An Caorthann Samhain '98

A gathering of the tribes?


Twenty years ago, in 1976, the Mustard Seed gathering brought together people interested in developing an alternative way of living. As Michael Walsh wrote at the time:

“The seeds of an alternative society are germinating in Ireland – seeds creating small sustainable communities, self-sufficiency experiments, human-scale technology and industry, decentralisation of power and economic structures, ecologically aware organic farming and husbandry, rediscovery of spiritual and mystical realities – and many more.”

Two decades later, we can look back on the flowering of some of these seeds – massive popular campaigns like Carnsore Point, Wood Quay or Irish CND in the eighties, a flourishing alternative press, the organic farming networks, a broad base of groups and activities in fields as diverse (and interconnected!) as Third World solidarity, community development, the women’s movement, ecological activism, “green spirituality”, new links with alternative cultures abroad through Rainbow Gatherings, New Travellers, Internet and musical subcultures, vibrant gay, lesbian and psychedelic scenes – the list goes on.

The value of the Mustard Seed gathering, as Mark Crosbie, Brian Rogers and Des Gunning write,

“was that it represented the first broad-based coming together of separate and distinct non-mainstream initiatives which were then accurately known as ‘alternative society’.... It was a process of mutual, multilateral recognition, affirmation and alignment. At Mustard Seed, that process was brought quite deliberately ‘into consciousness’ and thereby hangs the significance of the event.”

Sensing that the time was right for a follow-up to bring together the different alternative initiatives that now exist, they sent out a public call for anyone interested to join an gathering to explore the idea.

Twenty-odd people – organic farmers, Green activists, community organisers, alternative journalists, local economy thinkers, artists, Rainbow people and more met in Glencree for two days to talk it over. The challenge was a vast one: as the organisers wrote,

“A successor to the Mustard Seed gathering would want to establish, in short, that there is a civil society that is self-aware, self-conscious and active, and to what degree there are elements of common purpose shared by seemingly discrete groupings within that. A successor to Mustard Seed would have the task of drawing together those who have been formulating and implementing that vision into a ‘safe space’, allowing each to bathe in the energy of the other, moving the whole process onwards and maybe even shifting it up a gear or two.”

What the Glencree gathering brought out was that if this is the goal, there is still a long way to go. Twenty years ago, “Think global – act local” was a call to start to make world-scale ideas real and bring them forward in the small scale of everyday life. Now, with so many of us working away at our own small corner, it means trying to locate activities which have acquired their own logic and become a central part of our lives within a much wider perspective. For some, this is a challenge in itself. For others, the challenge is that our own global thinking has been developed in relative isolation from each other – we need to move to a perspective which is broader because it actually engages with each other’s views. This itself can only happen in the context of a movement that is large enough to shake society to its foundations and help us free ourselves from abstract statements and open up to genuine communication with each other.

This takes time, but Glencree has given it a push. We have exchanged ideas with each other over two days, and even started to communicate where differences exist. As a second step, some participants wrote 100 words on where we go from here; An Caorthann is happy to print these as a very minimal contribution to starting the slow and difficult process of dialogue.

Laurence Cox was at the Glencree meeting.


An Caorthann (The Rowan Tree)
Irish green-alternative magazine
Editor: Laurence Cox
Web weaver: Anna Mazzoldi

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