Margaret Gallagher Launches Rural Showcase

'In my youth culture didn't involve money - it involved people.'

Margaret Gallagher was the guest speaker at the launch of CultureNorthernIreland's Rural Showcase on 15 February, 2006, at the Nerve Centre in Derry. Chair of the Belcoo Historical Society, Margaret lives a traditional rural lifestyle in a thatched cottage with no electricity, central heating or running water.  An extract from her talk is below.

Cultural diversity gets a fair amount of air play these days. With new countries joining the European Union it gets included somewhere in their strategic framework and as many of these emerging EU members look to existing member countries for advice they need look no further than Northern Ireland because it is an untapped haven of diverse culture.

Being a rural rooted spinster myself, I thought 60 years ago that the only people who possessed any culture were people in thatched cabins, who lived down a lane, had a donkey and creels and a dunghill and drew water from a well.

This thought was compounded by a visit from the mummers. They travelled over sheughs and across hazards, over the stile, and hammered the half door of the cottage for admittance. It was also part of their culture to relieve the visited household of a fadge that was cooling on the dresser, so could I be blamed for believing that if you didn’t have a sheugh or dunghill, a half door, or a dresser with a fadge on it, that you were bereft of culture?

What a difference 60 years has made, not to culture but to me. While I still firmly believe in my rural rooted culture of 60 years ago, I realise that our island is awash with diverse cultures not only on unlit hillsides but in our own villages and towns.

Culture is an inheritance, something we should be proud of. It is for sharing and exploring and its impact on society can be as positive as we will it to be.

Cultural diversity is not something that can be manufactured in order to secure grant aid. While it looks great on an application form embellished with all the heart tugging statistics to ensure it scores well, unless it is for real we are only fooling ourselves and denuding the country of our richest resource.

Cultural diversity and tolerance. I don’t know who thought up the tolerance bit, certainly not someone endowed with a lot of culture. Tolerance is not enough. It doesn’t involve giving. It is a token and doesn’t go far enough.

Let us try to replace it with respect. A respect that is born out of and nurtured in a genuine desire to add to the tapestry of diverse cultures that is our country.

In my youth culture didn’t invoke money – it involved people. People who gave freely of their time in keeping rural crafts alive and working as a cooperative in hay sheds and haggarts and the like.
Where did that culture go?

The poorer you were the better chance you had of hanging on to culture because you couldn’t buy in to the emerging development culture that felt the past was only for peasants and was keeping our country from prospering.

Some people mistakenly believe that to respect and recognise other cultures in fact dilutes their own – this couldn’t be further from the truth because it's in appreciation that we realise our own worth.

Culture has to remain high on agendas, it has to get its useful place at the table in Brussels. It must be a home grown product, that reflects our landscape and our very existence. Today is a great new dawn for Northern Ireland because at last we practitioners of culture have the recognition we deserve, for shaping the identity of our rural landscape.

Photo: Margaret Gallagher, Jill Daly, PR & Marketing, David Lewis, director of CultureNorthernIreland