The end of the year is a good a time to look a back and assess the last 12 months. Personally, I feel like I did quite a lot this year, and am incredibly grateful for the opportunities that I was given in 2018. There are quite a few things that define the last year for me, and some of the main ones include:
Being Carless in Cork
2018 marks my first full calendar year without my own car. Last year, I made the leap and sold my car in favour of saving more money, getting to work or by foot, and not worrying about trying to find a place to park. The positives side effects of this are pretty obvious. I have been able to save a bit of money, I am fitter because of all the cycling and walking, and I would say less stress on account of not having the responsibility of parking, maintaining, trafficking, and cleaning a car, I have reduced my carbon footprint significantly, and I don’t have to sit in traffic anymore. There haven't really been any downsides to not having a car, except for having to plan my trips a little bit better as I couldn’t just hop into the car and go and visit people, but after the initial adjusting period this worked out fine. However, I have been on the train more often which meant being able to do a bit of work while en-route to the next destination, and not being tired from concentrating on the road when I arrive. I have also taken to bringing my bike on the train so that I can finish the last leg of my journeys without having to rely on busses or taxi's.
The birth of Irish language hip-hop happened in 2018. It all stared with their debut song CEARTA which was straight from the streets of West Belfast and from the very beginning struck a chord with young people all over the country, especially with young Irish speakers who have never had a hip hop voice to speak of…until now.
The Belfast trio KNEECAP have exploded onto the scene, played a lot of the major festivals this year, and released their first mixtape 3CAG earlier in the year. In the space of 12 short months, they have gained a cult following and tapped into an audience that have been seemingly waiting for a crew like KNEECAP to come along and give them an expressive outlet and music that they can relate to, in an language that is their own, and from the world they live in. Nialler9 described them as ‘hip hop gold as Gaeilge from Belfast’.
From the very beginning, hip hop has been about relaying a message from places that don’t get positive media coverage, from people who often don’t have a mainstream voice, and from artists who don’t fit within the tidy confines of the status quo. In this sense, hip hop has given a voice to people from council estates, ghettos, and neighbourhoods that have many social problems. Its not about airbrushing over topics such as drugs, food banks, unemployment, inequality, resistance to authority, or discrimination , but to given an insight into life outside the leafy suburbs, and a creative outlet for the people who live in that life that they can relate to. I don't know if KNEECAP would say that they set out to do all of the above, but for me 2018 has been the year of KNEECAP! They have a national tour coming up in February so go and check them out on Facebook or Instagram.
I went there twice this year. In March I completed the Palestine Half Marathon, and visited quite a few groups in the West Bank, and also raised some money for the Al-Helal Football Academy in Gaza. In August, I went back and spent some more time in the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem. Home to over 5500 people and known as the more teargassed place in the world on account of the extraordinary amount of tear gas that is indiscriminately fired into the camp by the Israeli Army. As a follow on from this visit in August, we imported some hand made crafts and products from the West Bank and held a one day pop-up shop at ACLAÍ to raise some funds for the Lajee Centre, which is the volunteer community centre that serves the people of the Aida camp. You can hear a bit about my trips here., and a recent newspaper feature here. As a side note, I managed a few other trips this year, to London, Budapest, and Iceland.
The Blindboy Podcast
Blindboy Boatclub from the Rubber Bandits started his podcast after the release of his book of short stories, 'The Gospel According to Blindboy', and it has since become a staple of my week. Released each Wednesday morning, the Blindboy Podcast delivers a beautiful midweek 'podcast hug' discussing anything from the basics of psychology and cognitive behavioural therapy, the history of hip hop, the origins of the swastika, or a live show with an interesting guest. It has been really great following the growth of the podcast, and being a part of a growing listenership and a movement towards crowd funded independent media that allows artists to produce content on a consistent basis. As Blindboy often suggests, if you are going to start listening to the show, go to the beginningand work your way through the episodes. You will thank yourself (and Blindboy) for the lovely blend of personal reflection, stories, research, and humour.
This year I decided to take some time off here and there to go to a few music festivals. I managed to get myself to All Points East, Body and Soul, Szegit, Liú Lúnasa, and Electric Picnic. The best thing about all of the above was meeting old friends and making new ones, followed by being able to go to some amazing concerts. I especially loved seeing my friends playing on stage this year, namely Moxie, Hermitage Green, Kneecap, Síomha, Daithí, Ciara Brady, and Bon Voyage. Outside of these gigs, my favourites this year included LCD Soundsystem, Chet Faker, Mano Le Tough, Artic Monkeys, Pete Tong, Jungle, Maggie Rogers, King Kong Company, and Versatile. The flip side of the festival trips was the absolute mess that was left behind in the general campsites afterwards. Check out this article to see the sorry state of the place after Electric Picnic, with the silver lining of the Gaeltacht Campsite which was left as clean as a whistle by the campers there. In 2019, I would like to go to a few smaller festivals, and also might invest in some sort of wheelie buggie thing to carry bags and tents back to the bar afterwards!
We work a lot with people with disabilities at ACALÍ and were very proud to pick up a National Inclusion Award in December 2018 for our efforts in this area. The work we do to make ACLAÍ an open an inclusive training facility for people of all levels of ability is a real manifestation of our core values of leading by example, and providing a quality and ethical service. 2018 was capped off nicely with this Inclusion Award, but the credit goes to the staff and members of ACALÍ for making it all possible. If I was going to make one recommendation about working with people who have a disability for other strength coaches out there, it would be to see past any disability and realise that we are all very much more similar to each other than we are different regardless of level of ability of disability. Here is a blog I wrote about 3 people who have disabilities and who have had a very positive impact on my life.
Bringing People Together
I have always been the kind of person who has liked to feel a sense of genuine purpose in the work that I do. This year, I was asking myself the hard question of 'What is the purpose behind ACLAÍ?"Of course the obvious answers of 'helping people with their health and fitness',or 'helping our members achieve their goals', 'proving a place for our coaching team to develop', or 'providing a top class service'all sprang to mind immediately. However, the real purpose that jump out at me this year was 'bringing people together.'
The service that we provide at ACALÍ brings people from all walks of life together. It brings coach and member together to for a cooperative relationship towards a stronger and more mobile body. It brings member and member together during sessions where everyone is working hard. And this year it also brought coaches, members, and friends together to socialise, party, and fundraise as well.
In July we held the first Gym Jam, which was organised by my great friend Alex Sampson and I, with the help of the ACLAÍ staff and friends. We raised over €6000 for the Irish Wheelchair Rugby Team's trip to the World Championships in Sydney, and had a night of music, dancing, and partying that will live long in the memory of everyone who was there. The vibes were full of love that night and it really added another element to ACLAÍ. As mentioned above the next fundraiser that we organised was the Pop-Up Shop for Palestine, which raised over €5000, and was a great success on account of the team of people who all chipped in to organise, volunteer, and support the event.
To think of health as the ability to run a certain distances, lift a certain weight, look a certain way, or eating certain foods is folly. Health comprises of physical, mental, social, and environmental elements and to focus on one at the expense of the others will leave stones untuned. The training at ACLAÍ addresses the physical and to a certain extent the social aspects of health on account of our interactive and cooperative approach. Another big part of 2018 for me was the success for our Lón Mór project. This event consists of a long table in the middle of the gym and everyone bringing food along to share it together. Breaking bread at the same table, sharing stories and jokes, and having a laugh about things is about as important a thing to do for health as I can think off, and for me far outweighs going on some fad diet for a few weeks. We had 4 of these events this year and to see people coming together and sharing food at an event that is totally free was a great success!
We also started a WhatsApp group at ACLAÍ of staff, members and friends and organised a few get togethers outside of the gym setting. Most recently, a Christmas card making meetup. All good things, and all making 2018 the year of bringing people together at ACLAÍ!
Rebel Matters Podcast
This year I made space for presenting and producing the Rebel Matters Podcast(currently on 28 episodes). As with any other long term project like this much of the challenge has been finding the time and space to keep the show on the road, and figuring out what direction to go in as the weeks and months roll by.
With the podcast, I want to make interesting episodes where the listener will learn something new or hear a new perspective on the topics we discuss. My goal with presenting the podcast is to keep it real, and try to make it a representation of my own personality when talking or interviewing. I also want it to be a fun project to be involved in and to listen to. Listening back to the initial episodes I can hear my 'podcast voice' that is kind of an unintentional voice that I was assuming during the episodes. I have been working on presenting in a more natural and laid back style, and I think this is providing a nice experience for the listeners!
The things that I enjoy most about the podcast is meeting the guests and having a focused chat with them, learning new things as the episodes go by, and getting feedback from listeners.
In the last couple of months, I have gotten into a nice groove with the podcast, releasing episodes on Friday mornings, and getting good constructive feedback from friends and listeners. You can catch the Rebel Matters Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Stichter, Google Play, YouTube, and anywhere you normally get your podcast hits from.
2018 is also the year that I decided to learn more about the direct provision system. This is the system that is set up in Ireland to hold asylum seekers in a kind of limbo when they arrive to Ireland to seek refuge from their country of origin, and results in people being held in very poor conditions for indefinite periods of time. I had the opportunity to meet Ellie Kisyombe and interview her for the Rebel Matters Podcast. Ellie has been in direct provision since 2010 and has worked hard to create something positive from her situation. She is a founder of OurTable and a very inspiring woman to speak with. Direct provision is a terrible system that needs to be dismantled and replaced with a process that affords people arriving on the shores of Ireland to seek refuge their dignity, human rights, and opportunity to make a lives for themselves free from persecution and threat of violence.
A couple of months ago my friend Jack Crotty, AKA Rocket Man started a new business in Cork, which has totally changed the way that I shop and the way that I eat. Neighbour Food is an online farmers market where you can order and pay for locally produced food and produce on the Neighbour Food website, and pick it up on Tuesday evening. Personally, this has resulted in me eating much better quality food, planning out my food for the week, eating less takeaways, spending less money on food during the week, and getting to know the local food producers in Cork. 2018 is the year of Neighbour Food, and I hope 2019 brings great success to this brand new start-up in Cork! If you are in Cork, head on over to the Neighbour Food website and check it out.
Ireland is in a housing crises. After everything that we went through in the leadup and the aftermath of the massive economic recession with the loss of jobs, lives, and houses, we are back on the merry-go-round of steadily increasing rents, house prices, and homelessness. This year has seen private security firms from the north of Ireland coming into the republic to enforce eviction notices and kick people out of their homes in scenes that are nearly identical to the portrayals of the landlords and bailiffs who came to enforce evictions during the great hunger of the mid 1800's. Two of the lowest points in 2018 for me were seeing balaclava clad GARDA standing next to unidentified private 'security men' in Dublin, and the violent eviction that too place in Roscommon in recent weeks.
On the other side of the scale, the rent in my Cork city accommodation was raised by 4% this year for no other reason other than the fact that it is legally allowed to raise the rent. This is a situation being faced by people up and down the country, and it is getting harder and harder to rent decent accommodation and even more so to obtain a mortgage despite the repayments on a home loan being a lot less than the going rate of rent for comparable properties. What seems to be happening is a transfer of wealth and property to the already wealthy through the selling on of mortgages to vulture funds, and a growing section of the population being stuck in the limbo of the rental market making those who own property more wealthy while keeping those that do not at the bottom on the ladder. The Take Back The City movement seemed to gather some pace in Dublin, and it seems like the only way to stem the tide of homelessness, evictions, and ring rent and property process is if people come together to demand equal rights in housing, and proper regulation of the market.
A few months ago I committed to reading the Harry Potter series from beginning to end. I am currently half way through the 4th book and have watched movies 1-3 after reading the books. I haven't read that much fiction in the last number of years, and having the world of wizards and Hogwarts to retreat to has been an absolute pleasure since I started, not to mention the chats with the kids at the gym when the come in to ask what part I am currently on. Reading is both an escape and a mindfulness practice for me and a skill that I am very grateful for my mum for cultivating in me from a young age. 2018 is most certainly the year of Harry Potter for me, and I am pretty sure I would do quite well in a Harry Potter quiz right now. Go raibh maith agat JK!
2018 was a full year, and I am very grateful for everyone who was a part of it. Here's to the next 12 months. Beir Bua, Ainle