Fermoy rally hears 'kindness flows through this town like the river'

“We in Cork and in Fermoy are welcoming, decent people, and the one thing we don’t forget is where we came from, and our nature, and when people need help, we’re on their side.” 
Fermoy rally hears 'kindness flows through this town like the river'

Maggie Blackley, Pat Buckley TD, Kate O'Connell, Sean Sherlock TD and Fionn O'Connell. Pictures: Jim Coughlan.

Hundreds of people turned out for a midday rally in Fermoy on Saturday to welcome refugees and to show solidarity with those seeking safety in Ireland.

Over 300 people gathered in Fermoy to show their support for refugees and for asylum seekers, and to demonstrate, in the words of one of the organisers, Kate O’Connell, 

“If you live here, you belong here, Fermoy is your home”.

At the Fermoy Welcomes Refugees rally, Ukrainian-born Fermoy locals Mrya Shevelova, Andrew Shevelova, Olana Bilozor, Vasyl Bilozor, and Veronika Chabanenko. Picture: Donal O'Keeffe.
At the Fermoy Welcomes Refugees rally, Ukrainian-born Fermoy locals Mrya Shevelova, Andrew Shevelova, Olana Bilozor, Vasyl Bilozor, and Veronika Chabanenko. Picture: Donal O'Keeffe.

In a town in which a quarter of the population was born outside of Ireland, Fermoy people of all ages and nationalities held aloft banners reading “Refugees are Welcome”.

Addressing the crowd, Graham Clifford, founder of the Sanctuary Runners, said it was important to remember that refugees are people like anyone else, and they are welcomed in Fermoy.

“Kindness flows through this town like the river that runs through it,” Mr Clifford said.

 Sandyn and Maggie Blackley, from Fermoy. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Sandyn and Maggie Blackley, from Fermoy. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

The rally came after a protest on Wednesday evening in which dozens of people picketed a newly opened accommodation centre on the south side of the town, demanding the immediate deportation of 63 international protection (IP) applicants, 25 of them children, at the former St Joseph’s convent.

The IP applicants in Fermoy are believed to include 19 families and eight single women, and they are understood to be fleeing war and persecution in Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria.

Wednesday’s protest shocked many people in Fermoy, and locals noted that several of those in attendance were not from the town, with some of those picketing the accommodation centre previously involved in anti-refugee protests around the country.

Saturday’s show of solidarity was organised by Fermoy and Mallow against Racism, and was attended by local people from Fermoy and its neighbouring towns and villages.

Sinn Fein TD for Cork East, Pat Buckley, said he was heartened to see such a strong turnout, and he said Wednesday’s protesters had not spoken for the vast majority of people in Fermoy.

“Some people have a very short memory, and they have forgotten Ireland’s own history,” Mr Buckley said.

“Refugees are human beings who are fleeing war-torn areas, and the risk of rape, persecution and murder.

“We in Cork and in Fermoy are welcoming, decent people, and the one thing we don’t forget is where we came from, and our nature, and when people need help, we’re on their side.” 

Cáit Mullery was there with her daughter Eve and said she had wanted to show that she disagreed with those who picketed the accommodation centre.

 Jenny O'Connor, Judith Butler and Kate O'Connell, all from Fermoy. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Jenny O'Connor, Judith Butler and Kate O'Connell, all from Fermoy. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

“I was horrified to see the protest the other night, it’s not how most people in Fermoy feel and it’s not something most of us want to see, and I’m delighted to see that so many people agree with me,” Ms Mullery said.

Labour TD for Cork East, Seán Sherlock, said the atmosphere at the rally was representative of the welcoming nature of Fermoy people.

“We give a welcome to people no matter who they are, we acknowledge the complexities of the world today and the difficulties that people have in their lives, and we are sending a message to those who say ‘Go home’, we are saying ‘You don’t speak for us, and refugees are welcome here’,” Mr Sherlock said.

“Today has been a display of decency and compassion and good old-fashioned good will.” 

Ronan Condon, a Fermoy native, said it was important that people know that Fermoy people welcome refugees to their town.

“People come from hardships and backgrounds of which we do not know, and it makes no difference their colour or creed, they need a safe home for their families, and this town will provide that for them,” he said.

Judith Butler said she was delighted to see such a strong turnout in her native town.

“There was a lot of love here today, and I just hope the children and their families who moved here this week know that there is a warm welcome for them here in their new home,” Ms Butler said.

Norma O’Riordan said the people at Saturday’s rally represented “the real Fermoy” and showed there was no place in the town for hatred.

“I hope today counteracts the false impression given the other night by people who do not speak for us, and do not speak for Fermoy.

One man, who declined to be named, told The Echo everyone was welcome in Fermoy “as long as they play for Ireland”.

Local musician Mo O’Connor played his song “Homeland”, which was written about the experience of Mexican immigrants in the United States.

Paul Kavanagh, who had helped organise Saturday’s rally, said it was important to remember that Fermoy had welcomed refugees from the North during the Troubles.

“Michelle O’Neill, Northern Ireland’s first minister in waiting, was born in Fermoy, and history might have been very different had Fermoy hardened its heart and turned its back then, and today’s situation is no different,” he said.

“We were a welcoming town then and we are a welcoming town now; we need to reject fear and hatred and we need to ignore those who are trying to sow division and move on.” 

Saturday’s rally had been advertised as “family friendly”, and the atmosphere was warm and good-natured until, at the very end, a small handful of people linked to Wednesday’s protest attempted to engage with those attending the rally.

Their efforts to interrupt the rally were drowned out by Fermoy people singing Cork homelessness activist Martin Leahy’s “Everyone Should Have a Home” and Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind”.

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