Monday was a new bank holiday in Ireland and two demonstrations of about equal size took place at the same time in Dublin that afternoon, one anti-racist and welcoming refugees, the other anti-refugee and with substantial racist and even fascist elements.
The pro-refugee event gathered on the central pedestrian strip on Dublin City centre’s main street, O’Connell Street, across the road from the iconic General Post Office, the building which served as the HQ of the 1916 Rising. Numerous placards and banners could be seen there.
The tightly-packed crowd stretched from the Spire southward almost to the Jim Larkin monument and were addressed by speakers. I knew the event had been organised by Le Chéile, a broad anti-fascist coalition of essentially pacifist nature with regard to fascism.
I passed them by in a hurry on my way to attend to a family commitment. While waiting to catch a bus in D’Olier Street, a number of Garda vans and motorcycles drawing up attracted my attention and soon afterwards the anti-refugee demonstration came from Pearse Street.
They passed along by Trinity College’s wall and soon after they had gone from my view, my bus arrived. I surmised the anti-refugee march had gone to demonstrate in front of Leinster House, the building that holds the parliament of the Irish State.
As I was in a hurry and one group was tightly-packed and the other in extended line walking, it was difficult to compare the numbers but I made them both to be somewhat the same — between 500 and 700 each.
“WELCOME TO REFUGEES” EVENT SANDYMOUNT 3 SEPTEMBER 2015
(Reading time: 3 mins.)
On 13 September 2015, six years ago a remarkable event took place on the strand in Sandymount (Dumhach Trá) in Dublin (Baile Átha Cliath), of which I have been reminded by the Facebook anniversaries function. I wrote a short report with photos for a FB album at the time but it deserves a more easily accessible record on Rebel Breeze. Text from the album follows:
WELL OVER A THOUSAND PEOPLE (that will be just “several people” for RTÉ1), gathered at Sandymount strand today to spell out the message “Refugees Welcome” on the sand.
The day looked bad earlier with rain and, at the original time set, was still raining. But due to tide conditions, the start time had been set back an hour and the rain had stopped and there was even some intermittent sunshine as the crowds assembled.
I had to strip off rainproof clothes under which I was already sweating. Starting was slow and some singers tried to keep us entertained as we waited. We were also led in shouting some slogans — all in English (would using the word “Fáilte” have hurt?). We were each assigned to a column behind the letter we were going to spell out.
Eventually we were led off by our letter-leader to a spot marked out in the shape of the letters by string tied to pegs stuck in the sand. We shuffled into shape obediently.
A drone flew over us filming (I had unpleasant associations with the word, especially in a US-Syria context) and then we all had to be reformed, as according to the drone operator, the letters didn’t look right. So yes, we all became reformists .
Then it was finally right, the “heart” had to be reformed too — it was bleeding people out at the edges. Finally, we were judged to be right, waved to the drone, film was taken.
Then the organisers thought it would be good for us to “scatter” for the film effect. We did, kind of, a half-hearted scatter …. nothing like we would have done from incoming ordinance. And then we went home.
After standing in the wet sand I discovered that dubbin did not keep the water out of my boots and, no matter how much knocking of boots together, I still had some sand on them when I got home. Remember how you always managed to bring some sand home from the beach, no matter how hard you tried not to?
The event followed on the more than two thousand (“hundred” according to RTÉ) who gathered at the Spire yesterday to extend the hand of welcome to refugees fleeing murder and even sexual slavery (by ISIS); a counter to the xenophobia and especially Islamophobia which had awoken echoes of the anti-Irish Catholic rantings of Cromwell and his kind in the 15th Century. Well done to the organisers and those who turned up to support the event.
A lot of organisations had put their name to the event but effectively it had been organised by a coalition of ENAR Ireland (now Ireland Network Against Racism), Migrant Resource Centre Ireland and Irish Refugee Council — maith iad in conception, planning and execution.
As though their traumal from the cause of leaving and its own pain were not enough, many die in the attempt. Thousands of refugees have died trying to reach Europe, most of them in the Mediterranean. Those who survive face racism and ghettoisation.
“From January to June 2021, it was estimated that 827 migrants died while crossing the Mediterranean Sea. In 2020, the number of deaths amounted to 1.4 thousand. However, the accurate number of deaths recorded in the Mediterranean Sea cannot ascertained. Between 2014 and 2018, for instance, about 12,000 people who drowned were never found”.2
Casualties and missing people
“Worldwide, it was estimated that eight thousand people died in the attempt of fleeing their country. According to estimations, over five thousand refugees lost their lives in the attempt to reach the European shores in 2016. Therefore, the Mediterranean Sea was the deadliest migration route. Indeed, over the last couple of years, the Mediterranean Sea held the largest number of casualties and missing people”.3
Western, Central, and Eastern route
“According to migration studies, the Mediterranean Sea is crossed by a Western, a Central, and an Eastern route. Out of these routes, the Central Mediterranean route was the deadliest. In 2016, roughly 4,6 thousand people lost their lives while pursuing this route. Sadly, the identification of bodies is challenging due to the sea. In 2019 for instance, the vast majority of refugees who drowned in the Mediterranean were not identified and their country of origin was untraceable.”4
Remember? Remember when we were migrants?
Remember when we fled murder and rapine
and many another terrible scene
When death and torture were at hand
and we sought succour in other lands?
Remember when our little nation
was devastated by starvation.
disease and desolation,
our hope in emigration ….
Remember when we died by
mountain, valley and sea
or we braved
the rolling waves
to go where we might be free?
Remember, oh do you remember?
Escape, the vote,
in leaky boats
in anything to float,
fear in throat,
today they launch
for our shores.
We must remember!
1Radió Teilifís Éireann, the state broadcasting service.