Pioneer magazine

My Life as a Pioneer

2012july-augustDermot  Fagan   is  from  Killucan  Pioneer Centre in County Westmeath. Active through the youth structures of the Association from an  early  age,  he  was  chairperson  of  the Pioneer Youth Committee from 2003 to 2006 and  was  a  delegate  on  the  Pioneer  Board  of Management  from  2003  until  2012.  In  2010 his  MSc  thesis  went  on  to  be  published  as a  journal  article  co-authored  by  Dr.  Shane Butler,  TCD  entitled  ‘What  Are  We  About?’ –  an  organisational  study  of  the  Pioneer Association  in  present  day  Ireland.  Here, Dermot interviews his friend and colleague in the Pioneer Association –  Patricia Gallagher .

Patricia, can you tell me a little about how you came to be involved with the Pioneer Association?
I  joined  in  national  school  around  the  time  of Confirmation,  though  they  were  not  tied  together necessarily.  Our  priest  came  and  spoke  to  us  and  we were  ‘signed  up’  and  presented  our  emblems  at  a specially  arranged  Mass.  I  suppose  at  twelve-years-old  I  didn’t  understand  why  you  would  drink  anyway – it didn’t make sense to me as alcohol played a minor role in our family life growing up. Later on in Mount St Michael, Claremorris, where I went to secondary school –  then  the  Pioneers  took  on  a  whole  new  dimension.
Sr Colombière Collins, who later died when we were in Transition  Year,  and  Teresa  Mulkeen,  a  young  teacher, were both strong leaders in the Pioneers in our school. I remember the first meeting I attended, there were over a hundred young people present, we had only standing room.  It  made  an  impression  on  me.  Here,  I  was  not alone in my commitment – this was very important for me.  In  the  first  few  years,  the  quizzes  and  sport  were activities to be involved in but, by Transition Year, I had an active role on the school Pioneer committee. In 2002, Teresa introduced the ideal of working with the Pioneer National Youth Committee - I jumped at opportunity!

wydmadrid1Recalling  your  perspective  at  the  time,  were  the Pioneers  more  a  spiritual  or  social  organisation  for a young person?
Probably social and, as I got older, I began to understand and appreciate the spiritual importance of the Pioneers and I grew more into that.

Was  that  an  accurate  reflection  of  what  the Association  really  is  through  these  social  means? Was it mis-sold to you?
At  that  age,  social  aspect  was  important  in  developing friends  and  a  sense  of  camaraderie.  It  demonstrated the  ideas  of  good  example  and alternative lifestyles in a pragmatic way.  It  was  a  concrete  show  of support and I found it very effective.

At  that  time  of  transition  from a  young  person  exploring  the Pioneers  through  activity  to a  person  more  conscious  of  a deeper  spiritual  ethos  behind all  you  were  involved  in,  what spiritual  emphasis  did  you  first identified with?
I liked the notion of self-denial and control.  I  saw  excesses  in  society like  teenage  drinking  with  no moderation.  Looking  back,  good example  is  something  that  I  see  as important  now.  I  would  like  to  be as good a role model now, as those people were for me then.

Idea of a ‘Pledge’, how significant is  a  pledge  is  for  someone  aged 12-18?
It varies from person to person, but for me I see the value of a promise. In  my  case,  family  and  people around  me  informed  it.  I  can’t remember  whom  exactly  I  made the  pledge  to  -  was  it  to  God,  the Sacred Heart, the priest, my parents or  others?  I  took  it  to  sixteen  years initially  and  I  found  I  was  happy where  I  was,  happy  not  to  drink,  there  was  nothing  in drinking that appealed. Then, attending National Youth meetings where we would say the Pioneer Prayer – the full prayer and not the Young Pioneer Prayer, I feel I grew into the full Pioneer pledge.

wydmadrid2If I were to ask you for your insight into one particular part of the Pioneer message what would you choose?
Good  example.  It  is  important  because  of  what  I experienced.  In  my  personal  development,  I  was intensely  shy.  Through  the  Pioneer  leaders  at  school I  realised  I  didn’t  have  to  follow  the  crowd  and  things I  wasn’t  comfortable  with.  Their  good  example  was good  for  my  own  self-esteem.  They  saw  the  good  in everybody  in  the  class  and  Pioneer  group.  As  a  shy person, I have a lot to thank them for in seeing the best in others and me. Those positions of responsibility given to  me  in  school  helped  me  develop  my  confidence.  I went from being shy to speaking at a seminar for 1500 young people in Galway and then onto the Connaught and National Youth Committees – things I would never had the got involved in without their encouragement. I was never comfortable in the drinking lifestyle and here was  an  alternative  that  would  make me happy.

I  know  it’s  not  the  case  of  ‘which came  first’,  but  in  terms  of  your own  spirituality  did  the  Pioneers introduce  or  rather  facilitate spirituality in your early years?
I  was  always  quite  spiritual  and  the Pioneer  Association  was  one  way  of expressing  it.  Later  I  got  involved  in other  things  like  the  Tuam  Diocesan Youth  Council.  The  Pioneers  also helped  develop  my  spirituality.  I remember as a younger person I liked to stick to the letter of the law.

Lets  move  away  from  the  Pioneer questions  for  a  moment.  Can  you give us an insight into one of you’re other  main  interests  –  the  Irish language.
Yes  I  went  to  college  in  NUI  Galway and  received  a  Degree  in  Irish and  Archaeology.  Then  I  did  a Postgraduate  Dipolma  in  Translation Studies  and  later  a  Masters  in  Irish. I  am  self-employed,  working  with Mayo  County  Council  as  a  translator. I’m  encouraged  by  number  of  Gael Scoileanna which are fundamental to the  survival  of  the  language.  Young people  are  becoming  comfortable speaking  Irish,  quite  different  to experience  of  our  parents  who  had  'Peig'  knocked into  them.  I’m  hopeful,  and  while  Gaeltachs  may  be becoming  more  dilute,  little  ones  are  growing  in  cities. The legislation that public bodies must provide services in  Irish  is  being  challenged  with  studies  showing  that its effectiveness is in doubt and public bodies flout the laws in this regard also. There is a big change coming for the Irish language.

camino1At  26  years-of-age,  you  have  spent  your  most formative years in the midst of the Celtic Tiger. How do you view this time and where to for Ireland from here?
Well,  we  lost  run  of  ourselves,  there’s  no  doubt.  There was  no  problem  getting  wealthy,  but  we  lost  many  of our  core  values;  we  got  lost  in  materialism.  From  here, I  hope  that  we  get  a  revival  in  community  spirit,  down to the basics of caring for neighbours and volunteerism.
Now, I hate to see austerity and people have difficulties and,  as  a  society,  we  need  to  help  and  support  each other. Unfortunately, I now have as many friends in Asia and Australia as at home. I count myself lucky that I have a job.

As  a  young  person  actively  involved  in  the  Church today, how do you view things?
The  Church  is  in  a  time  of  transition.  If  you  take  away what  is  in  the  media,  and  that  not  to  hide,  deny  or diminish the hurt that has been caused, there is a lot of good  and  positive  work  going  on. The Tuam  Diocesan Youth  Council  now  has  clusters  of  youth  councils  and there  are  great  experiences  to  be  had  through  these, meeting  other  young  people  at  youth  Masses,  retreats and pilgrimages. I was at the World Youth Day last year in  Madrid  –  you  don't  feel  at  all  isolated  at  it,  standing in  airfield  with  two  million  plus  in  prayer  to  hear  and see  the  Pope.  Change  is  important  and  we  must  keep informed  of  what  is  happening,  keeping  and  eye  on what is happening at the ground on a local basis, as well nationally and internationally.
A  stand-out  experience  for  me  has  to  be  the  two World Youth  Days  in  Köln  and  Madrid. There,  you  were so  far  removed  from  the  controversy  that  you  had  the opportunity of a pure experience of faith, love, joy, the atmosphere  of  a  festival  but  with  joy  and  love  –  joy  in Christ, views of how other cultures express themselves, a  whole  world  together.  We  can  have  the  experiences at  home,  the  chaplaincy  at  college,  youth  Masses  and retreats will refresh and restore your faith. Focus on the good and you will see the good. We also need to support our  priests;  it’s  nice  for  them  to  see  young  people climbing the reek of Croagh Patrick and expressing their faith in public – to show good example, as I mentioned earlier.

camino2You  spoke  about  the  World  Youth  Day  –  I  would be  negligent  in  my  role  as  interviewer  if  I  failed to  ask  what  other  fringe  benefits  arose  out  of  the experience?
I  got  a  boyfriend!  Paul  Murphy,  a  good  Irish  name,  but he is from Scotland. We met at WYD in Madrid last year, his first time attending, and my second. We met on the street  prior  to  the  Pope  arriving  one  morning.  These three  Scots  arrived  and,  seeing  we  were  Irish,  started singing  the  Fields  of  Athenry,  and  a  bit  of  a  sing-song developed.  The  rest,  as  they  say,  is  history.  He  knew  very little of the Pioneers prior to us meeting. He might have  heard  of  a  Lenten  Pledge  and  possibly  knew  of  a neighbour that was a Pioneer. He drinks little or nothing really  and  is  strongly  considering  becoming  a  Pioneer. He came to National Pioneer Ball in Sligo earlier this year.  He  loved  the  night  and  really  got  on  with  people  and he  was  struck  to  see  the  friendships  and  camaraderie. He could see how important the getting together was. A  unique  experience  and  he’ll  be  back  next  year  for it,  a  good  few  times  in  between!  Minus  the  network of  events  and  friends,  his  consideration  to  become  a Pioneer taken more based on the spiritual ethos and an appreciation the merits of the Association.

I  have  heard  you  speak  of  many  times  your completion  of  the  Camino  de  Santiago. What  stood out for you in this experience?
I  did  the  Camino  in  2009. Thirty-three  days,  starting  at the  foothills  of  the  Pyrenees  at  a  place  called  St  Jean Pied du Port, a 800km/500miles walk to Santiago. I was struck by the amount of sharing. People had great belief in the Camino and it was certainly a pilgrimage for me, though  not  for  everyone.  However,  people  were  taken by an unavoidable spirituality, a belief that the Camino or God would provide. You can only carry 10kilos on your back so if you were short of something someone would help, whether you needed a Physiotherapist or a pair of sandals.  I  had  the  experience  of  meeting  villagers  who shared  food  with  strangers  –  such  humility,  openness and goodness in a way you don’t find in every day life. If  everyone  did  the  Camino  and  brought  this  back  the world would be much the better. It’s very, very special.

Before we finish up can I ask you about your current role in the Pioneers, as I know people are keeping a keen eye on your work at the moment.
I  am  Chairperson  of  the  Pioneer  National  Youth Committee, my second year in this position. I also chair the  Renewed  Action  and  Youth  project.  This  project  is working towards the full and successful implementation of  the  Pioneer  Child  Safeguarding  Policy  –  steps  we need to achieve if we are to return as an organisation to working with children/ teenagers. It is a work in progress but one I and the whole team are desperate to complete.

These  are  two  significant  roles  with  lots  of responsibility  –  do  you  enjoy  your  positions  and what in particular makes it worthwhile?
I  love  talking  and  meeting  people  through  these  roles. To  meet  such  enthusiasm,  people  really  want  to  see  a place  in  the  Pioneers  for  children  and  teenagers.  Our job  now  is  to  channel  this  eagerness  into  something productive.  I  particularly  enjoy  working  with  an  older body of people in the Pioneers. I respect their experience and knowledge; they are invaluable to the organisation. Listening  to  the  stories,  great  craic  and  witticism  –  it  is an  asset  of  the  Pioneers  and  such  a  positive  message to  society  that  people  can  work  hard  and  enjoy  each others company so much irrespective of age. The  Pioneers  are  such  a  large  organisation  full  of different  interests  and  perspectives.  I  think  we  need  to find  and  build  on  that  mutual  ground  of  spiritual  and socialising,  particularly  to  build  spirituality  into  the social. What is needed for young people are friendships, peer-to-peer support. The spiritual basis as to why they should take the pledge is a seed to let grow and develop into  lifelong  membership.  Though  it  strikes  me  that there is nothing in the pledge that says you have to be active or organise. All you have to do is take the pledge, wear the pin and say prayer. All else is really above and beyond our initial promise and is a bonus.