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Column Ireland needs to regain that elusive feelgood factor

For economic recovery we must first lift the national mood, writes Ruairi Devlin – and the arts can help do that.

AS A COUNTRY, Ireland is in serious decline. We constantly hear people blame the Government for the problems that we have. But a lot of these are the same people who blamed the last government.

So what can we, as ordinary people, do to change the problems of Ireland?

To my mind we need a new approach. We need to find what made Ireland successful. What was the key to the roar of the tiger? How can we recreate that?

Here is a solution, I believe, that could turn the country around.

What made people successful was the feelgood factor. Because everyone felt good this made them want to better themselves. By bettering themselves they worked with people around them to better their collective lives. So given the shortage of money, and the lack of community spirit, towns are falling into disrepair; main streets up and down the country are becoming ghost towns. The small shopkeeper is struggling to stay open, resulting in lay-offs and less money available in the community. And so the vicious circle continues.

If we can recreate the feelgood factor, we can rebuild these towns. This is where the arts come into play. They hold the key to the revival of Ireland and the reversal of the vicious circle.

When people go to see a show, they generally leave it with the feelgood factor. When people walk down a street and here quality buskers, they get the feelgood factor.

Lifting spirits

Arts and culture are the essence of the Irish as a people. Is it not funny that we fall back on them in challenging times? Good hurling, football and soccer teams lift our spirits. These are the people who will help us rise, each time we have a problem. When someone visits the museum to study our history, the theatre to watch a play or the fleadh cheoil to play music, they are seeing what we are as a people. This is important.

Equally, it is important that all cities and towns across our nation have affordable facilities for these groups. In Arklow, where I live, a team of people have worked for more than two years on the ground to bring a theatre and affordable community facility – offering meeting rooms, rehearsal rooms and community childcare – to the people. They have managed to get most of the town behind them and are now raising the money to build the centre. They have a site, now all they need is the funding.

Senator David Norris often spoke during his presidential campaign about a Scandinavian study which indicated the critical impact of community involvement in the arts in terms of mental health and well-being – demonstrating a saving to a country’s exchequer because fewer people needed to use mental health resources.

The arts are needed more than ever at this time, when people are depressed by bad news. Hollywood cinema boomed during the Great Depression and the same is happening today.

As a small country on the periphery of Europe, that which sets us apart from our nearest neighbours is our cultural identity – namely, our language, dance, song and music, as well as our cultural institutions which are headed up by people of world renown.

Fifty-seven per cent of adults – or almost two million people – are arts attendees, and 1.2million people engage in artistic or creative activities. Consequently, we certainly have the requisite number of ‘bums on seats’ for the size of our nation.

Giving everything

We need to foster these people’s knowledge. How many of these people have worked in groups and created magical shows on a shoe string? How many of these learned their craft with groups who had no money, no facilities and in a rented school hall? Yet despite all that, people left there with a smile on their faces, those partaking left on an almighty high – and even when attendances were small these people still gave everything in the name of entertainment.

Arklow Communities Together are a group in Arklow, Co Wicklow who have worked tirelessly for to try and create a theatre and community facility for the town. Just talking to people on their Facebook page you get a feel good feeling, and they haven’t even got their theatre yet.

These are the people we need advising the government. These are the people who spend their lives thinking outside the box, and who can point the departments in this and future governments into a new way of thinking. Leaving all politics at the door our civil servants need to bring in some new ideas rather than hit the old reliables.

By recreating that feelgood factor in the local community we can revive Ireland, town by town, county by county. It is time to hear the roar of the peoples’ applause to replace the roar of the tiger.

Ruairi Devlin has been involved in theatre since 1985. He has worked both on stage and behind the scenes as stage manager, producer, set builder, sound and lighting technician and director. He has also toured the US as a magician.

If you would like to know more about Arklow Communities Together, join them on Facebook or email:

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