For the past 20 years, Tydavnet in Co.Monaghan has been twinned with the town of Geel in the Antwerpen province of Flanders in Belgium. The connection is through the story of St Dympna (Tigh Damhnait in Irish means Dympna’s house). Some groups have gone over for the five-yearly St-Dimpna Ommegang or procession in May. More recently Monaghan delegations have participated in the Geel Euro Festival in August every five years. I was there in 2007 and went back for this year’s events, reporting for the www.tydavnet.com website. I have put my diary pieces over the six days into one article to give you an idea of how the group of 22 (including the Mayor of Monaghan and three Councillors) spent their time with the host families who provided free accommodation for them.
ALL ABOARD FOR GEEL
A group of eighteen people from the parish of Tydavnet has headed off (Wednesday morning 15th August 9am) for the town of Geel in Belgium, with which we have been twinned for the past twenty years. Some of those on the trip have visited Geel before and for others it will be their first trip to see Flanders. The group will be accompanied by the Mayor of Monaghan Cllr Hugh McElvaney from Corcaghan, along with Councillors David Maxwell, Seamus Treanor and Pat Treanor. They will receive a welcome from the Mayor of Geel and the local council. Thursday is the day for “It’s a Knockout” games or “Spel zonder Grenzen” involving all twelve participating European countries. Sounds like we are in for a dunking as we have been advised by Sheila to bring our swimsuits! Friday is the day for a conference on active ageing. Saturday is the day for cultural trips and a big show. On Sunday the day begins with a church service and there is usually a procession afterwards. The event is usually held every five years. Each person or couple is given hospitality by local residents, some of whom have visited Tydavnet since the link was established. For more about the St Dympna connection see the section under “History of Tydavnet”. Hopefully we can keep you informed of progress on this news page. Translate “geel” from Flemish into English and you get “yellow” so here is the news about EUROFEESTEN 2012 from Geel aka Yellow!
GEEL DAY 1
All arrived safely in Geel and were met by the host families. André and Mia are hosts once again for Evelyn and myself; Donagh is staying nearby and tonight Hermann and Annie gave us dinner. Regards from all to Harry & Deirdre. Plenty of good Belgian beer when we arrived. I led a sing song briefly in the festival tent before we went our separate ways. Plenty of excitement tomorrow in the “It’s a knockout” games involving twelve European countries. Good night all until Thursday.
GEEL DAY 2
Killylough won the gold in another European tug-of-war competition led by Paddy Sherry. The Tydavnet team representing Ireland finished eighth out of ten, ahead of Portugal and France (wooden spoon). Poland were the champions in the Spel zonder Grenzen (It’s a Knockout), represented by Czestochowa. Martin McKenna led our team and Sheila put on a swimsuit for some water-based game. I ended the final game dressed in a wig and yellow/red trousers as a symbol of Geel. All great fun. Cllr David Maxwell led the quiz and jigsaw team. He was also interviewed by local TV (as was Martin after the tug-of-war victory). David was left confused in a game where the Irish currency produced was a copy of an old Allied Irish Bank £20 sterling note with a picture of Queen Elizabeth!
Maybe these Belgians with their good connections in Brussels have some inside knowledge of the future of the Irish economy……..!!! This evening I led a sing-song of Irish favourites and Flemish melodies at Ten Aard parish centre, close to where we are staying. Plenty of rabble-rousing songs including “A Nation Once Again” led by the Mayor Hugh McElvaney who has to be up early am for a conference on active ageing. Eugene & Mary Sherry have just arrived (staying next door) but took a wrong connection on a train so their arrival was delayed a bit. They will join us tomorrow Friday for a trip to a museum in Antwerpen. Oiche mhaith.
GEEL DAY 3
Owing to a technical glitch, this report is coming to you from Geel slightly later than the previous ones…….well that’s my excuse anyway. In reality, my kind host André produced a glass or two of Powers and we did not get to bed until late after solving the problems of the world (especially Belgian politics!!). So starting backwards, we returned home to the peaceful suburb of Ten Aard at 2am, having said farewell to the Mayor of Geel Frans Peters and his wife, who were catching up with old friends. They spotted us sitting outside the Irish pub in the Grote Markt (town square) and came over to speak to Martin McKenna and Sheila. She left us temporarily to be introduced to a Cork man in the building industry here in Geel. He told us there were a few Monaghan people working with him, so if you happen to know any, send them along to the square tonight (Saturday) and you will find us there. Earlier the group joined representatives of nine other European countries at the official opening of the EUROFEESTEN. A great spectacle, very lively and colourful. Ireland was mentioned at the start of the presentation…..20 years of twinning Tydavnet:Geel. But we were the last country to be introduced and welcomed from the stage, and as Amhran na bhfiann was played, Sheila McKenna in true Katie Taylor style (much better in fact than the Olympian!) waved the tricolour, while the Mayor of Monaghan Hugh McElvaney wearing his chain of office
sat in the front row with Cllr Seamus Treanor. Instead of staying for the concert we went for a lovely meal at the museum restaurant where I sampled a local speciality of a pot of mussels in white wine and chips. As for the mixed grill which some of the others had, the plate was huge and the food generally has been excellent. Heading off for a trip soon to Vaals so no time to tell you how we got on with the window shopping (with a slight difference) in Antwerpen. Those in our small group of eleven will know exactly what happened as we left St Paul’s (Dominican) church having heard the story of Mary Magdalene and then headed for the River Schelde and the old port area……….
GEEL DAY 4
This was the day when guests are usually taken away for a trip by their host family and it has been the warmest so far, up to 35C. Tydavnet parish where the show was being held is close to the three county hollow on Sliabh Beagh. Today André drove us to the “Drielandenpunt” where the three countries meet. We travelled from Belgium into the Netherlands and came within a short distance of Germany. From the Wilhelmina observation tower we got a wonderful view, looking across to Aachen and beyond. We also stopped in the nearby village of Vaals to visit a posh hotel for coffee and cake. The reason we went to the Hotel Castle Bloemendal is because it used to be a finishing school for girls, run by the Sacred Heart nuns. My mother left Castleblayney as a 16 year-old having been a boarder at the Sacred Heart convent in Armagh and was sent to Vaals a year or two before the outbreak of the second world war. She learned to speak German. So it was fascinating to see around the hotel and grounds, where a wedding was being held. Another coincidence is that a neighbour of ours in Dublin got married there a few years ago. Time afterwards to return to Flanders via a French-speaking province in Wallonia where the signs said “Police” rather than “Politie”.
Had a short walk alongside a lock on the wide Bocholt-Herentals canal and had a nice meal in Geel before returning to André and Mia’s. There will be an international Mass in town in the morning. There is a European market in the centre and also Ria’s photographic exhibition to visit, then a Eurovision song contest….no sorry that should read a European sing-song when we will be singing (appropriately perhaps) The Wild Rover. Time for some sleep now so oiche mhaith from Geel.
GEEL DAY 5
The visit to Geel by a group of 22 from Tydavnet ended tonight in great style with a European sing-song in the newly refurbished market square. This was also the hottest day so far, up to 38C and even tonigh the reading coming home to Ten Aard in André’s car was 25C at 1:30am! So this must have been one of the hottest places in Europe. It was certainly one of the most exciting. The day began with the Irish representatives inluding the Mayor of Monaghan assembling for 11am Mass at St Amand’s church in the town centre. Designed to make the service as inclusive as possible for ten nations, the Mass was celebrated in the three main languages of Belgium: Flemish, French and English; some of the music was in Latin; at the Our Father the priest encouraged us to join in in our own language so I prayed in Irish. In his introductory remarks the celebrant (vicar of several parishes in the greater Geel area) spoke in diverse tongues including Spanish, Portugese and Romanian; he apologised for not being able to master Polish! The Mass ended with Beethoven’s ode to joy, the European anthem, again a multi-lingual experience and I have rarely experienced such an uplifting end to a Mass. The group has enjoyed the stay in Geel with a number of first-timers already talking about returning. There will be one change later this year. Frans Peeters who I met in the main square this evening will no longer be Mayor as he is retiring from politics before the October election. All in Tydavnet wish him well for the work he has done to make 20 years of twinning with Tydavnet/Monaghan a success.
GEEL DAY 6 : THE ROVERS RETURN
The wild rovers have returned and I hope by this stage all are settled back in their homes in Tydavnet and Monaghan (and Granard). I am writing this from Dublin and already my mother is awaiting with interest the news of my visit to Bloemendal/Vaals where she went to finishing school in 1936 for a year, having set off on her own from her parents’ home at Conabury, Castleblayney, aged 16. So I filled in a bit of family history on Saturday, as did Cllr David Maxwell’s wife Jill. Their host family in Geel brought them to the first world war battlefields near Ypres in Flanders (a trip I had made five years ago with our Belgian hosts). There they found the grave of her great grandfather from Louth (village), who was a soldier in the Irish Guards and died in 1917. Some visited the second world war cemetery in Geel this morning where a number of Irishmen are buried, from the Irish Guards and other British Army regiments. At 1pm it was time to say farewell to our hosts who waved us goodbye as the coach left for Brussels airport. Among those on our flight was a man from Clones who immediately recognised Cllr Pat Treanor. I also spotted the Conservative unionist MEP and Agriculture Committee member Jim Nicholson from Armagh. He might well have been interested to see some of the large dairy farms around Geel which some of our group were taken to see. Owen McNally took time to check out the quality of the potatoes and the maize, which was planted alongside the roads without any of the hedges we are used to. A big thank you once again to all our hosts in Geel for the wonderful six days we spent with them. They have been invited to send a group or representatives over for the Gathering in 2013 and hopefully Tydavnet will be ready to welcome them. Photos of the visit and other memorabilia will be collected over the next few weeks so that we can show them sometime at the community centre. I also hope to expand on this diary at some stage. I hope you have enjoyed the reports and your comments (subject to approval!) are welcome at the end of the individual articles. Now to get back to watching the Rose of Tralee….!!! Michael Fisher Monday 20th August
GEEL GOLD FOR KILLYLOUGH
The It’s a Knockout/Games without Frontiers involving ten European countries in Geel last week was covered by a television crew from the local news channel. You can see how the men from Killylough including Paddy Sherry and the women led by Sheila McKenna took the twelve points by finishing first in the tug-of-war (the second game). Martin McKenna was interviewed as team captain. However the joker was reserved for another game (the quiz) and had we played it on the tug-of-war we could have improved our overall place by doubling the points awarded. The main thing is that it was fun participating. No bales of straw to be shifted in wheelbarrows this time! You can watch the video here.