Millstreet prepares to offer sanctuary again

Kosovar experience from the 1990s helps as 300 Ukrainian refugees begin to arrive

Millstreet in Co Cork has seen refugees come before. In the 1990s, it was home to Kosovars fleeing Slobodan Milosevic. Today, it is home to 300 asylum seekers, who are living in the Drishane Castle direct provision centre.

Last night, the first of 300 Ukrainians fleeing a new conflict arrived to stay in the Green Glens Arena, better known for hosting the 1993 Eurovision Song Contest, where individual sleeping cubicles have been erected.

One Ukrainian woman, who came with her daughter last week, is already in Millstreet, and working for Jerry O’Leary, who runs a butcher’s shop in The Square.

“She will probably get a job somewhere else but at the moment she’s quite happy where she is because she wants to learn better English. That’s what her main objective is at the moment.


“She has a little bit of English, a highly educated lady,” says O’Leary, who believes there will be other jobs available for Ukrainians who will move into Green Glens in the days and weeks ahead.

"Then there's big employers around as well, there's Munster Joinery and you have Alps and K&L, I've no doubt they will be willing to take people on as well. There is a shortage of labour," says O'Leary.

Some Ukrainians with past Millstreet connections have already come, including a family with three young boys: “They packed up everything in the car. That’s how they arrived with all their belongings, it’s heartbreaking,” he says.

Parish priest Canon John Fitzgerald from St Patrick's Church says Millstreet has offered sanctuary before, and the welcome offered now will be no different from the welcome others were given before.

His views were echoed by Noel Buckley, chairman of Millstreet's Community Council: "They are part of our community. We will bend over backwards, their stay might be a short one, but we will try to make sure it's as comfortable as possible."

Fellow council member Margaret Bourke says the Kosovar experience from the 1990s is helping now. "They went to school and they were all very well looked after.

“A lot of them were very happy here. Some of them went back home and changed their minds and then came back. They came back to visit and spoke highly of Millstreet and the Irish hospitality they received.

“It brings back memories, it’s very upsetting for them to see this fleeing going on again, they are reliving their own past in a way,” she says.

However, Green Glens is not a permanent solution, everyone accepts, as was shown during online meetings held over the past two weeks where health and schooling needs were discussed.

"The feeling then was that this is an emergency situation and we will do what we need to do," says local councillor Eileen Lynch, but extra State supports will be needed if those coming to Green Glens are to be based in the town definitely.

“Obviously we still don’t know the details of how many people are coming, how many children, how long they will be here etc, so we really do need to see what the details are before we can make further decisions,” says Lynch, eyeing news from Wednesday night’s Cabinet meeting.

“We have to take the lead from that. The schools are as prepared as they can be. They will do whatever they can to make room so that’s really where we are at,” she says. “We have had assurances that resources will be made available and people generally seem to be very on board and want to help.”