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A Time to Talk: Friendships, Connections, Kindness

By Sarah Ironside, Chair of Darkness into Light Brussels

Aithnítear cara i gcruatan

As the child of immigrants to Ireland and having spent almost 40 years living as an Irish emigrant, my life has been underlined by the importance of friendship, the significance of human connections, the need for community and the value of kindness, not only in times of hardship but on a daily basis.

I was welcomed into this world in the Leon Bar! Not because my mother was thirsty, but because it was the only place in the village of Quilty in the West of Ireland that had hot water. My parents had moved there from the UK a year or so earlier. This was their first taste of an Irish welcome, which encouraged my father to build up his veterinary practice with my mother at his side when she was not out learning how to catch lobsters with a gaff from an elderly Church of Ireland vicar, or learning set dancing in my birthplace in her bare feet.

Mum and Dad fell in love with the West of Ireland, the wild Atlantic Ocean, the beauty of the Burren and most of all the people and the welcome they received from the community. 

As a child I would go out on calls with my father and I shared his fascination with hearing the stories of the farmers and their families. I also learned of the old Clare traditions of the ‘cuaird’ (social visiting) and ‘tracing’ – visiting neighbours, telling stories, singing songs, playing music, tracing connections, stories of emigration, stories of neighbours and stories of friendship. There was always time to talk.

But the ‘cuaird’ and ‘tracing’ are not only traditions in Ireland – amongst the Irish emigrant community around the world, the first question we ask is ‘where are you from’ and we strive to find a connection in as short at time as possible.

Before arriving in the world of the EU, I lived in London, Boston, Sydney and Wellington and everywhere I found connections, friendships, always kindness, and support in times of hardship and always a welcome for a new arrival, always time to talk. 

The tradition of the ‘cuaird’ continues around the world, not always around the open fire in a small country cottage, more likely at the side of a GAA pitch or at the counter of an Irish bar. The tradition of ‘tracing’ is equally alive, when we strive to see how quickly we can find a friend or connection in common. We take the time to talk.

I started working for the European Commission in Luxembourg where I was immediately welcomed and given a room in The Pygmalion pub (pubs are a recurring theme in my life!!).

I have now spent 25 years in Brussels and this time has brought me much that I value, two wonderful children, a comfortable home, a successful career and above all I have made friends and together with these friends, I hope we have given something back to Brussels and to Belgium. 

My involvement in the community in Belgium has been inspired by so many people – people like Liam Breslin, who still runs the EC GAA club and coaches youngsters on Sunday afternoons, long after his own children have grown up. Leaders like Dervla O’Shea – who is always ready to organise another cake sale, book sale or a party to raise funds for those in need. My friends Alexander Jacobs and the late Willy Helin,– who could always find the right person in the complex Belgian Administration to help make things happen.

Sarah Ironside & Jane Curtain. Photo Credit: Sarah Ironside

Sarah Ironside (right) & Jane Curtain. Photo credit: Sarah Ironside

My biggest inspiration takes me back to Spanish Point, County Clare, to my friend June Curtin. Quiet, self-effacing, always smiling, her life changed in 2013 when she lost her husband to suicide. Her courage and bravery inspired me to bring Darkness Into Light to Brussels three years ago.

Brussels Darkness into Light Committee. Credit: Sarah Ironside

Darkness into Light Committee Brussels

That inspiration has snowballed to countless others as it brings together of the best of our community – a small committee of dedicated volunteers worked tirelessly to ensure the success of the event. Our patron Phil Hogan ensured support at political level, Ambassador Nolan welcomed us to the Embassy, Father Pat Power led us in prayer.

But the true success of this event is simply about the hundreds of people who got up at 4am and walked symbolically together into the light of the rising sun – remembering those lost to suicide and being grateful for those who have survived.

Sharing kindness and friendship, creating connections, a virtual ‘cuaird’ of the soul.

 Brussels Darkness into Light Presentation to Pieta House. Photo Credit: Sarah Ironside

Presentation of cheques to Pieta House, Centre de prevention de suicide & Centrum ter Preventie vaan Zelfdoding 

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