic – but let’s not get into the reasons) and as you say schools. Two points worth considering: (i) I think most people like it like that; (ii) It’s not unique – in the US, African-Americans associate with each other for the most part, whites ditto, class divisions are very marked in Ireland, in England, in the US – there’s always plenty of barriers keeping people corralled, either by choice or involuntarily

          • giordanobruno May 11, 2017 at 6:51 pm #

            It is sad though that people should be separate based on something as silly as whether it is best to crack an egg at the pointy end or the round end!

    • billy May 11, 2017 at 4:50 pm #

      lots of dont choose to be part of a community.ive lived in this street 8yrs and know only about two families second names,the rest i just have nicknames for them.

      • Scott Rutherford May 11, 2017 at 5:06 pm #

        This is very true billy, without active engagement/effort people shouldn’t expect a sense of community to emerge magically on it’s on.

        Like everything in life you get out what you put in.

        • billy May 11, 2017 at 7:40 pm #

          yes active engagement can also be seen as being nosey,prying,ect.like community groups,committees ect that seem to have sprung up recently,some of the members are in everything but the crib at xmas.

  2. fiosrach May 11, 2017 at 4:05 pm #

    Integrated education is bland,British and colonial. Only for the church run schools the Irish language and history would be dead and gone.

  3. Eolach May 11, 2017 at 7:22 pm #

    In total agreement ,Fiosrach,,,,We all know that history is ” His Story ” , always written by the victor …and we know who would claim that mantel. Geography , would of course be the imposed ( Northern Ireland etc ) boundaries ,and not the natural ones …. Language ….well who needs ” An Ghaeilge ” when we can all speak and communicate in English……yes let’s all be monoglot , monocultural robots…..I haven’t much love for maintained Catholic schools , but indirectly and unintentionally they have kept our soul and spirit alive.

  4. michael c May 12, 2017 at 10:52 am #

    Integrated education is great in principle but the danger is it being used to foist a British imperialist identity on pupils.For instance I have seen integrated schools in the local papers celebrating royal births,commemorating WW1 because “it was fought for all our freedom” etc.Poppys are sold in these schools and British army recruiters are given free access.Does anybody wonder why Peter Robinson was advocating integrated education.He sees it as a process of converting the natives to little Englanders.