The co-operative working system which Irish people call the Meitheal is not unique to us. But we do have that beautiful word for it.
The word for this system in some of the Northern counties of Ireland is equally beautiful: it is “neighbouring”.
People who have studied the Meitheal or other Co-Operative systems are struck by the similarity of these systems in contemporary African, Asian, and South American communities.*
It is a system which respects the individuality and unique talents of each participant. It seeks to liberate.
We had a great example of the Meitheal at the Celtic Camino Festival in Mayo recently. Jim McNicholas lead it. He was ably assisted by Joe Maguire and Kieran Leonard and I should mention also Deirdre Nolan, Paul Nugent, and Bernard Lynch on his own behalf and as representing the Volunteers – all of whom were generous with their time and wonderful. Please forgive me for not mentioning each and every Volunteer by name.
And how can we ever forget the kindness of the people of Balla, Clogher, Ballintober, Westport, and Killawalla? They are people of the Meitheal – they show us how it is done.
And how can we ever forget the generosity of Dónal Ó Céilleachair, and all the crew of the Naoimh Gobnait including particularly our friend Danny Sheehy, and that hauntingly beautiful movie Camino na Sáile?
Particular thanks are due to all our speakers and contributors and sponsors and also to Máire Sheehy for her most generous gift of some of Danny’s books – which we shall cherish. Thanks to Mike Timms for bringing poetry to prose.
All of this is part of the Meitheal. It is the way of the wild geese.
In her new song – “Remember the Geese” – Karine Polwart sings of the geese flying in that distinctive V formation: “stepping up, falling back, laboring and resting”.
Like the Meitheal the flight of the geese is a co-operative effort and this way they fly much more efficiently (71% more efficiently it is said!) than if flying alone.
I think this way of working is very appropriate because the Camino itself is a Meitheal – it’s how a group of pilgrims first bonds and, no walls or frontiers between them now, they support each other all the way to Santiago, “stepping up, falling back, laboring and resting”.
* See Meitheal by Anne O’Dowd citing M.P. Moore (published by Comhairle Bhéaloideas Éireann at page 16