Shining a light on the ‘Tuam Babies’

Survivors and young families joined together to honour the “Tuam Babies” and all those who passed away too soon

A deeply moving vigil to remember and honour the “Tuam Babies” took place in Galway on Sunday evening.

The Honouring the Babies event was organised by First Light, a charity which provides specialised bereavement counselling to families who lose babies and young children.

It was all the more poignant because it was attended by a number of survivors from Mother and Baby Homes across the West of Ireland who had been impacted by the findings of the Commission of Inquiry last month.

First Light representative in Galway Emer Hennelly says the idea behind the event at the Circle of Life Garden in Salthill was to honour all of those children who lost their lives in institutions across Ireland.

She said young families who avail of the specialised counselling provided by First Light had been deeply moved by the “Tuam Babies” revelations in recent weeks.

The charity, which used to be known as the Irish Sudden Infant Death Association (ISIDA), also attracted a record attendance to its Mile in Memory walk in Salthill earlier the same day.

Parents, siblings, friends, and neighbours of children who passed away too soon walked a mile from the Galway Bay Hotel before returning to the Circle of Life Garden to release balloons in memory of their loved-ones.

“Not only did we want to let off the balloons to remember the little ones who left us too soon, we wanted to use the occasion to honour and remember the 796 Tuam Babies and all of those children who died or grew up in Irish Mother and Baby Homes,” said Emer.

The sudden loss of a child is the most unimaginable pain a family can suffer and Emer said it was important to remember all children who died too young, as well as supporting today’s parents in their darkest hour.

First Light have supported families in their darkest hour for 35 years and Emer says that many of today’s parents were deeply moved by the recent confirmation that hundreds of babies may have been buried at unmarked graves in Tuam.

“For 35 years, we have been helping families finding help and support following the sudden or unexpected death of a child. We felt it was important to honour all babies who passed away in Irish institutions,” says Emer.

Ms Hennelly said the First Light organisers were thrilled that historian Catherine Corless, who spoke at the event, and survivors from the Tuam home attended Sunday’s event.

Journalist Ciaran Tierney, who was MC for the 45 minute ceremony, said Ms Corless was a modern Irish hero.

“Only for her painstaking research, the world would never have heard about the ‘Tuam Babies’,” he said. “Catherine was determined to find out the truth about what happened at the Tuam home and, in doing so, she has given a voice to the voiceless.

“Some of the survivors have said they were unable to talk about their experiences in the home until Catherine’s research was made public. They said she has given them the courage to speak out for the first time.”

Poignant poetry and song

Two Galway-based singers, Sinead Nic Gabhann and Ruth Dillon, sang deeply poignant songs at the gathering and Caroline Quigley, author and healer, read a poem she wrote especially for the event.

Ronan Scully read a poem in memory of a friend’s child, who died tragically just days prior to Sunday’s moving ceremony.

“By receiving help in dealing with bereavement from appropriately trained professionals, parents and families can learn to live with their grief and begin rebuilding their lives,” said Ms Hennelly.

The survivors from the Tuam home were invited to the front of the stage where they joined Ruth Dillon for a moving rendition of ‘We Are The World’ at the end of the ceremony.

A blog post about Catherine Corless, a modern Irish hero:  http://ciarantierney.blogspot.ie/2017/04/the-tireless-determination-of-modern.html

 

The beautiful Circle of Life garden in Salthill, where the event took place on Sunday evening.

Honouring the ‘Tuam babies’ in Galway

The beautiful Circle of Life Garden in Galway

A charity which provides help and support to families following the sudden or unexpected death of a child has organised a vigil to honour the “Tuam Babies” in Galway on Sunday (7pm).

First Light representative in Galway Emer Hennelly says the idea behind the event at the Circle of Life Garden in Salthill is to honour those children who lost their lives in institutions across Ireland.

The charity, which used to be known as the Irish Sudden Infant Death Association (ISIDA), is holding a Mile in Memory walk in Salthill earlier the same day (12 noon).

The sudden loss of a child is the most unimaginable pain a family can suffer and Emer says it’s important to remember all children who died too young, as well as supporting today’s parents in their darkest hour.

Sunday’s event takes place in a beautiful garden, located near the seafront promenade, which was opened by Denis and Martina Goggin as a tribute to their late son, Eamonn.

The Goggins took a huge interest in organ donation after Eamonn died tragically in a road traffic accident.

It is located between the Salthill Hotel and the Galway Bay Hotel.

First Light have supported families in their darkest hour for 35 years and Emer says that many of today’s parents were deeply moved by the recent confirmation that hundreds of babies may have been buried at unmarked graves in Tuam.

“For 35 years, we have been helping families finding help and support following the sudden or unexpected death of a child. We felt it was important to honour all babies who passed away in Irish institutions,” says Emer.

Service users will take part in the Mile in Memory Walk along the Salthill Promenade earlier on Sunday, at 12 noon. Registration takes place just before the walk at the Galway Bay Hotel.

Emer says that First Light exists to help parents following the tragic or unexpected death of a baby or child.

“By receiving help in dealing with bereavement from appropriately trained professionals, parents and families can learn to live with their grief and begin rebuilding their lives,” she says.

Survivors of Irish institutions, including the Tuam Mother and Baby Home, are especially welcome at Sunday’s event which is expected to last less than an hour.

Two wonderful Galway-based singers, Sinead Nic Gabhann and Ruth Dillon, will sing at the gathering and Caroline Quigley, author and healer, will read a poem she wrote especially for the event.

Find the event on Facebook, and spread the word! https://www.facebook.com/events/163520377504732/

Contact Emer at (086) 3642886 for further information about First Light or about the ‘Honouring the Babies’ event on Sunday.

Hire a content writer! http://ciarantierney.com/what-i-offer/a-content-writer-in-galway/

The modern Irish hero who uncovered the ‘Tuam babies’ scandal

Historian Catherine Corless with her scale model of the Tuam Mother and Baby Home

The dogged determination of a quiet-spoken local historian to discover the truth about what happened to the Irish children now known as the “Tuam babies” has made headlines all across the world.

Catherine Corless never sought the limelight, but she did want justice for the mothers who were imprisoned in the Tuam home and the children who never had a chance in life.

She has shone a light on our darkness thanks to her tireless research to find out the fate of the 796 “Tuam babies”.

And she has given a voice to survivors of institutional homes who felt they were never worthy of a voice, or an apology for being labelled as “illegitiamate” or “bastards” by an uncaring Irish society.

Many of the survivors have contacted the North Galway historian in order to talk about their experiences as “home babies” in such institutions for the first time in their adult lives.

“I didn’t go looking for survivors. They looked for me. They rang me and called to the house. They just kept coming. We’d sit down and discuss over cups of tea what I could do for them. They have begun to speak out and to find their true voice, which is fantastic,” she told Irish Central this week.

Thanks to Catherine, some of the survivors are now campaigning to find out what happened to their siblings – presumed dead, but with no proper burial ground to show where they are buried.

There are fears now that birth and death records may have been faked so that Irish children could have been adopted by Americans.

Before adoption legislation was introduced in 1952, many Americans sought Irish children for adoption.

Indeed, if it is found that some American children were given false Irish birth certificates after being adopted, it could yet prove to be as big a scandal as that of the “Tuam babies”.

I spoke to Catherine in her North Galway home for a couple of hours this week.

The result was a two part series for IrishCentral.com this weekend.

Here are the two articles I wrote, based on my lengthy interview with Catherine.

Part One: How she did it … http://www.irishcentral.com/news/how-she-did-it-the-heroic-irish-historian-who-broke-the-tuam-baby-home-scandal

Part Two: Tuam babies may have been adopted in large numbers to US http://www.irishcentral.com/news/tuam-babies-adopted-in-large-numbers-to-us-says-historian-who-broke-the-scandal?q=Tuam%20babies

In my opinion, following her tireless work and the obstacles placed in her way, Catherine should be first in line for a ‘People of the Year’ award.

Remembering the Magadalene Laundry women in Galway

Remembering the Magdalenes

A poignant ceremony at Bohermore Cemetery in Galway

Who were the Magdalenes?

They were imprisoned until the 1980s, with the full collusion of the Irish State and even their own families.

They spent years, sometimes their entire adult lives, working in laundries which were run by religious nuns.

Sometimes, not always, they were “guilty” of the crime of having a child outside marriage.

Their children were taken from them and sometimes shipped off to the United States for adoption.

It’s one of the most shameful aspects of modern Irish history.

They called them Magdalene Laundries.

On Sunday, I attended a gorgeous, poignant, moving ceremony to remember these women.

At the graveside, a wonderful man called Peter Mulryan spoke about his search for his missing sister and his childhood in the Tuam Mother and Babies Home.

“If you starve an animal or dog, what we do they look? That’s the way we looked,” he said on Irish television this week.

Just one year ago, he was contacted by historian Catherine Corless.

He now believes his younger sister is among the 796 little angles buried in a septic tank in Tuam.

Nobody has told him what happened to her.

He deserves an answer.

I wrote about the moving ceremony for Irish Central, based in New York. You can read the article here http://www.irishcentral.com/news/mothers-imprisioned-in-magdalene-laundries-remembered-with-flowers-in-galway

 

Banned in the land that made us refugees …

 

 

Ireland is facilitating the US travel ban on all Syrian refugees. Empathy with the children of Aleppo is in short supply.

“Where e’er we go, we celebrate
The land that makes us refugees
From fear of priests with empty plates
From guilt and weeping effigies

  • ‘Thousands Are Sailing’, The Pogues

Between 1847 and 1850, a hundred ‘coffin’ ships sailed out from Galway Bay. The people who made it onto those ships were desperately impoverished and full of fear, and yet they saw themselves as hugely fortunate compared to those who were forced to stay behind.

They were the equivalent of today’s Syrian or Iraqi refugees. Their land had been stolen, the crops had failed, and they dreamed of new lives far removed from the conflict and turmoil which raged across their homeland.

Many were less fortunate, such as little Celia Griffin, aged six, from Connemara. Celia never had a chance in life and was found lying on the side of a road, just one of hundreds of thousands to die of starvation.

The ships were destined for the ‘New World’.

Poor country people from villages and townlands across the West of Ireland, many of whom could barely muster a word of English between them, sailed across the western ocean in search of a chance in life which had been denied them under the British Empire.

I think about those people most weeks when I bring foreign English students on a walking tour of Galway. I think of how forgotten they were for decades in Galway City, their point of embarkation.

It was only when a returned emigrant, the late Mark Kennedy, kicked up a fuss that the city and region honoured them with a wonderful Famine Memorial Park which opened eight years ago.

For many, the collective memories are still too painful … of poverty, of families torn apart, of the pain of long-term emigration. Most of those who made it to the other side – many died during the lengthy crossing – never got the opportunity to go home and visit their loved-ones again.

The Irish fugitives were near the bottom of the barrel in 19th century America. As they flocked into the Bronx, Hell’s Kitchen, or South Boston, it would have been unthinkable to imagine how their lives would have turned out if they had been denied entry at the US border.

Had the US president taken a hardline on emigration, had there been 19th century equivalents of Donald Trump and his “extreme vetting”, then countless Irish would have been turned back as soon as they reached the east coast of America.

They wouldn’t have had enough food to survive the return journey and, if they did, the numbers who died in the Great Famine would have been vastly higher.

Given our terrible history, it was shocking to wake up this weekend to discover that “extreme vetting” – bordering on fascism – has now been introduced just an hour’s drive south of where those coffin ships departed from Galway Bay.

Last October marked the 15th anniversary of Shannon Airport’s complicity in the US ‘war on terror’

At the stroke of a president’s pen, Muslims from seven countries have been banned from entering the US.

Persecuted in their own country and no longer welcome at the end of an arduous journey, Syrians refugees in 2017 have quite a lot in common with the Irish who escaped from the discrimination and hardship imposed by the British Empire.

The Irish died in their thousands on coffin ships in the 1840s and now Syrians are dying on makeshift boats as they make their way across the Mediterranean.

Back then, the Irish were seen as a threat, deeply unpopular, rebellious spirits, who could not be trusted on the streets of New York or Boston.

Today, Muslims are the new “enemies”, even though, strangely enough, Saudi Arabia (who provided the vast majority of the 9/11 bombers) is not on Trump’s list of seven banned countries.

Amazing, too, how Yemen is on the list, considering it has been bombed to bits by US “ally” Saudi Arabia over the past two years. Yemen is on the verge of famine, but any Yemeni who turns up at a US border will be deported and sent back home.

The targeting of an entire race, nation, or religion has brought up understandable comparisons with 1930s Germany.

Back then, good people were afraid to speak out while their Jewish neighbours were being forced to wear yellow stars to make them more identifiable in a growing climate of hatred and intolerance.

Given our own troubled history, it’s incredible to think that racial profiling is now taking place on Irish soil.

The US ‘pre-clearance’ at Shannon was supposed to make travelling easier when it was introduced in 2009, but now it could lead to people being discriminated against for no other reason than their country of birth.

It is unthinkable to imagine the kind of hostility a Yemeni or Syrian would have to deal with if he or she was to try to board a flight to the US at Shannon.

Imagine, the land where hundreds of thousands of people were made refugees is now about to let a powerful nation, motivated by xenophobia and fear, discriminate against refugees on Irish soil.

Of course, Irish people have already been turning a blind eye to what’s being going on at Shannon Airport for the past 15 years.

Last July, for example, 85 civilians – among them almost a dozen children – lost their lives in a bombing in a small Syrian village.

Combatants had targeted a village in Northern Syria which had been held by Islamic State (IS) or Daesh fighters.

The combatants or “terrorists” who carried out this attack on Tokhar stop almost daily in Shannon to refuel their aircraft.

The terrorists were US soldiers. But there was no minute’s silence, no protest, and the bombing did not even merit a mention on BBC or RTE news.

People in Ireland or the UK only found out about it thanks to RT, the Russian channel, and Britain’s Channel 4.

How can we care about the loss of innocent lives when we are not even told about them by many segments of our media?

Most of us just shrug when we hear that over 2.5 million US soldiers have landed in ‘neutral’ Shannon Airport since the beginning of the ‘war on terror’ in 2001.

We didn’t protest when US soldiers who pass through Shannon murdered hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq and Syria over the past decade.

We didn’t protest when planes carrying munitions, helicopters, and even deadly chemical weapons to aid the Israeli occupation of Palestine passed through Shannon.

We didn’t protest when prisoners were renditioned through Shannon on their way to be tortured at Guantanamo Bay.

Mind you, we can’t be sure about that one … because not one person in authority in Ireland has ever searched a US military plane during 15 years of Shannon’s use as a military base.

But surely, finally, it’s time to protest now. Is it acceptable that people in uniforms standing in Co Clare can now prevent people from getting onto a ‘plane on the basis of their nationality alone?

The Americans have made a mockery of international law by effectively turning a civilian airport into a military base. Now they want to discriminate against refugees before they even leave Ireland.

In light of our own terrible history, can Irish people really stand idly by when we hear that racial profiling has become a fact of life just an hour south of where the ‘coffin’ ships once set sail from Galway Bay?

  • Shannonwatch, who have monitored the US military use of ‘neutral’ Shannon Airport for the past 15 years, have organised a protest at the airport this coming Thursday (6pm)

Find me on Facebook: http://facebook.com/ciarantierneymedia

Protesting against US President Donald Trump in Galway last weekend.

Scanning the social media ‘sewer’

The social media reaction to the Women’s March in Galway was venomous

A former newspaper colleague recently confided in me that she never reads any of the comments under her articles whenever they appear on-line in national publications.

Even though she has written brilliantly about her own personal struggle with depression, attracting the admiration of thousands of readers, she has found some of the comments just too hurtful, too ignorant to ever pay attention to them.

By her reckoning, it’s better to ignore all comments than to trawl through them in search of genuinely engaging responses or feedback from readers who have enjoyed – or want to criticise – her work.

One of the Rubberbandits, the satirical comedy duo from Limerick, recently described the comments section of a major Irish news website as a “sewer”.

I got a taste of how the Rubberbandits and my former colleague felt at the weekend when I was commissioned by Irish Central, the US-based website, to cover a Women’s March in Galway on Saturday afternoon.

It was one of almost 700 events taking place across the globe on the same day in solidarity with a march in Washington DC, in which women across America were expressing concern at the Inauguration of the new President of the United States, Donald J. Trump.

This was a man who had boasted about groping women “by the pussy”, who had mocked a disabled reporter, and seemed to have racist and Islamaphobic views about Mexicans and Muslims.

I went to the Galway march as a reporter, with the intention of talking to people – mostly women – about their motives for taking part.

My own views on Donald Trump didn’t count, although I admit I was shocked by Trump’s election victory in the wake of so many divisive comments during the election campaign. Not that I was a fan of Hillary’s . . .

I was hugely impressed by the turn-out at the march. There were hundreds there on a cold but beautiful January afternoon in Galway and it was remarkable to see so many young women at the march – these were not the kind of people who would normally attend a ‘loony lefty’ demonstration in my small city.

The speeches were defiant and there was a real sense of solidarity among the hundreds who turned up.

I quite enjoyed my couple of hours in Eyre Square, talking to peace activists, Irish-Americans, and anti-racist groups who were all horrified or frightened by Trump’s election.

And then I went home to file my piece for Irish Central, which was published online the following day.

You can read the piece here: http://www.irishcentral.com/news/politics/trump-support-sinks-faster-than-the-sun-on-galway-bay

The piece was shared on Facebook 200 times and attracted hundreds of comments.

A day or two later, out of morbid curiosity, I flicked through them and I was shocked by the tone.

Some commentators claimed that the entire piece was “fake news”, that the march never took place at all.

As if a journalist could make the entire thing up after going along to a demonstration, taking photos, and interviewing a dozen participants in the march.

But, no, I was wrong. It was all anti-Trump lies. The march had never taken place, I read, according to commentators who attracted dozens of ‘likes’.

Others attacked the Irish ‘liberals’ for their cheek in complaining about the new President of America, as though politics in the US had no impact on our lives.

That’s news to the thousands of Irish families who have family members in the US, the thousands who rely on US multi-nationals in Ireland for jobs, and those of us who see US troops fly through our local airport every day to bomb children in places like Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.

But, no, I was wrong. I had joined the ranks of these “fake news” proponents so hated by Donald Trump during his divisive election campaign.

For a few moments, I tried to reason with some of them, to point out that I could not possibly have just invented a march which was attended by hundreds of people.

But I was told to “get off my high horse” by those who were clearly enraged that Irish “liberals” would dare to criticise their new leader.

For a few brief moments, I got a taste of this “post-truth” world which seems to have torn the US apart when it comes to social media.

Normally, people only read what they want to read. They spend their social media lives in echo chambers in which everyone agrees with them.

And when someone comes along and threatens their grasp of reality, they are ridiculed, libelled, and attacked. Because anything is better than reading an opposing point of view these days.

Social media allows us to make instant contact with people all over the world, which can be fantastic. Sadly, it also allows people to fabricate and distort the truth, to such an extent than a Facebook user in Virginia or Texas can convince people that a march in Galway never took place.

Before, instead of fact checking, they just move on to the next story. Full of bitterness and hatred towards those who have an opposing point of view.

Because that’s just the nature of the social media sewer when it comes to political discourse in 2017.

If you don’t like someone’s message, just keep repeating the mantra that it’s “fake news”.

Social media commentators in the US were not happy after hundreds attended a Women’s March in Galway.

Find me on Facebook: http://facebook.com/ciarantierneymedia/

Loneliness and loathing at Christmas

ALONE Ireland provide fantastic support for elderly people living alone throughout the year.

This week I was commissioned by Irish Central to write an article about the loneliness and mental health problems faced by parents whose adult children have emigrated from Ireland.

You can read the article here.

A 2014 report found that women, in particular, experienced loneliness and depression after their children moved overseas.

The loneliness was compounded when the adult children put down new roots and grandchildren did not come ‘home’ to Ireland at this emotional time of year.

Skype calls and Facebook messages don’t make up for not being able to spend time in each other’s company.

I spoke to one of the co-authors of the report, Alan Barrett, who said that emigration no longer seemed to be a big issue now that the Irish economy seems to be in recovery.

I also spoke to three elderly people who have children overseas and came to hugely admire the work of ALONE Ireland, who send out teams of enthusiastic volunteers to visit elderly people in their own homes.

ALONE Ireland recently produced a fantastic video to celebrate the tireless work of their small army of volunteers. They brought an entire cinema to tears when it was screened in a Dublin cinema.

The article was published online yesterday.

What surprised me most following the publication was the sheer vitriol it attracted from readers of Irish Central after the troubles of ‘illegal’ Irish immigrants in the United States were referenced at the start of the article.

Instead of reading about the loneliness of three elderly Irish people – none of whose children are ‘illegals’ – and the care ALONE provides, about 90% of social media comments called on the illegals to be sent home.

To judge by the comments, some Irish Americans seem to know little or nothing of their own troubled history and how their ancestors came to live in America.

There was no compassion, no tolerance, no empathy for the elderly Irish people who never get to see their American grandchildren at Christmas.

Here in Ireland, we have had stories in the media about Irish people in the US who can never return home for family funerals or weddings, because of their ‘illegal’ status.

The irony of course is that all these white English speakers who proclaim their loathing of Irish immigrants are the descendants of immigrants themselves, living on stolen land.

They have a festival called ‘Thanksgiving’ which celebrates the theft of a nation and the slaughter of indigenous tribes.

The ‘illegals’ constituted just a small part of the article, but attracted virtually all of the – 90% negative – commentary on Irish Central.

There was no sense of empathy with the elderly Irish people who might not even have wanted their children to move, illegally, to the US.

Of course, we should not judge an entire nation by a few dozen social media comments, especially a nation as big and diverse as the United States.

But the comments gave me an insight into the kind of mentality which allowed a racist, sexist, Islamophobe to be elected President of the United States.

Fear and loathing of those who are different seems to have replaced the positivity and optimism we used to associate with the ‘American Dream’.

If people have so much hatred and intolerance in their hearts at this time of year, what hope is there for multiculturalism in Trump’s America?

If Irish-Americans have no affinity with the new Irish, how would they have felt if Americans had treated their ancestors in the same way when they arrived on the ‘coffin’ ships from Ireland?

2016 has been a troubling year.

At least in Ireland we still have a sense of community, of caring for the underdog or those who flee poverty and persecution.

Those values seem to be evaporating in the US if one is to judge by the reaction to my article this week.

 

Memories of a trip to Cuba

oreilly-jpg
Standing in O’Reilly Street with a Mayo man, Declan Tarpey, who I met for the first time in Havana in 1999.

The recent death of Fidel Castro has sparked off an intense debate about his legacy in Cuba – was he a hero or a tyrant?

It’s amazing how polarised opinions have been.

In my personal blog this week, I recalled a trip to Cuba in 1999 in which the restrictions on personal freedom and lack of hope among ordinary people were profoundly depressing.

Fidel was no hero, not with the way in which his secret police harassed people for hanging out with foreigners or the way in which Communist Party members would spy on their neighbours.

I loved Cuba, but I was also deeply saddened by my three weeks on the island.

The truth was that Fidel was neither a complete tyrant nor the national hero many people on the left have made him out to be.

You can read my blog post here

Galway is buzzing!

It’s been a phenomenal few weeks in the City of the Tribes.

Visitor numbers seem to have increased significantly on last year and annual events such as the Galway Film Fleadh, Galway International Arts Festival, and the Galway Races have enjoyed bumper attendances.

To crown the celebratory atmosphere, the city was recently designated European Capital of Culture for 2020.

This accolade will ensure a packed programme of events four years from now and provide a lasting legacy to the city’s arts and culture sectors.

It’s the subject of my latest piece for the Irish-American website, IrishCentral.com, which was published today.

The successful bid resulted from a long campaign by a small group of local volunteers, whose “I back Galway” slogan really captured the hearts and minds of people across the city and county.

You can read more here:

http://www.irishcentral.com/culture/travel/Galway-is-buzzing-as-it-becomes-the-new-European-City-of-Culture-PHOTOS.html

19/07/2016 Big Top GIAF16 Photo: Andrew Downes, Xposure.
19/07/2016 Big Top GIAF16 Photo: Andrew Downes, Xposure.

 

Is Ireland a racist society?

My report on the launch of the Galway Anti-Racism Network (GARN), which appeared in IrishCentral.com this week. Some of the comments in reaction to the article were appalling, showing that Irish-Americans have not learned lessons from their own tough times forging new lives overseas.

——–

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It’s a subject most of us choose to ignore, something that makes us just a little bit uncomfortable in the context of how many people from our own island have chosen – or been forced to make – new lives in other parts of the world.

The island has changed beyond all recognition over the past 20 years and it was significant that there were no representatives of the mainstream media present when the Galway Anti-Racism Network was launched at a public meeting which attracted a capacity attendance this week.

The speeches went on for almost four hours, yet nobody complained. It was the first time in memory that such a diverse range of speakers shared a platform, to share their own experiences of racism in the City of the Tribes.

Under the title ‘All Tribes are Welcome’, it was amazing to see the positive reaction among the attendance at the launch at the Galway Rowing Club.

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The capacity crowd at the Galway Rowing Club. Photo: Shane Broderick

These were people who rarely get a mention on the national airwaves, people who feel marginalised and that their voices are never heard.

The atmosphere was all the more electric because no event like this had ever taken place in the city before.

The organisers of the meeting have called for an overhaul of the Incitement to Hatred Act after being taken aback by the sheer number of people who attended and shared their stories. They are also hoping to liaise with Gardai and schools to bring the anti-racism message into the wider community.

Speakers included an African taxi-driver, members of Ireland’s Muslim community, a former asylum seeker, a Traveller woman, and a black-Irish woman. Each of them told the four hour meeting of their own experiences of racism in Ireland.

Taxi-driver Henry Williams spoke of the casual racism of late night revellers on the city’s taxi ranks who walk pass three or four black drivers before getting into a cab with a white Irish driver for their journey home.

Singer Sharon Murphy, star of BBC television series ‘The Voice’, told the meeting about the pain she experienced growing up as a black person in rural Co Galway and the fear she felt when she first visited Harlem in New York.

As more and more black people got onto the subway train, and more and more white people got off, she realised she had inherited a fear of people of her own skin colour during her childhood in Connemara.

“In Clifden, in Connemara, I learned to be afraid of people like myself,” she said. “I remember the terror I experienced when I first went to Harlem. I realised the negative messages I had been given about black people.”

Former asylum seeker Mosa Moshoeshoe spoke of the pain of trying to live on €19.10 per week under the Direct Provision system, when she was keen to work.

She said she was a poor role model for her children, but because she was a refugee awaiting asylum she did not have the option of getting a job in Galway. Even though she has since been granted permission to stay in Ireland, she has been unable to find a house to rent.

Mosa told the meeting about a friend in Co Wexford who was unable to rent out a house. She was turned down by a landlady when she phoned to see if a house was available. A day later, her Irish friend discovered that it was still available.

Her friend was pretty sure she had been turned down for the accommodation because of her African accent.

Bridget Kelly of the Galway Traveller Movement said her community faced daily discrimination in the areas of accommodation, health, employment, and education.

“Being refused access to hotels and pubs, being unable to get a house when people find out you are a Traveller, you feel ashamed of who you are,” she told the hushed attendance.

Imam Imbrahim Noonan spoke of the Islamophobia he has experienced from people who were later shocked to realise that he was Irish-born. He said that his children, whose mother is Pakistani, had experienced a different form of racism.

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Speakers at the launch of the Galway Anti-Racism Network.

Imam Noonan, of the Galway Islamic Cultural Society, pointed out that Islamic terrorists were only a tiny minority among the global Muslim community. Yet some people in Ireland wanted to blame all Muslims for the actions of the tiny minority.

According to a spokesman, Joe Loughnane, the number of people who turned up for the first public meeting of the Galway Anti-Racism Network (GARN) vastly exceeded the expectations of the organisers.

“People brought food and were keen to engage with each other,” he said. “We couldn’t believe it when the place started filling up 20 to 30 minutes before we even began. People were just so happy to share their stories.

“They had never been in a room that was so diverse and yet everybody seemed to be speaking from the same page. The message was very much one of solidarity and positivity. People seemed to recognise that this coming together was something that needed to happen.

“All of the speakers were thrilled by the reaction of the people in the room. They did not feel judged and they were so happy to share their stories. There was a real spirit of action, of getting things done, in the room.

“People were taken aback by how similar their experiences were. It was unprecedented to have a black taxi-driver, a Traveller woman, a black Irish woman, an asylum seeker, and Muslim representatives sharing the same platform in the West of Ireland.”

He said it was clear that racism was an issue in Ireland, but that a lot of it took place behind people’s backs.

Mr Loughnane spoke of his own experience growing up as a half-Irish, half-Pakistani man in Galway. He found that he experienced racism when he went into the city centre with one of his parents, but not with the other.

“There is this sense of people being taught to hate themselves or being ashamed of who they are,” he said afterwards. “Thankfully, we do not have an active far-right here in Ireland. But we want to challenge racist myths that are out there. We want to challenge racism wherever we see it.”

The meeting concluded when Ms Murphy led a spirited version of Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’.

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* Thanks to Shane Broderick for the photos of the GARN launch. For further information about the GARN, who meet every Tuesday evening, check out their Facebook page at:

 https://www.facebook.com/GalwayARN/