13 December 2001 Edition

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Cnámh Droma


We talked of some of the marvellous things, the marvellous people we had met, and we talked of the terrible things, and wondered and laughed at how on earth we had got through it
A truly amazing project has started amongst the families of republican ex-prisoners. It's called Cnámh Droma, a Gaelic name which means, appropriately, 'back bone'. The name represents all those people who feel that they have borne and continue to bear the brunt of the republican struggle over the years, even though they have not been recognised for doing so - namely, the families of republican prisoners, ex-prisoners, displaced people and all those who have given so much of their lives during the years of conflict in Ireland.

A small number of family members who met over the years, week after week, visiting Portlaoise jail, came together through Coiste na nIarchimí, a republican ex-prisoners' organisation in Dublin. Facilitated by Jackie Russell, this small group of family members met together to talk of their experiences and to discuss, jointly, ways to bring together families and friends who supported each other over the years and to make contact with people who have lost touch.

"We met together, people that we had seen every week maybe over nine or ten years. I remember someone saying to me, when their fellow was to be released, 'I am going to miss these Mondays'. We had built such a strong link between us over the visits."

"We often said 'wouldn't it be great if we had a place where we could meet, where we could get to talk to each other', and now, thanks to Anne in Coiste, and Jackie, who made it all possible, we have started this project together."

"It has been the first time that people asked what you felt, what you would like to do. We settled together on 'the Quilt project'."

The important aspect of the project, which involves the crafting of a quilt, is that it is a way for the families to reach out to each other. "It is a way to bring people together, strengthening links, " says Jackie. "We hope to bring as many families as possible into this project, sharing ideas, experiences - ideas which will benefit themselves and their children."

The quilt will be made of 9 inch squares with each square representing someone's experience. It will then be sewn together and will be a catalogue, in a totally expressive and creative way, an historical document for future generations, which acknowledges the families' courage, grief and solidarity.

Above all the Quilt project is a living project, which will encourage people to make contact with their local ex-prisoner centre. Families and friends are encouraged to get together to create a square. With each square an A4-sized page must be submitted with the name of the person acknowledged, giving the dates, circumstances and a little piece about the square and what it represents.

And it's not all sorrow and hardship. One of the women involved in this initial project says, "we met over a series of months, and we talked. We talked of some of the marvellous things, the marvellous people we had met, and we talked of the terrible things, and wondered and laughed at how on earth we had got through it, and the difficulties we encountered when the prisoner finally got his release, and found an entirely different person than the one he knew when he first went into jail.

"And we talked of how our children had suffered, the different ways they had come to accept the imprisonment of a family member, the bitterness this sometimes engendered, of how, so young, they too had had to deal with people on the road who had said 'Come out of there. You can't play with her. Her father is in Jail. They are not nice people for you to play with'.

"Most of all, the Cnamh Droma project brought us together to share our experiences, stuff we had rarely, if ever, talked of before. Each of us knew just exactly what another person was talking about, we had all been through it. That has been marvellous. It is really living solidarity."

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