‘We welcome people in need’: Hundreds gather in Fermoy in support of refugees

The rally was held in response to the anti-immigration protest that took place in the Cork town on Wednesday calling for the deportation of newly arrived asylum seekers

Up to 300 people gathered in Fermoy in north Cork on Saturday afternoon to show solidarity with refugees and asylum seekers.

Attendees held banners aloft and chanted: “Refugees welcome, asylum seekers welcome” while local musicians sang: “Everyone deserves a home”.

Members of the crowd, who ranged in age from very young to the elderly, said they were horrified by an anti-refugee protest that was held outside St Joseph’s Convent in the town last Wednesday following the arrival of over 60 international protection applicants.

The facility has been refurbished and is being used for accommodation for those seeking asylum. The new arrivals comprise of 19 families, 25 children and eight single woman.


Maggie Blackley, who has four Ukrainian nationals living in her home outside Fermoy, said that she did not want a false message to go out in to the public that the town is “closed to refugees and asylum seekers.”

“The people of Fermoy didn’t like that message and we knew that the people who brought the message to Fermoy were not from here. All we had was 36 hours to figure out how to say, ‘that isn’t Fermoy, Fermoy is welcoming’,” she said.

“We decided to stand here holding banners to say that ‘that isn’t us. This is us.’ We want our society to be open and welcome and charitable.

“You can see the protest (last Wednesday) was not representative of the community. There were very few there the other night, but they were very vocal. They tried to say that they represented us. The protest was very orchestrated. We know that these people travel around the country.”

Ms Blackley has urged people in other communities who are “hijacked” by such protests to organise their own counter rallies promising solidarity and support to refugees and asylum seekers who arrive in their areas.

She said she is already benefiting from the “gift” of having four Ukrainian nationals living in her home.

“We have two of the nicest 35-year-old mothers, who are best friends and they each have a little boy. The little boys are seven and five. We couldn’t have nicer people in our home. We will be the great beneficiaries of the time we have spent together,” Ms Blackley said.

“It broadens your world. It is heart-warming They are gifted girls. One of them is up at the Fermoy Craft Fair today selling crafts they both made. Grange School, less than a mile from us, has made the children their own. The children are loving it.

“One of the local mothers is giving the children a lift to school twice a week and the lollipop lady offers to run them home if it is raining. That is typical Fermoy. People are welcoming.”

Meanwhile, Ukrainian national Marina Cheloveva who has lived in Fermoy for 20 years, said she wanted to show asylum seekers that the town is “a beautiful place.”

“The war is very hard because my family stay in Ukraine. My friends are there. I came to work here 20 years ago. People here have a beautiful spirit. The protest the other night is not Fermoy,” she said.

“When the Ukrainian refugees came in here lot of people followed me and asked me how they could help. People have a big heart.”

Another local woman Susie Horan said that Fermoy is an open, inclusive and multicultural town.

“My daughter is in third class in Pres (Presentation Primary) here, which is next to St Joseph’s Convent, and last week they were learning about Rosa Parks. That (protest last Wednesday) wasn’t Fermoy. This (the solidarity rally) is Fermoy.”

Local man Liam Fenton is involved in a choir in the town, which is comprised of about 12 different nationalities. He said Fermoy is a warm and friendly place.

“It is an international choir. And we all salute each other when we see each other around the town. And we have a few words and a cup of coffee. People are more than welcome here. ”

The rally outside Christ Church was organised by Fermoy and Mallow Against Racism. Organiser Kate O’Connell said that they wanted to show that Fermoy is a caring and welcoming place.

“We welcome people in need. Those people who protested outside St Joseph’s do not speak for us,” she said.

The gathering was also addressed by Graham Clifford from Sanctuary Runners. It is a group that enables Irish residents to run alongside and in solidarity with, migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.

“I live in Fermoy and am the founder of Sanctuary Runners. Over the last few years I have worked with asylum seekers and refugees and migrants, and Irish people and so on,” he said.

“Everybody I work with are people at the end of the day. They have exactly the same hopes and dreams and worries. When you start seeing people as people you drop the label. We have to understand the importance of respecting people as people.”

During the rally, a small number of people who attended the protest last Wednesday made their presence known. Gardaí were in attendance and the event passed without incident. It concluded with locals singing: “Everyone is welcome in our town.”