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Where solidarity abounds


Travel sickness means I can't read when I take the bus to Dublin. Even if I had a bestseller, I'd still spend the journey with my nose glued to the window.
Because nothing compares to the sight of fields in glorious shades of greens, browns and yellows that we pass.
The most psychedelic is probably rapeseed in bloom. But there's an understated beauty to fields of wheat and barley gently bowed by wind, or meadows speckled with wild flowers.
A rendition of The Fields of Athenry on the radio some months ago brought home to me the lyrics of this well-worn song.
It tells the heartbreaking story of a man sentenced to transportation for stealing food for his starving family during the Famine.
Adopted by the Irish football team, it's a popular anthem for many different sports supporters.
So I wasn't surprised to hear the song repeatedly during Euro 2012. The robust version sung by the Irish fans did much to drown out the roar of defeat. It was easy to imagine how soothing it must have been to the players' ears.
But the full extent of Ireland's loss was only apparent with news of the death of 21-year-old James Nolan. His was one of the voices that lifted the spirits of the annihilated team.
I heard the song again as I watched RTE's report on his funeral. I'm sure I wasn't alone as I struggled with emotion.
The priest spoke about 'solidarity'. Perhaps it was exemplified by Robbie Keane's moving gesture after the tragedy, when he dedicated his goal for LA Galaxy to James Nolan. He held up a shirt bearing his name to the crowd.
In truth, he was holding it up to the Irish supporters that counted James Nolan among their numbers, and who was one of those who never abandoned the team.
Solidarity lives on in Athenry this summer. On the day of James's funeral, RTE went on to report about local man, Ollie Walsh. This returned emigrant has opened a charity soup kitchen called 'Twist'.
In doing so, he is honouring a promise he made when he was 15. A soup kitchen in London gave him the support he desperately needed then.
The Fields of Athenry was also part of the soundtrack in the film about Sunday Independent journalist Veronica Guerin. She paid the ultimate price for putting public service before personal safety.
Her family lives with her loss, as does the family of James Nolan.
Maybe it's time to bury the myth of the self-made victor. Because everyone needs solidarity at some point in their lives.
Fair lie the fields that offer it.

Originally published in
 
The Sunday Independent

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