Monthly Archives: November 2011

Pauline’s story

“In his day he had jet black curly hair and he had beautiful eyes, real chocolate-brown eyes”.

Real stories by real people make for engaging campaigns.

You can have all the statistics, experts and cartoon characters you want, but for an awareness campaign nothing comes close to the power of personal testimony.

I don’t mean the infomercial and Internet creations that we are all now programmed to tune out, along with most of the other rubbish that’s pushed relentlessly at us through various communications channels all day long.

I mean genuine and sincere testimony, one that people can connect with or – better again – can’t help connecting with, on an emotional level.

This rule applies to all organisations, from companies to NGOs, but is routinely ignored in favour of gimmicks.

People will always listen to other people first, as long as they are real people with real stories. It’s that simple. Some key communications rules are no different for social media or newspapers than they are for television or radio.

Pauline Bell, who lives in Piercestown, Wexford, tells her story, and that of her husband George, in a moving new ad for a HSE campaign to encourage people to quit smoking.

The QUIT campaign focuses on one key fact: 1 in every 2 smokers will die of a tobacco related disease. but crucially it uses real people, the words of those left behind, to bring that fact to life.

“Evidence from all over the world has shown the impact that real-life, personal stories, like Pauline and George’s, can have on smokers’ drive to quit,” said Dr Fenton Howell from the HSE, correctly diagnosing the problem with many other campaigns.

There are, of course, lots of other ways to engage people, like giving them something to enjoy, as I have discussed here, but for awareness campaigns specifically none of them pack the same punch as personal testimony.

Pauline’s honesty, love for her husband and heartbreak are palpable in the three-minute video above.

In the well shot video, the loneliness of life without George is clearly reflected, not just by her words, but by the emptiness and quietness of her home, where her husband once used to sit watching Bond films or listening to Christy Moore songs while doing the ironing.

George, a heavy smoker, was just 48 years old when he died from a heart attack while they were enjoying a holiday in Alicante just over three years ago, leaving behind not just Pauline, but their children Darragh and Rachel.

I don’t smoke, but if I did this video would give me serious pause for thought.

I spoke to Pauline earlier today and she told me she was approached the HSE to participate in the campaign after she joined their Facebook page aimed at people trying to quit smoking, currently approaching 14,000 “likes”.

Pauline said she only smoked about 20 cigarettes a week before George died. He was the much heavier smoker out of the two of them.

However, following his death she began smoking more heavily, despite the fact that this was precisely what led to him being taken from her far too early.

Grief and logic are strange bedfellows.

“I started smoking more after he died than I did before. it’s not good enough for me to say that, but for the first year I was in no man’s land, I was just about functioning,” said Pauline.

However, she said it eventually dawned on her that she had started smoking heavily and for the sake of her own health and her children she sought help to quit the habit, joining the HSE’s Facebook page for support.

“I found it was a great help, talking to other people in a similar position. I was talking to people about George too. Quitting smoking is a hard thing to do, even after a death in the family. It’s been a struggle but I’m getting there,” she said.

Click here for further info on the campaign.

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The story behind a hero and a statue

Mark Richards hard at work on his statue of Nickey Rackard. The finished article will be unveiled at Selskar Square in Wexford town next March.

There aren’t too many statues being commissioned in Ireland these days.

Even if there was any money left in the public coffers, we veered away from statues some time ago, generally in favour of more contemporary pieces of public art.

However, in a studio on the English-Welsh border one of the UK’s finest exponents of portrait sculpture is currently dedicating almost every waking hour to a statue of one of this country’s greatest ever sportsmen.

Nickey Rackard will be immortalised in bronze in Selskar Square in Wexford town in March 2012.

The Rathnure man was one of the finest hurlers to ever grace the game and his exploits on the field in the purple and gold of Wexford are legendary.

However, Nickey experienced as many low moments as high ones in his life due to his chronic alcohol addiction.

He showed extraordinary courage to not only eventually come to terms with his problem after many years and, as the man himself wrote, experiencing “the depths of misery and degradation”, but to speak honestly and openly about it at a time when it was still very much a taboo subject in this country.

Nickey travelled the country with AA trying to help others and the pieces he penned on his life and battle with alcohol addiction remain as relevant today as they were then. He eventually died of cancer in 1976.

In my humble opinion, Nickey Rackard’s greatest battle was with himself and his greatest triumph was one of the human spirit. There are lessons there to be learned for all of us and that is why far more than a hurling hero is being honoured in Wexford next March.

His life and battle with alcoholism, including the views of Nickey’s son Bobby and some of his own words from pieces he wrote down through the years, are charted in this excellent article by Dermot Crowe.

The fascinating thing I’ve learned about the statue itself is the huge level of research, commitment and attention to detail that have gone into it by renowned sculptor Mark Richards.

Mark has made many visits to Wexford before and since he was awarded the commission by Wexford Borough Council and said he is well aware just how much Nickey Rackard means to people here.

“He’s an iconic figure, but you have to turn that pressure into inspiration or it could become overwhelming. It’s a tall order, but Nickey Rackard is my life at the moment. I’m really enjoying it. It’s very exciting and very challenging,’ he told me.

But before he ever thought about getting to work in the studio, Mark had a lot of research to do, on a number of fronts, starting with the site for the statue in Selskar Square.

However, this was far from the most challenging aspect of his research – hurling is not exactly a popular game where he’s from, he readily confesses! Then there was the significant task of researching the man to be commemorated by his statue.

Mark threw himself right into it and here’s just seven interesting aspects of his work to date:

  • Mark got Wexford’s Kevin Gore to show him hurling in action, paying particular attention to the movements and all the finer details, such as how the hurl and sliothar are held. He filmed the footage to study it.
  • Local hurl maker Philip Doyle made the sculptor a replica of a hurl used in the 1950s, which Mark describes as “a beautiful object”. He also visited the Croke Park Museum, to view a hurl used by Nickey’s brother Bobby in the 1955 All-Ireland Final.
  • He has been working closely with Nickey’s three children, Bobby, Marion and Bernadette. “They have been fantastic, they have been really great to me and provided me with a lot of information and inspiration,” said Mark, who was warmly welcomed and given access to the family archive, a veritable treasure trove of photographs and memorabilia, all of which have proved most helpful to him.
  • His most recent visit to the Rackards was an unusual one as it saw him bring with him a model of their late father’s head to ensure that he gets the likeness spot on! “You can only get so much from a photo and most of the photos are from the front, there’s no profile,” said Mark.
  • The statue will show Nickey Rackard in a pose familiar to people who saw the legendary full-forward play. “I want him to be caught in movement, looking at the goal just before he throws the sliothar up for a strike,” he said.
  • Nickey Rackard, the bronze version, will be over seven feet tall – or life-and-a-quarter size! Mark explained that this is because “humans are actually quite small things in isolation”, but that we seem bigger due to our personalities, movement and the noise we make. He said that you actually have to increase the size of a statue by 25% for it to seem life-size, describing it as “a trick of the trade”.
  • An unexpected by-product of his work has been the emergence of hurling – or a version of it at least – on the English-Welsh border. “The children and neighbours were playing it during the summer. It was funny to see a hurling scene on the common,” said Mark. However, it’s not exactly the game we know and love over here as he did point out that “we have our own version of hurling, which involves the dog!”

You can follow Mark’s progress, get a full behind-the-scenes look at his work on the Nickey Rakcard statue and delve into the more technical details of the sculpting process on this site.

One day in Ontario

Claire Hefferon reaches for the sky on a swing on the Toronto Islands

During my recent trip to Canada I was lucky enough to visit two of Ontario’s most impressive and diverse attractions in the same day: the Toronto Islands and Niagara Falls.

We set out early for the Toronto Islands, getting one of the regular ferries from the city. The Islands, the only ones in the western part of Lake Ontario, are a very short distance from the city itself and offer great views of it.

But perhaps the best thing about the Islands is that once you get there you feel like you’re a world away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Adding to the sense of calm is the fact are no cars allowed over, which means that bicycles and the odd service vehicle are the most obtrusive form of transport – though the Islands are also home to Toronto City airport, on its north west tip, it doesn’t interfere with the peace and quiet.

We arrived on Centre Island on a sunny September morning and spent a really nice few hours ambling about, taking in the beautiful surroundings. It is impeccably well-maintained without losing it sense of natural beauty.

It is the kind of place that’s good for your soul as well as your lungs.

As you stand on one the many beaches looking out on the vast Lake Ontario you feel like you could be on a remote Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, not right on the doorstep of a city of well over 2.5 million people.

Lake Ontario glistens in the sunshine

A dedicated swimmer cuts his way through the water after wading in from a beach on Centre Island

One of the beautiful beaches on the Islands, protected by a breakwater

An example of the colourful flora and fauna

Looking back towards Toronto, where the CN Tower dominates the skyline

As well as being a peaceful haven, it seems it also something of a playground for the people in Toronto, particularly in the summertime, with its amusement park, an array of attractive beaches and no end of opportunities for boating, canoeing and other water sports.

My favourite Toronto Islands fact is as follows: in 1914, Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run into the waters of Lake Ontario from the then Toronto Maple Leafs stadium (which was moved to the mainland in the ’20s).

I wish we could have brought a blanket, a picnic basket and spent the day there, but thankfully we still had enough time to really appreciate it and there was another significant item on our schedule…

The Horseshoe Falls

The Niagara Falls are one of the most photographed and written about attractions in the world and I’m not going to add too much more to that massive file of information here.

What I will say is that because they are so well-known, so well documented and – no matter when you go – the area so full of visitors, that it perhaps lacks the charm, the sense of the unknown and discovery that we love to find elsewhere.

The fact that town built around it is full of some of the tackiest attractions in existence probably doesn’t help either!

But all that is simply blown away when you’re standing there on the edge and looking down at one of the most amazing natural phenomenons on this planet. It’s breathtaking. No photographs you have seen or articles you have read can prepare you for the sheer scale and beauty of it.

The peace of the Toronto Islands was in stark contrast to the power of the Niagara Falls.

The green colour of the water, seen flowing over the Horseshoe Falls in the photograph above, is a by-product of the estimated 60 tonnes per minute of dissolved salts and “rock flour” generated by the erosive force of the Niagara River.

The force of the water is certainly something to witness and looking back up the landscape as the river thunders down towards the falls it was almost like an apocalyptic movie scene coming to life – if only it weren’t so beautiful.

The geography, history and stories that come with it are also fascinating. Plus, tacky attractions can be a lot of fun too if you let your silly side out to play! If you are anywhere near it you simply have to experience it.

It was a busy day and it was a long day, but it was a great day.

The Maid of the Mist makes her way from Rainbow Bridge, past the American Falls towards the Horseshoe Falls.