Invite To President Michael D. Higgins To Gweedore World Records Event

Attn. His Excellency President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins

President Higgins, a chara

I write this email to you from the remote area where I live near Cnoc Fola (Bloody Foreland), Gaoth Dobhair to invite you and your lovely wife, Sabina, to a unique arts and culture event in the heart of the Donegal Gaeltacht.

If any place in Ireland symbolises rural Ireland, it is this small parcel of land on Ireland’s ‘Wild Atlantic Way,’ the most northwesterly corner of the entire country.

Marginalised ever since the Treaty was signed 100 years ago and the so-called Free State was established, my region has always been ‘economically marginalised’ at best, suffering the woes of having to send its young people on coffin boats, now modern jet planes, to other countries far from home rather than try forlornly to eke out a living here.

If that isn’t bad enough, now the very fabric of rural life is being torn apart further, with much-needed, much-appreciated facilities being closed, including banks and post offices, not just ending their services but also closing popular social gathering points.

Believe it or not, with an ageing population, many people – including widows and widowers – to avoid loneliness, looked forward to and enjoyed meeting other people at these places. It gave meaning to their days and staved off depression and even suicide.

To highlight the dire need for regeneration of rural Ireland and recognise its importance and the key role it and its arts and cultural traditions, especially music, the spoken word, song and dance, play in the fabric of Irish society, not just now, but down through the centuries, the community of Gaoth Dobhair in the Donegal Gaeltacht is organising a special New Year’s Eve event.

On the evening, during the minute-by-minute countdown to 2020, the community will attempt to break not one but six (6) different World Records, an historic record even for the Guinness World Records with whom the activity is being organised. All the records being broken focus on fiddle playing, for which Donegal has developed its own unique style.

Among the six records being broken is the largest group of fiddle players ever assembled at the same time in any part of the world, more than 1,000. 

Due to the absolute uniqueness and the feast of colour to the eyes nature of the event at such a celebratory period in the Year, promotion will be widespread across both the North American Continent (both the US and Canada) and Europe,

Such attention to this little corner of Ireland will help highlight the rich vein of cultural and artistic talent that runs through the land and it people, something you – more than most – will appreciate as a former Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht.

This event – see official website, Fiddles and Faeries, which will be bilingual in the coming days, is special in many ways.

Proceeds from the Event will also support a number of worthy charities in including the so-called ‘Donegal Cancer Flights and Services,’  bringing victims to Galway and Dublin for life-saving treatment (as there is no such treatments available in the Northwest) and support groups for Alzheimer’s, autism, motor neurone disease, suicide prevention and a genetic condition prevalent in the northwest, entitled Amyloidosis, or Donegal Amy. 

I, as the initiator of this project, speaking on behalf of all those involved, of which there are many, cordially invite you and your lovely wife, Sabrina, to join us for this special occasion, thus showing your support for the regeneration of rural Ireland and recognition of the artistic talents therein.     

As part of my/our appeal to you to join us, I include here several links for your perusal – they are the voices of ordinary Irish people speaking out from their hearts, but as if against a strong wind. 

Here, you yourself, dear President, speak out about what you term ‘rural depopulation’

Rural depopulation and violence in cities should concern all, says Higgins

Here is someone speaking out at the damage being done to rural Ireland 

And here is an example of a centre being starved of funding  

The event on New Year’s Eve – which will feature a ‘world music’ concert with performers from countries including India to illustrate the all-inclusive, multi-national nature of modern Irish society – and considering the event’s wide international media outreach – is the perfect place – in the shadow of Cnoc Fola and Gola, Árainn Mhór and Tory Islands  – for you, President Higgins, to speak about your concerns to the world.  

As for me, I am an author and former foreign correspondent for The Irish Times, as well as The Times, London and Time magazine New York. I was born in Ballymurphy in west Belfast and grew up in Andersonstown, beginning my journalism career as as a columnist for the Andersonstown News and later for Belfast Telegraph newspapers.

Upon leaving Ireland in 1981, my last stories focused on the Hunger Strikes of Bobby Sands and other prisoners, I emigrated to America, where I worked first at the United Nations Media Centre in New York, then later in broadcasting in the Midwest, finally having the same journalism position as Ernest Hemingway before me, night reporter – in effect ‘murder writer’ – for The Kansas City Star and Times, later becoming an award-winning medical and science writer. 

In my spare time, being interested to promoting Irish culture, I also established an Irish monthly newspaper, The Shamrock, and an Irish Cultural Centre in Kansas City Missouri.  

Later, after covering the fall of the Berlin Wall, I left my job in the US and became a volunteer with the Human Rights League, establishing the first journalism schools in eastern Europe, in Romania, where I met my Transylvanian wife, Columbia.    

I spent 20 years in Romania, first becoming a foreign correspondent, including writing for The Irish Times about the many Irish volunteers working in orphanages in Bucharest and elsewhere, then working with international NGOs such as the Soros Foundation for an Open Society and the Rockefeller Foundation helping NGOs to establish themselves and teaching them PR and marketing skills and how best to interact with the media to highlight issues of concern whether that be access for disabled people, single mothers or health and education issues. 

Later still, I became founder and CEO of a national media and events company, including a national business newspaper and an overnight news service, employing over 35 full-time people with an annual turnover of more than one million euro.

I also established the first-ever St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Romania, bringing over a large group of Irish musicians every year to play six different city venues with total audiences of more than 10,000 people, including various diplomats and Presidents, Prime Ministers and Ministers of Romania, combining the musical and dance performances with the nation’s first-ever Corporate Citizen and Media Awards. I was also elected chairperson for a number of years of the US Fulbright Commission, helping bright students, regardless of economic background, realise their dreams. 

Back here in Donegal, I am an author, creative writing tutor and co-founder with my wife of Ireland Writing Retreat which was recently named by The Guardian newspaper in London among the Top Ten artistic retreats of any kind in Europe.

I am more than willing – in fact, would be utterly delighted – to travel to Dublin to Aras Áras an Uachtaráin to speak personally with you about my appeal for you to attend this special New Year’s Eve event in the heart of the Donegal Gaeltacht.

Even simply meeting you would provide a much-needed morale boost to my local community and the event they/we are organising over New Year’s Eve.

Is mise le meas mor, 

Sean Hillen    

Published by HillenSean

Sean John Hillen has been journalist, editor, publisher, media trainer and public speaker for more than thirty years. Born in west Belfast, he worked for various national newspapers there, including the Belfast Telegraph as well as the BBC, and in Dublin for The Irish Times, before emigrating to the United States to work at the United Nations Media Center in New York. From there Sean moved to the Midwest to work in print and broadcast media, including news correspondent for Scripps Howard Broadcasting, now an NBC-affiliate, and as general and then health correspondent for The Kansas City Times (interestingly, here, Sean held the same editorial position as did Ernest Hemingway – aka night crime/murder reporter). Over the years, Sean’s work has appeared in many other publications including Time magazine and The Wall Street Journal, as well as the American Medical News, the national newspaper of the American Medical Association in Chicago and American Nurse, magazine of the American Nurses Association. Sean won many regional and national journalism awards before leaving the US for post-Communist Eastern Europe, immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990 to establish the first journalism schools, working with agencies such as the United Nations Development Fund and the US Agency for International Development. He became foreign correspondent for The Times and The Daily Telegraph, London, the largest circulation broadsheet newspapers in the UK, before founding his own national publishing and events company in Bucharest, Romania, for 15 years, employing a full-time staff of more than 30. He was elected chairperson of the US Fulbright Commission in Romania for a number of years and received national awards from the President of Romania, Traian Basescu, for launching the nation’s first-ever Corporate Citizen, Civic Journalism & Community Service Awards. Sean now lives in Donegal in picturesque northwest Ireland with his Transylvanian-born wife, Columbia, and two sheepdogs, Siog and Lugh, where he follows a journalism and writing career, as well as being a media and writing skills coach (Fios and Ireland Writing Retreat) He is a published author – with non-fiction books on journalism and media training and an informative, light-hearted, intra-country travelogue entitled ‘Digging for Dracula.’ Sean’s writings can be found locally on Donegal News and in The Irish Times Travel magazine, JustLuxe.com and Examiner.com

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