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An tOilean sa Bhaile

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2003| Colour| 26 mins


In March 2003, forty-eight residents of Beaver Island, Michigan, journeyed to Arrain Mhor Island off the coast of Donegal for a twinning ceremony. Such ceremonies are not in themselves anything extraordinary in Ireland. Driving throughout the country one will find that most towns are twinned with some other innocuous far-flung location. Traditionally, these ties were designed to inspire friendship, cultural understanding and tourism. Rarely do the twinned locations share underlying connections of any great relevance. This could not be further from the truth in the case of Beaver Island and Arrain Mhor.
The twinning ceremony, which took place in March, represents the culmination of a journey that began over a century and a half ago in 1851. In that year, their British landlord expelled 163 residents of Arrain Mhor from the island. In Donegal town they boarded coffinships, which took them to Canada, 3,000 miles from home. Mostly illiterate and speaking only Gaelic, the evictees remained together as a group working for several years on the railroads. By chance, one of their number came upon Beaver Island, thirty miles offshore in Lake Michigan. The island was relatively uninhabited, rich in game, woodland and fishing. After a time, the majority of the original evictees made their way to the island where they established a miniature Arrain Mhor in exile.
In essence, this is a circular story of emigration and eventual homecoming. The original evictees, consciously or otherwise, left one isolated island community and sought out another. Thus, the story is primarily concerned with notions of community; the community that was ripped apart in 1851, the community that was established on Beaver Island and the community on Arrain Mhor that welcomed back their relatives in 2003.

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