I used to only be embarrassed to be Irish just the one day a year: March 17th, the Day of St. Patrick, patron saint of vomit , chaos and green beer. Then they made it into a whole weekend.
Then Niall Mellon came along (see photo). Every November, he comes to South Africa, like some demented bog-hopping Santa Claus, to built homes for shack-dwellers in Cape Town. And every year he brings with him thousands of drunken Paddies to help.
His charity has now built around 11,000 homes for poor people in SA (so what? the government has built 3 million) and the entire island of Ireland thinks he's a saint. South Africans, on the other hand, many of whom now have a lot more neighbours thanks to Mellon, are less than chuffed, particularly as he has effectively dubbed them racists for living in nice houses near the poor downtrodden Darkies.
Never mind that Mellon is a multimillionaire who owns some of the best land in Ireland. It's ok to live like a king - no, an emperor - as long as it's not NEAR poor people.
Never mind too that around 90% of South Africa's population is wearing clothes, driving cars and watching TVs that used to belong to the other 10%. They're still racist for not giving them houses too.
I watched last year's event from a distance. Couldn't have got near them for security guards anyway.
This from the Westmeath Examiner, 4th August:
We have a thousand people going out on the trip this November," Mr. Mellon said, adding that the support around Ireland for the volunteers was remarkable.
Mr. Mellon travels regularly to South Africa himself - and will probably be spending even more there from now on, as, he admits, outside of his Trust work, he will probably be taking on business contracts in South Africa. [funny how that happened]
"There's just so little going on here," he said.
However, he has no plans to move there permanently.
"I love Ireland: I'm sort of a homebird. And I have three little boys now - I had none when I started the charity." [wouldn't want to expose them to any danger now would we?]
He was thrilled at the turnout for the Mullingar run.
"It's a real inspiration to me," he said.
Mr. Mellon explained how the charity is branching out and seeking voluntary help from people living within South Africa, and recently, it had 150 people turn out to work on construction in one of the townships in Johannesburg, all inspired by the work the Irish volunteers have been doing there.
"We're trying to just encourage people. The reality is most white South Africans have never been in a township [they're obviously racist, and need to be shown the way], so we invite people to do a day's building with us."
The fundraising that the volunteers do in Ireland is to cover their travel and subsistence costs [including 5-star accommodation at the Waterfront], but also the cost of the materials required in the building work. Similarly, the African volunteers are asked to make a donation as well, to help with the materials costs. [but only the white ones]
"They must pay 2,000 rand - about €200 - per person, and that goes towards the material costs, and this is all as a result of the visibile image of thousands of Irish people travelling over to help Africans, and we have built about 13,000 houses to date, and by next year, hope to have 25,000 completed."
The work all takes place in Cape Town and Johannesburg. "We're in 23 different townships at the moment, all around Cape Town and Johannesburg, and despite the recession, we hope to build 5,000 houses this year."