Women around the world are increasingly becoming recognised as agents of change in supporting climate action and environmental work. Over the years, we have met many inspiring women in Donegal leading the charge in supporting environmental issues. In our latest ‘women’s lives, women’s voices’ feature, Donegal Town local Geraldine McBrearty shares with us her journey to setting up the “Big Community Clean Up” group in Donegal and talks about why it’s so important to keep trying to make an environmental difference.
Hi Everyone, thank you for taking the time to read this article. In 2016, I founded a small Facebook group called “Big Community Clean Up“. Its aim was to rally my friends and neighbours to get out for a few hours for the summer months and clean up our beautiful area as much as we could.
What inspired me to do this? Well it was a combination of the older generation and also my children who both always inspire me in all aspects of my life. During one of my walks to my local beach at Drumbeg, I noticed two wonderful ladies in their 60’s walking towards me. I had the pleasure of knowing these ladies many years previously whilst working in Magee of Donegal and I loved meeting them out and about.
To my shock, they were laden down with plastic bottles, old rope, part of an old mud flap and a discarded bicycle rim to name but a few. They were halfway across the beach and literally could not carry another item. They stopped to chat with me and I offered to carry what I could for them. They informed me that they regularly picked up rubbish on the beach. What legends!!
I was gutted that these two amazing ladies had to go to such lengths to clean up our area. Equally worrying was the danger posed to my children from discarded rubbish and broken bottles. They would often ask “Mum, why is it so dirty here”. It broke my heart. I decided to organise a few close friends and neighbours to help me out on regular clean-ups.
It was hard work especially as high tides and storms would wash in huge amounts of rubbish onto the shore. One such beach we cleaned, Matthews Strand, had to be tackled in an almost military manner. We all had to line up and inch slowly along the beach picking up the endless waste that lay there. By the end of the few hours cleaning we had made a noticeable difference, everyone was so proud of themselves. The amount of rubbish lifted was so vast that we had to call in the help of the local fishing company MOWI to help us take the rubbish to a designated lifting area for the council to remove. Just imagine that!
I try to make outings fun, especially for the little children, so I organised on a couple of occasions for an ice cream van to pull up after the clean-up and gave an ice cream to everyone. It was the least that they all deserved. This was very kindly paid for by the generosity of MOWI and also local councillor Noel Jordan who are always on hand to lend support to the group.
During the Covid-19 pandemic our main supporters, Clean Coasts, have been unable to organise clean-ups around the country due to travel and group restrictions. However, I decided a few weeks ago to approach my group members to see if we could at least get out with our family members within the 2km area and clean as much as we could. It worked out fantastically and a lot of rubbish along the roadside and in the ditches, was cleared up before it was covered by the growing grass of Spring.
Our next mission is to get onto the beaches for a much needed clean up and to implement social distancing and some safety measures. It’s so important to keep trying to make a difference. The council and local litter warden are so helpful and I appreciate their regular support. I believe that any effort at all is so worth it and will make a difference if we can all get out and make it a part of our daily lives to pick up the rubbish.
The effort we put in today will benefit our children and relatives in the future. What really stands out for me is that there are so many people like my older friends who are out selflessly lifting other people’s rubbish. We can join them and it makes the burden they are under a little lighter. That is why I try and get out when I can to lift rubbish. Thanks so much to everyone in the community who helps out. It is very much appreciated and every little helps. Thank you.
To date the group has been a great way to rally people together and to showcase the difference a clean-up makes. People can ask to join the bigcommunitycleanup group or contact their local council who will supply pickers and bags for their own clean ups. Moving forward I’d love to get the beaches cleaned up for the summer but we will have to navigate the social distancing restrictions. Even if each family clean up their own areas and beaches it would make a massive difference.