A response to the death of Daniel Jimeno Romero, in the Pamplona Bull Run

July 11, 2009

Published: Belfast Newsletter, 11 July 2009, page 3, in entirety

When I heard the news that Daniel Jimeno Romero had been fatally gored running with the bulls in Pamplona, I listened with interest.  A year ago, that could have been me.

Last summer, I fulfilled a dream by participating in the pinnacle of the ancient San Fermin festival.  Swamped by tourists now, it grows increasingly dangerous, as with no limit on participants, crowds of people clamber over each other in search of safety.  The bulls are vicious beasts.  The name Capuchino, which was given to the bull that gored Daniel to death, betrays the destruction that is locked up in these tonne weight animals, a characteristic usually hidden if the bulls stay in a pack and continue forwards along the course.  Unfortunately yesterday [Friday] that didn’t happen, and the unpredictable nature of a frightened yet fierce animal was unleashed on whatever would move.  Separated from the pack, the bull feels vulnerable and pretty soon the foolhardy participants do too.  The bull will react to any sudden movement, and unfortunately Daniel was one of the runners who couldn’t get himself stopped quickly enough.

It is a dangerous game, but tremendous fun.  The most exciting things in life come with a risk attached, be that starting up your own business, or bungee jumping.  Given the chance, I’d run again, and one day before I get too old to be wise, I plan to.  Yesterday [Friday] was a sober reminder though, that risks should be calculated, or the consequences can be tragic.


Not all students to blame for riots

March 25, 2009

Published: Belfast Newsletter, 25th March 2009, page 14

Robin Peake, 23, is a Final Year History and Journalism student at the University of Ulster, Coleraine

As students, we are as appalled as anybody at the inexcusable behaviour witnessed in Belfast’s Holylands area on Tuesday. The area has long been an issue in local news coverage and remains a topic that springs to mind any time students are mentioned.
With a BBC survey on the same day showing that many universities want a sharp increase in tuition fees, with some desiring the removal of a cap altogether, this was not a good day for students to garner sympathy for their cause. Already seen in some quarters as tax-dodgers, a drain on the public purse, lazy and drunkards, we have an ever increasing battle to fight if we want to promote a positive image.

I am personally ashamed that fellow students could cause such a diversion of PSNI resources, particularly at a time when 350 officers have been deployed to join the hunt for the dissidents responsible for last week’s murders. I am ashamed that students cannot enjoy a day off in a peaceful manner, adding to the colourful festivities that the rest of the city enjoyed, and instead caused such disruption and chaos.

The blame for Tuesday’s antic lies not with the police whose heavy-handed approach was only necessary because of the threat to public property and personal safety that the mob was presenting. Nor does it lie with the Universities who cannot be held liable for the behaviour of their students off campus. The blame lies squarely at the feet of those students and non-students who allowed excessive drinking habits to fuel such behaviour which has further tarnished our flagging reputation.

The reality is however, that such incidents are rare. The good weather seen on Tuesday combined with the fact the universities were closed were major contributing factors in the all-day drinking binge that culminated in the scenes that layered our newspapers yesterday morning. Students are demonised somewhat, but we are not as bad as we allow ourselves to be portrayed. Students from University of Ulster, Magee have this year embarked on a ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ mission, to practically support local residents and promote the reputation of students in the Maiden City. Here at Coleraine the Students Union are liaising with the Council for a litter pick up in off-campus accommodation areas. Some students from the Christian Union did something similar last year after the North West 200 motorbike races and residents were as impressed as they were surprised by what they saw. And right across the University of Ulster campuses, thousands of pounds were raised for various local charities during Raise and Give (RAG) week held in the middle of February. These are student driven initiatives designed not as some form of propaganda, to convince the rest of the population that deep down we are nice people, but because we believe that as students and residents we have a responsibility to serve the community that we are a part of.

Robin runs race of his life

July 12, 2008

Published: Belfast Newsletter, 12th July 2008, page 3

The world renowned festival of San Fermín is held annually in the city of Pamplona, Northern Spain. Orginating in the 15th Century and made famous in Hemmingway´s 1926 novel, The Sun Also Rises, the festival has become synonymous with one event – The encierro or The Running of the Bulls.

At least one person is seriously injured every year, and there have been 14 deaths since records began in 1924. The last person to get killed by one of the bulls was Matthew Tassio, a 22 year old American tourist in 1995. This is no picnic, and many of the locals refuse to participate in the event where they claim naive tourists are just as dangerous as the 1100 lb bulls.

At 6.30am on the Wednesday of the San Fermín festival, the crowds begin to gather. Three-quarters of an hour later the police have hemmed them in in the square at the centre of the half mile stretch while the street cleaners clear the way of food wrappers, beer bottles and the comatosed.

And here in the midst of all this madness is little old me. A 22 year old Ballynahinch boy with a pair of trainers and a heart beating faster than a New York rapper. Why am I here? Because many years ago I started to draw up a list of things to do before I die and somewhere amongst Own a Ford Capri and Kiss a Nun lies one chilling task – Run with the Bulls.

I know that as I grow older my illusion of invincibility will disappear and I need to run now while my limbs lack stiffness and my head lacks sense. I have been warned by both those at home and the locals about the dangers of it, and 13 injuries on Monday´s run will have done nothing to allay my mother´s fears.

I´m travelling with my friend Mark and we managed to get a few hours sleep in a nearby park – Getting accomodation during the festival is impossible unless you are willing to sell a kidney or two. We missed breakfast so I have a few sandwiches in a plastic bag with me but for some reason neither of us are hungry. As we stand packed in like sardines the nervous energy is evident. A few people burst into song as a way of easing the tension. I look around at the faces. Some are grinning, eagerly anticipating the run. The veterans look determined and focused. For the majority of the crowd however, the colour of their face has drained to match the bleach white top and trousers which is traditional San Fermín garb along with a red necktie.

About 15 minutes before they release the eight bulls the police step back to allow us to move to any chosen point on the course. I will be running on the notorious Estafeta street which is a 400 metre stretch with only a few chances of escape. Behind me stands an Australian cowering in a shallow doorway for whom the glorious idea of running with the bulls has just met reality. I meet a Dublin guy called Emmett, who is also running for the first time. We pray.

At 8 o´clock exactly the first rocket goes off, signalling that the bulls have been released from the pen. Some runners sprint off straight away. They will arrive in the stadium before they even see a bull and will rightly be booed by the crowd already in there waiting for their arrival. A second rocket should follow shortly signalling that they have all left the pen. The bulls will run safely if tightly packed a herd, but if one is separated it can become afraid and highly dangerous. We wait for the second rocket to come but it doesn´t. Finally after 20 seconds or so we hear it. Emmett and I look at each other, knowing that our pipe dream is now very real and very dangerous.

Shortly after the thunder of feet and hooves is heard and the adrenalin has very much kicked in. A mass of people burn around the corner below us, terror evident in their faces as they look backwards at what is to us an unseen enemy. The sound of the now overtaken bell oxen reminds us of what is coming. I turn upwards and run, glancing back for a glimpse of the bulls. I get what I asked for and my pace increases. In front of me people have tripped and wisely remain on the ground. My selfish nature kicks in and I trample over them determined to keep on running, my heart now beating loudly. As I reach the escape point half way up Estafeta the bulls pass by me safely on the other side of the street. The crowd follow them, hoping to get into the stadium to witness the rest of the morning´s festivities. I let them run ahead, as I make my way back towards the Town Hall area where Mark was running. As I dander back down the now half empty street I hear a familiar sound. Around the corner comes a raucous roar of people, with that terrified look in their eyes. Of course – The second rocket. In my adrenalin craze I had forgotten that there must have been some bulls slow to leave the pen. I can see three of them, their horns glaringly close to some of the runners coming straight for me. I turn again and this time run more daringly in the centre of the street. These bulls seem slower, so I can run ahead of them for longer, allowing them to get within 10 metres or so before deciding that is enough danger for me and peeling off to the side to watch them sprint past.

I peer warily to check that they are the last bulls coming for me, and once happy that that is the case I dander back down to the town hall, adrenalin still pumping, hand shaking as I grab a pen and stroke it off my list.