REGULAR readers will know that Ionad Eileen Howell/St Comgall’s was formally opened in June by the US Economic Envoy Joe Kennedy. It came after many years of fundraising, planning and hard work by all involved – not least Eileen Howell, who the centre is named after. The project is designed to promote economic, educational, social and cultural benefits for the people who live and work in the local area and to promote good relations between communities. Ionad Eileen Howell joins Conway Mill and other local projects in this important work. 

Last Friday the last unit in St Comgall’s was formally opened by the Pat Finucane Centre, the human rights NGO named after assassinated human rights lawyer Pat Finucane. 

It has been a busy five months for Ionad Eileen Howell. The Director of the Project, Gerry McConville, told me of the many recent events that have been held there and of the plans up to Christmas. Last week the Falls Women’s Centre held their conference in the centre. In early October a range of international experts from Ireland, the United States, France, Switzerland and Canada attended the inaugural Acute Paediatrics International Conference (APIC).  In the same months Trade Unionists for a New Ireland (TUNUI) held a two-day conference there.

Among the many organisations now using Ionad Eileen Howell is the Dept of Commerce; the Education Authority; local mental health charities; the Department of Finance; and a wide range of community groups. The Fleming Fulton School use it each week for teenagers with special needs and the Shankill Women’s Centre held a conference there last week. 

Local businesses too are based in St Comgall’s. Among them is Stephen Farnan’s ‘We Have it Wrapped Up’, a unique and innovative blend of fresh designs in ceramics, wood, glass, aluminium and red earthenware clay. So successful is the business, which showcases his work and that of other great Irish makers/artists, that Stephen recently opened a new shop on the Lisburn Road in South Belfast. These join his other two outlets in Castle Court and in Portstewart. His pottery is as busy as can be and his studio in Ionad Eileen Howell is open each day from 10am to 2.30pm. It’s well worth a visit. It you are interested in seeing what they produce they can be found on Facebook at #wehaveitwrappedup.

Another business doing very well is Elite Dance Design which currently sells uniquely designed Irish dance costumes around the world. There is also a global shipping company, an IT software developing company and Féile an Phobail. 

On the December 1, Artists for Palestine will be holding an event organised by Féile. On December 3 there will be a Christmas Fair and two days later at 7pm on December 5 there will be a Christmas concert with the Ulster Orchestra players, St Joseph’s PS Choir and the Black Mountain Choir.

These are just a few of the events taking place in Ionad Eileen Howell /St Comgall’s. The success of the centre is a tribute to Eileen – an outstanding leader –  and to all of those who have turned a derelict old school into a first class community and business centre. Amazing.

Seán Harte: Fior Gael, republican and decent man

Seán Harte was a proud County Tyrone man – a native of Loughmacrory – a GAA stalwart and long-standing republican activist in Canada, where he was a board member of Friends of Sinn Féin. His death is a huge loss to the Irish republican and GAA communities in Canada, but especially to his family. 

HIGHLY RESPECTED: Seán Harte is a huge loss to the GAA and republican communities in Canada and Ireland

HIGHLY RESPECTED: Seán Harte is a huge loss to the GAA and republican communities in Canada and Ireland

Like many others I was deeply shocked at the start of the month at the news of Sean’s death. I was unable to travel to his funeral in Toronto but I did send a message of solidarity and sympathy to Noelle and Justin and Catherine. “Seán fought hard to stay with you and although it may not seem possible now I am sure your memories of him will sustain you in these difficult times. That’s what Sean would like. Tá ar croíthe briste libhse. No one knew Seán better than Noelle. No one had a better Daddy than Catherine and Justin.”

Seán was a Tyrone Minor champion with Carrickmore in 1972 and a founder member the Loughmacrory St Teresa’s Club. He lined out with them in their first ever competitive match in 1973. Like many Irish people over the centuries he decided to emigrate in search of a better life. He travelled to Toronto but never forgot Tyrone and never stopped playing for and being part of the growing GAA family in that huge country. 

He was a founder member of Club Tyrone, which invests in the GAA in his home country. Seán was the current secretary of the Canadian County Committee and a former chairperson of the organisaiton. Over many years he played a pivotal role in organising GAA tours of Canada.

Sean was a decent man. He was always positive, generous, good natured and deeply proud of his family. Their loss is all the greater because of this. Ní beidh a leitheid aris ann. Sean never forgot where he came from. He was Irish, Tyrone and Loughmacrory through and through. Fittingly, he was named Irishman of the Year in Canada for 2023. Tyrone GAA in their statement on his death put it well: “Although Seán spent virtually all of a half-century in Canada, his was a stellar case of ‘the man maybe leaving Tyrone, but Tyrone never leaving the man.'"

Seán was also a fior Gael, steeped in Gaelic games from boyhood  and instrumental in expanding the Gaeldom in Canada. He fell ill at the Toronto GAA Convention in October. 

Seán was a sound Irish Republican. He never forgot his IRA brothers Gerard and Martin, executed along with Volunteer Brian Mullin in 1988 by the SAS and the British Army near Drumnakilly in their homeland. 

Seán was a stalwart supporter of Irish freedom and like his late brother Nishey and the Harte family he was a staunch supporter of the peace process.

I want to extend my deepest sympathies and condolences to Noelle and Justin and Catherine and to all of his family circle, as well as to the GAA in Ireland and Canada and finally to Friends of Sinn Féin in Canada. We will all miss him. Thank you, Seán, for your dedication and commitment.  Mo comh bhrón le Noelle agus teaglach Sheáin. Ba laoch Seán Harte.

My long-forgotten first prize

I rediscovered this certificate last week. I was awarded it fifty years ago. It celebrates me winning the Leeper category in the annual Long Kesh Cage Feis organised by the local Sinn Féin Cumann. In our cage the Cumann was called after Big Mundo, or Eddie O’Rawe. Eddie was an IRA Volunteer executed by the British Army after they captured him down the Falls in April 1973. Eddie was a patriot and a gentleman.

The Mundo O’Rawe Sinn Féin Cumann organised lots of activity behind the wire. Debates and discussions. And all kinds of competitions. I was a very unlikely winner of the Leeper one. Incidentally, it should be Leaper not Leeper, but who cares? It’s one of a kind. Some younger readers may wonder what a leeper is. In the Kesh the term was generally used to describe someone with dubious hygiene habits. It was also used to describe a place. For example his cell is leeping. It is probably derived from jumping. That toilet is jumping. Meaning it is smelly and unclean.

DUBIOUS HONOUR: Gerry Adams' first prize in the 1973 Long Kesh Feis

DUBIOUS HONOUR: Gerry Adams' first prize in the 1973 Long Kesh Feis

Bogging is another good word. It gave us the term bogger. I won that title one year also. Just saying. My comrades thought they were funny. I was neither leeping or bogging. I just didn’t conform to their Doc Martens, shin-high Wranglers and denim attire. Or skin head hair styles.  My hair was long. So was my beard. How that amounts to me being a leeper is debatable. But I’m used to getting blamed in the wrong. And  I’m glad I rediscovered my certificate.

• The awfulness of the Israeli State’s onslaught on Gaza continues to shock people in Ireland and throughout the world. The mobilisation of people everywhere is admirable. It is crucially important that we do not stop our demand for a ceasefire. That means Hamas as well as Israeli forces. It means international law being applied. As this column goes to print it appears there may be some positive news on the release of hostages. If that happens it will be good. But much more is required. A negotiated peace process is urgently needed allied to emergency aid for the region. Ceasefire now.