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You Define Yourself

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On Sunday 26th April 2020, Ireland joined others around the world to celebrate the 11th Lesbian Visibility Day, a day to celebrate, recognise, and bring visibility to lesbians. To honour this day local community group Donegal LGBTQ+ shared the story of Ann Marie which outlined the struggle of accepting one’s own sexual identity. In this Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ feature with the permission of Ann Marie we share her journey of loss, of love and the battle to belong.


 

Hi all, my name is Ann Marie or aka Annie. This is the normal way I introduce myself because that is who I am. When people ask me what I do, I say I work as an accounts administrator and I coach football and camogie and tutor part time.

 

Again, this is what I do but that’s not all is it? It’s that nagging voice in your head telling you to blurt out that you’re a lesbian shout it out get it out there but I don’t and not because I am ashamed but because it shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t define my decisions in life it doesn’t make me a better or worse person. If I make a big deal of been a lesbian then its making it out to be a big deal and it’s not. I am who I am and the ups and downs of life make me who I am not who I love.


 

When I was in my teens I always felt a little different to other girls my age. Boys weren’t the big concern in my life. One of my best friend set me up with her neighbour. We went out for a bit but lasted a month or so. I had to pretend to be upset that we broke up but I wasn’t. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t feel upset though he was a nice guy, cute and treated me well. Then one day everything changed not because I dramatically fell in love with a girl but because of a TV show called Playing the Field. I was extremely sporty playing camogie, soccer and basketball (I started playing Gaelic football late in life).

This show was about women playing soccer and the drama that goes with it. I loved it and there was two characters who started getting close to each other and they happened to be two women. I became obsessed with them but in my head, it was just because they played soccer. Reflecting back these characters opened up my eyes. It was late 90s and I had never seen two women together before. I would safely say I was very naive. So, I starting looking for shows that would have lesbian content, fortunately for me it was a time of change in the world and TV shows were starting to introduce gay characters for me Bad Girls and Buffy became my new favourite shows. The only problem was I was in a relationship with a guy.


 

Expectation is hard to deal with but when the expectation is coming from yourself it’s a whole lot worse. I always wanted to be the best and I took negativity and criticism really bad. I wanted to be the best daughter, best granddaughter I wanted to be someone that my parents would be proud to introduce to friends. I wanted mam to be able to show off her daughter and show how well she brought me up and for me this was the hardest part of been gay. I didn’t want mam to have to introduce her gay daughter to anyone. So, I kept it a secret I became an actor in my own right, said the right things at the right time did the right things and even talked about marriage. Then one day I met someone that would change my life for ever in good ways and bad. I fell in love but I was still in a relationship with a man. I would talk for hours with her about my feelings, about my fears and about my lies that I had to tell. She was amazing she listened she gave me advice and we fell in love. The thing was, as we look back on it, how we fell in love more or less instantly. So, after my grandfather died I made a promise that I would do the right thing. I would finish my relationship and start preparing myself to talk to my parents.


 

What I haven’t mentioned yet is that the woman I fell in love with lived a in a different country thousand miles away. She travelled over to meet with me for the first time and it was amazing. Everything felt right. Holding her hand, looking into her eyes everything just felt the way you read in books but that nagging voice in the back of my head was telling me to run. Anxiety hit, fear of telling my mam and dad doubled this shit was real now. Before I could pretend it didn’t exist but now I couldn’t. I would stay up long into the night going over how I would tell them. Every time I would build up the courage something stopped me from doing it. I hated myself, I hated looking in the mirror I couldn’t look at myself in the eye. I starting retreating into my room secretly drinking to help me sleep. I was 26. I spent nearly 10 years with a secret that was slowly killing me inside. So, what happened next well my biggest regret happened next I was so consumed with how I was feeling that my relationship with the woman I loved got destroyed. Not going into the details as that is another story to be told.


 

My mum was having a birthday the big 50 and I managed to ruin it by coming out as I was not able to hold it in any longer. It just came rushing out the week before her surprise birthday party and I gave the poor woman no chance to deal with it. I didn’t tell her in a controlled way I was totally uncontrollable at that point. She didn’t take it well but not for been gay I don’t think but probably more about the way I done it. My mum and dad are amazing people. It took them time to deal with it but who am I to judge it took me 10 years. They are my biggest allies and voted yes in the referendum and are proud to introduce me. Mam says “how could I not be proud of you look at you, look at who you have become”

 

So where am I now, I now live in Donegal (from Kilkenny) and I am back with my first love and smashing the long-distance thing. Advice for those coming out be relaxed be calm be proud of who you are, been part of the LGBTQ+ community is just something your part of it doesn’t define you. You define yourself.

 

I am Ann Marie. The person I was meant to be and the person I will be in the future.

 


 

NCCWN Donegal Women’s Network would like to thank Donegal LGBTQ+ and Ann Marie for sharing with us an insightful lived experience.

Donegal LGBTQ+ aims to promote the health and wellbeing of LGBTQ+ people and increase the social connectiveness across the county by providing information and supports as well as offering events with local partnerships. They are a non-profit community and you can find them on facebook here by email at donegallgbt@gmail.com or phone number 086 088 7738.

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NCCWN Donegal are always looking for women to share their stories and looking for women to write features on topics of their choice which we will profile as part of our Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series.

Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices

Express Yourself

 

NCCWN-Donegal Women’s Network are looking for women to share stories and write about topics of their interest to feature in our ‘Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series.

 

The Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices series has been running for over 17 years through the Donegal Women’s Network with hundreds of features being printed in the Donegal Democrat. Over the last few years we moved these features to an online platform on our website.

 

You can check out a number of the features written by women in Donegal which we’ve published by visiting  donegalwomensnetwork.org/womens-lives-womens-voices/

 

If you would be interested in being part of this series please drop us a message we’d love to talk with you. Or if you know of any women who may like to develop or put their writing skills into practice why not share with them too! 


 

Please email us on donegalwomensnetwork@gmail.com if you’re interested in writing a feature for this women’s series. 

Pen 2 Paper

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In this Women’s Live’s, Women’s Voice’ feature Dixi Patterson from the Pen2Paper writers group reflects on the groups development, its accomplishments over the past ten years in Donegal and the power of the written word.

 


 

In 2010, a writers’ group was established by Karin White with funding from the Peace III programme.  For the first year, journalist Julie Costello was the group’s inspiring facilitator; then, because we had shared so many memories, both happy and sad, and formed lasting friendships through sharing our written pieces – prose, poetry, free verse and song – a core group decided to stay together for regular meetings, and so Pen2Paper – P2P – was born.

 

Writing, by its very nature, can be a lonely experience, and the aim of P2P is to provide an environment which encourages all its members to develop writing skills and confidence and to share their work in a supportive atmosphere, with positive feedback.

 

White Simple Bordered For Men Quotes Instagram Post


 

P2P projects have included readings from – and singing the lyrics of – our work at North West Words public events in Letterkenny.  A major project was a cross-border venture involving residential weekends and workshops in Derry and Letterkenny with ‘Here We Go!’ Theatre Company.

 

Since we were free to design our own joint project, we took into account the prevailing resurgence of interest in real-life stories of people – not of celebrities or fashion icons, but of ‘ordinary’ folk like ourselves.  This was accompanied by a universal lament that we have not been more careful in recording for posterity the fascinating stories of those who went before us. So, we decided to write & record on DVD stories of each of our childhoods, as we grew up in different parts of Ireland, north and south, rural and urban.  The result was ‘Stories of Yesteryear’, a fascinating social history of part of the 20th century in Ireland.


 

As a group, we try to use our talents not only to benefit each other, but also the wider community. Over the years, we have contributed to many charities, including the Simon Community, Donegal Town Solas and Cancer Bus, St. Thomas Special Needs Fund, Ride for Change, Brainwave, Hand on Heart, Sassy, the Warrington Youth Club, Vincent de Paul Society, the Chernobyl Appeal and the Donegal Railway Project.

 

A New Day DawnThen, in the summer of 2018, after months of hard work and selection, P2P launched our first anthology ‘A New Day Dawns’, named after the title of a poem by one of our founder members, Cathy Anderson.  This was a compilation of members’ prose, poetry, free verse, song lyrics and art work, and was dedicated to two of our much-loved members, former postmistress Peggy Hegarty of Donegal Town and film-maker Susan Underwood of Inver, who both sadly passed away before publication.

 


Julie Costello returned to be the editor of what was envisaged as a local community magazine and we originally pledged to give any small profit to our three chosen charities: the Donegal branches of RNLI, the Alzheimer’s Society, and Irish Guide Dogs for the blind and Assistance Dogs for children with autism.

In the event, we found overwhelming support from the public, shops, hotels and businesses, local councillors and our own families! On the opening day of the 2018 Patrick McGill Summer School in the Highlands Hotel in Glenties, the book was launched before a packed audience by Lochlann McGill, historian, author and past President of the Donegal Historical Society.

Further launches, all supported by generous raffle donations, were held on the Donegal Water Bus and in the Dawros Bay Hotel, Rosbeg.  Individuals, shops, cafés and Glenties Library took books to sell for us, and by November our profits had reached an amazing €8,400, which we were able to divide equally and present to our three local charities.

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Presentation of €2500 to Jennifer for Guide Dogs for the Blind and €2500 to Donegal Alzheimers Association

In the Irish Times on the day after the first launch, Anne Hailes devoted her column to the “eclectic debut” of P2P, describing ‘A New Day Dawns’ as “…an intriguing and varied anthology illustrating how writing groups can reveal hidden talents.”


 

P2P meets fortnightly in the warm and welcoming atmosphere of the Donegal Railway Centre, where evenings include writing on a given prompt or image, sharing our writing (not compulsory!) with the group, feedback, a cup of tea or coffee and, inevitably, a lot of laughter!

Three of the founders of P2P still attend regularly and members come from far and wide: Donegal Town, Clar, Stranorlar, Convoy, Drumkeen, Rossnowlagh, Drumduff, Inver, Portnoo and Rosbeg.  From time to time, aided by ETB grants, we invite professional writers to lead and inspire the group.

pen to paper meetings

 

We each bring a couple of euros to cover rent and add to our ‘kitty’, which is then spent on outings or party evenings. Last year, these comprised a trip to Glencolmcille for a stage production of John B. Keane’s ‘The Field’ and a day’s outing to the exhibition at Seamus Heaney’s Homeplace in Bellaghy, Co. Derry, which included poetry readings by poets Noel Connor and Gerald Dawe and a special screening of Noel’s film ‘The Bovedy Illuminations’, and we ended the year with a Christmas party in the Manhatten Restaurant, Donegal Town.

Some copies of ‘A New Day Dawns’ are still available and will be in local outlets next month.

 

Further information may be found on our Facebook page:

Pen2PaperWriters’ Group

 


 

NCCWN Donegal are always looking for women to share their stories and looking for women to write features on topics of their choice which we will profile as part of our Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series.

The Ripple Effect: Making Change in a Changing World

In this ‘Women’s Live’s, Women’s Voice’ feature Gortahork local Joanne Butler shares her journey of becoming an environment educator and setting up the social enterprise OURganic Gardens an outdoor green space focused on food, sustainability, and horticulture. While also reflecting on her learning experience and the importance of embracing sustainable living and making small changes to support the environment.

 


16 Years ago I moved to Donegal, coming for the big smoke of Derry to a relatively rural area and never having grown a vegetable in my life. The following year in 2004 having tasted my first cabbage straight from the field, I asked my landlord at the time for a drill and bought my first seeds. In 2008 my husband and I bought an old cottage with a wonderful view in Gort a’ Choirce. We carefully restored the house for myself, my husband and my (then only) daughter to live in.

Three years later now with 3 children we started to slowly work on our 4 acre garden at this stage I was already growing some of our own food  for a number years but,  I still  was not really aware of where our food comes, thinking back on it now, I was living in a bubble, a nice cosy ‘good life’ bubble as we had observed the land for a number of years (being a bit busy with the kids) we now felt confident to start working on the plans we made.

 


First things first we wanted to clear the land as much as possible and as natural as possible, so we enlisted the help of a few friends, we enlisted the help of some pigs and they got straight to work clearing the ground for us. In 2013 my local community group Pobail Le Chéile asked me to run a Community Garden, it pushed my boundaries and enabled me to work with people in my local community, we shared tips, stories and food.

 

Coming initially from a background always doing some sort of community work I wanted to put together a programme of events that reconnected the links between the food we grow, the food we eat and the people we feed.  We ended the year with a harvest festival, inviting people from all over the area to come together to celebrate food and enjoy the experience of coming together in a social setting. This sparked the flame and OURganic Gardens was born.

 

That winter I attended many courses and events around the country connected with community gardening, I joined the community garden network and completed my FETAC level 6 train the trainer. I put together a community garden course working with local people growing, cooking and connecting with each other.

 


I then started to look beyond just the gardening aspect of it , outside the ‘bubble’, I wanted to bring more than just healthy eating into the classes, I wanted  to show people the impacts of what we do here now, locally and how it will affect other people in the future and Globally.

In February 2014, I began a FETAC level 4 in Global Development with Donegal ChangeMakers, this opened doors I didn’t even know existed. It took me on a journey of learning that not only burst that bubble but entered me into a whole new world of conscious thinking. Hearing the shocking, hard hitting facts I learnt left me feeling overwhelmed to say the least. We looked at the developing countries and how our lives here, affect their lives there. And then more than ever this word CHANGE started to resonate deep within.


 

I went on to complete a tutor facilitator course and I remember hearing  more and more disturbing  insights into the global state of play, where we were at with our natural environment. I had heard enough, I left the course early on the last day barely unable to breath …. I had heard a lot …. I thought to myself … What could I possibly do in any way that could make one ounce of impact in the world today. In tears I wept, for the peoples who’s lives that our choices are destroying, the unfair food trades that are dealt. For the lack of control that we have over large companies that wreak havoc on our food and the environment.

 

But it was then that for me the defining moment came. And it was around that time that the ripple effect, for me came into play. I realised that what we do here, now and the choices we make, while at the time may feel like it’s only a tiny drop in a puddle. But if we allow this drop to affect everything it meets, then in turn this drop creates the possibility to reach all of the ocean. Even the smallest changes we make can affect the people around us.


“For me community gardening and teaching about growing local food became my drop”

 

Since then I have worked with lots of different groups in community gardens and Community Gardens Ireland. Fast Forward four years and the more that I left home to work with people about sustainable living, I realised that I was not being sustainable myself, I was driving all over the county and beyond and not taking time out for me, my family and my garden. So since the beginning of 2018 I took the decision to start to work from my home garden in Gortahork. To start a social enterprise that will show people how and why I do it.

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I have since discovered permaculture which is set of ethics and principles that help me understand nature and work with it rather than against it.

 

EARTH CARE – PEOPLE CARE – AND FAIR SHARE

permaculture

 


 

When I work with groups now we talk about the nature of our global food system. A system where the fruit, vegetables, and herbs found in grocery stores have often been grown hundreds of miles from our kitchens and packed, shipped, distributed, and displayed, all while being refrigerated, this is a process that can wreak havoc not only on the environment but on the flavour and nutrients.

To talk about how growing a simple bag of salad naturally at home can not only cut down on your chemical intake, but in terms of the water it takes to grow the vegetable from seed to bag. In a country like Kenya where water charges are literally costing the earth. As most companies’ triple wash their salads at packaging point, we are literally running the well dry and that doesn’t even take in the transport.

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To learn about how only a few generations ago, most of the food on the dinner table had been growing in gardens only hours before it was served. While it would be a full-time job these days to feed your family this way, it’s surprisingly easy and fun to grow some of the staples on your grocery list and it saves a whole lot of air miles in between.


 

 

We follow the principles as best we can. We observe nature, use and value diversity, produce no waste and use small and slow solutions. Now me and my family have taken it one step further and have looked at these permaculture principles in all our aspects of life at home. From saving our rainwater, building with natural materials, managing our waste materials and using renewable resources we are hoping to show people how they can live more sustainable lives on a home scale basis.

69911756_2406689436035154_6369487674503331840_oI now work with a fantastic team at OURganic Gardens and during 2019 we ran successful  courses in Permaculture, Horticulture and social and therapeutic gardening. We have set up volunteer days and community garden co-operative sessions. We have done numerous walks and talks around the land and we have even set up a small stall at the house providing surplus vegetables to the community with an honesty box to help keep the garden going.

This year we plan to do more of the same with some extra workshops and further development on the land. Who knows what route our learning together will take at OURganic Gardens, but one thing I do know and  that’s the more and more people we can get involved in our garden project then the more and more people that we can get thinking about their own ripple effects and in the near future we look forward to a tidal wave of hope from all of the ocean!

Go Raibh Maith Agat

 


Adapting to Change

Joanne is currently doing a series of online live facebook videos on Sundays under the title #GrowTogetherDonegal check it out here 

 

 


NCCWN Donegal Women’s Network are always looking for women to share their stories and looking for women to write features on topics of their choice which we will profile as part of our Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices’ series.