Monday 25 September 2017

'There's an element of nostalgia but new connections are made'

‘Flowers for Dara’, a sand art tribute by Sean Corcoran
‘Flowers for Dara’, a sand art tribute by Sean Corcoran

Celine Naughton

Launched earlier this month, the Facebook group page 'I Am Waterford' rapidly went viral, with 10,000 members joining up in the first 10 days. The brainchild of sand artist Seán Corcoran, the premise is simple - it's a forum for and about Waterford people.

"Waterford needed an online identity," said Mr Corcoran. "In recent years we've been hit hard by unemployment and lack of health services. From talking to people on the streets, I got a sense of being left behind. We needed an injection of positivity.

"'I Am Waterford' is not about sunsets and landscapes. I stayed with it minute by minute the first few days, making sure that each time somebody posted a picture of a beach, or a building, I'd politely explain that the focus here was on people, not places. Once they grasped the essence of the site, it took off like a rocket."

Although Mr Corcoran knows about things going viral - a picture of a sand artwork he created in memory of Rescue 116 Captain Dara Fitzpatrick quickly gained a following of 400,000 - even he was surprised by the response to 'I Am Waterford'.

"The positivity is electric. Within days, we'd reached the targets I'd set out for the year end. My initial call-out was for selfies, with 'I Am Waterford' written on the photo, but what quickly emerged was people wanting to remember loved ones, paying tribute to parents and grandparents, many of whom had passed away. There's an element of nostalgia, but it's reaching out to the diaspora in Australia, the USA and elsewhere. New connections are being made, and family and school reunions being organised."

A week ago, he contacted an English woman who'd uploaded a picture of a monument on the quay in Waterford. She said she was trying to reach out to the family of Captain Lumley, who died on the SS Coningbeg which was bombed by a German torpedo during WWl. Captain Lumley's grandson had recently died in England and the family wanted to bring his ashes back to be scattered in Waterford. As it turned out, Mr Corcoran discovered he too was related.

"Captain Lumley was my great granduncle. We're now planning a reunion for the extended family. It's an example of how 'I Am Waterford' enables modern gatherings, creates dialogue and reconnects families. It may not help us solve our immediate problems, but it is creating a more unified approach that will give us strength in tackling the issues we face in our community."

Irish Independent

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