Dublin: CityWide Want You To Use Your Vote To Make The National Drugs Crisis A Political Priority

4 Feb


Dublin’s Tree of Hope And HOME Monument:
“Attending the funerals of our young people became normal. We began to accept the unacceptable. There was also a feeling of abandonment, as people called out for State support – but none was forthcoming. While the ‘heroin pushers’ slept on satin sheets – our young people lay on cold marble slabs. The tree was a gift to brighten the dark days of Winter and also – a symbol of ’hope’ and the tree became known as the ‘Tree of Hope’.


Ten years ago(1996), when the tree was first put up, it was a time of anger, isolation and loneliness for many people in our community (Dublin’s North-Inner-City).
A shadow had descended on our area – a dark shade of drug dealing. There were lots of deaths from drug-related causes.
Attending the funerals of our young people became normal. We began to accept the unacceptable. Our people were going through the motion (of loss) without the deep grieving that this tragedy of death requires. When people were grieving – it was in private. There was also a feeling of abandonment – as our people called out called out for State support – but none was forthcoming. The open drug dealing and the resulting deaths of our children, made people angry. As the father of an addict said – “While the pushers slept on satin sheets – our young people lay on cold marble slabs“.

The only outlet people had for expressing their feelings – was the mass meetings and marches (against drug pushers within communities) that took place, back then. This was an outlet for the expression of public anger – there was no outlet for public grief.

A number of people within our community talked about the need for such grief to be expressed – and for all of those young people who died (from drug related causes) to be remembered. We needed a symbol of hope. The idea then emerged of putting a ‘Christmas Tree’ in Buckingham Street – beside Joseph’s Mansions – which had become a ‘black spot’ for heroin dealing. The then City Manager was written to and the idea explained, he responded generously and embraced the idea.
It may now be difficult to believe, but there was a fear that ‘the tree’ would be attacked or even pulled down.
The anti-drugs people who were manning a hut which was erected at this very corner – were asked to mind ‘the tree’ 24 hours a day. They agreed to do this – but our fears were needless, as people took to the tree – for what it was meant to be, – a gift to brighten the dark days of winter and also ‘a symbol of hope’. in fact it quickly became known as the ‘tree of hope’.
The tree was and is – many things to many people, it is the human caring face of our community, it was for some – the symbol of the ICON anti-drugs slogan ‘Addicts We Care – Pushers Beware’. For others it was and is a symbol of our community taking responsibility and trying to heal itself from the pain it was suffering.

While the (anti-drugs) marches were a sign of the communities anger – directed at the pushers, it quickly became known that there were ‘many addicted pushers who needed treatment and not humiliation’. There was not one single family – that was not affected by the ‘drugs problem’ and the tree became a unifying image – where people could comfort, console and support each other.
For some people it was a ‘communal grave’ -drawing people together in their grief and hopes, a public place for sharing the loss of their loved ones.
Fittingly ‘The Christmas Tree’ becomes the centre of warmth and family commemoration in the depths of Winter.

In the warm embrace of the tree – people told each other, that it was okay to grieve. People were reclaiming the child lost through drug-addiction by being able to grieve together. The child who once gave us so much happiness – when they first walked, first talked, when they showed us their very first achievements in school – these were the times – when we shed tears of happiness – not grief.

People were asserting themselves by saying – their children might have become chaotic – through addiction, but they were also victims of drug-dealing and also long years of State neglect.
Many people will argue that despite all of the measures taken, since then, we are still playing ’catch-up’. In the past ten years, we have come a long way, but the true extent of the deaths has not yet been accurately recorded.
This is why the City-Wide Family Support Network is taking part in a pilot project, will try to create an index of our drug-related deaths.

With the setting up of the Christmas Tree, here was for the first time public recognition that – addiction not only affected the addict, but also affected the addicts whole family, extended family and whole community.

When the Christmas Tree was taken down – people experienced a sense of isolation and emptiness. Relatives of ‘our lost young people’ began speaking about the need to erect a permanent memorial. The community need for remembrance was very deep – so deep was this this feeling that the relatives asked that a temporary memorial be erected- it was a small wooden block with a hole cut out for a night candle – Although it was rather crude – it was a shrine to continue the Spirit of the Christmas Tree.
This in turn, triggered the process of selecting a permanent memorial – and after a consultation process between artists and the relatives a sculpture called ’HOME’ by Leo Higgins was picked.
When the memorial was to be cast, an invitation was sent throughout the community, open to anyone who wished to come along and bring something to remember their lost loved ones. All the objects that the families brought to the ceremony were collected and put into a rib boned box and placed in the cast. These objects included first communion medals, photographs, letters, cigarette lighters and in one families case, they even placed their child’s ashes inside.
As Bernie Howard, one of the key relatives involved in he process put it:
“It was very hard for me that day, when I went over to Leo’s Foundry – where the memorial was being put together. We were told to bring something personal belonging to our lost children. I brought a miracles medal – that my Stephen wore around his neck and a small pillbox with other holy medals. It was a very, very sad occasion. I just placed his belongings in a bag, along with the personal effects of the other children being remembered. It all went into the melt, there wasn’t a dry eye in the foundry that day. When I pass by the memorial now, I look at the flame and I know a part of my son I in it”.

With the memorial’s image of an open door and a welcoming flame, it captures what the tree symbolises for the community, a sense of hope, healing and yes, forgiveness. it is a message from this community to those who suffer from addiction, saying that, no matter how far you descended into despair, there is always a way home and the warmth of your family and the community to give you support.
So here we are 10 years on, with our Christmas Tree and our memorial side by side, still giving our message to our children, that we love them and there is hope for recovery.
The foregoing text: was delivered by a ‘survivor of drug addiction’ on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the ‘Lighting of Our Christmas Tree’ on Buckingham Street. Dublin 7th December 2006.


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