New series shining a light on border walls across the world

Síle Nic Chonaonaigh at the border wall between North and South Korea: it's the most militarised border in the world.
Síle Nic Chonaonaigh at the border wall between North and South Korea: it's the most militarised border in the world.

Arts Week with Judy Murphy

Maybe the reason Síle Ní Chonaonaigh is so effective as a TV presenter is that the Spiddal woman isn’t trying to be one.

“I’m no expert on anything – I’m just the viewer who happens to get to go along. And I’m someone who connects, who has an emotional reaction rather than a head one,” she remarks.

Síle is doing herself a disservice about her lack of expertise, but she’s right about making connections.

Fronting TG4’s new series An Balla, for which she visits border walls in Mexico-US, Korea, Palestine-Israel and Berlin, Síle’s eloquence and humanity shine through as she interviews people from all backgrounds, many fleeing horrendous situations.

An Balla is a co-production between Connemara production company, ROSG, and TV companies from Wales and South Korea.

TG4’s Commissioning Editor Proinsias Ní Ghrainne suggested Síle as presenter for the TG4 version because of her work on a previous programme about refugees in Greece.

“When I first started meeting refugees it opened my eyes,” Síle says honestly. “I’d always regarded myself as fairly educated and left-wing politically.”

But meeting Syrians and Afghanis who now live in refugee camps, she quickly realised that she had to rid herself of prejudices she didn’t even know she had.

“The notion, for instance, that these people aren’t as wealthy and educated as we are. There they were, talking about their former lives when their kids would go on horse-riding holidays, just like my sister’s kids,” she says.

An Balla kicked off this Wednesday with a programme about the 2,000 mile Mexican-US border – the largest land border on earth runs from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Coast

This episode offers a timely antidote to the lies and venom of US President, Donal Trump, as Síle provides context to the history of migration from Mexico to the US.

She meets people whose lives have been torn apart by Trump’s policies – real people, not statistics.  There’s Benjamin, who has fled terror in Nicaragua, and Gáston, whose story echoes that of many undocumented Irish in the US.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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