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Why rally was a bridge too far…




Breaking news: Rooskey, as a community, doesn’t do racism. The village was cosmopolitan and multicultural several decades ago, at a time when most of the rest of the country hadn’t even heard of those words!

  Different nationalities in Rooskey is nothing new – and I’m not just referring to holiday-makers on cruisers on the Shannon and to anglers doing their thing on the riverbank.

  Since as far back as the 1960s, people from England, Germany, The Netherlands, etc. have been setting up home in the area.

  Yes, I am well aware that the potential arrival of 80 refugees is a different eh… ‘kettle of fish’ – but you can be opposed to an asylum centre being located in your village (as I am) for all sorts of reasons. In actual fact, should this project go ahead, I expect even opponents of what is a very dubious proposal to still very much welcome the asylum seekers, who, after all, are not to blame for what is a chronically flawed policy. 

  The fact that the Rooskey community doesn’t do racism was probably one of the reasons why locals completely (well, a tiny handful of people aside) ignored Sunday’s anti-racism rally.

  When I arrived at the village on Sunday morning, I immediately saw that large crowds of locals had gathered…for Mass.

  There was lots of activity outside the local Church. But the locals weren’t then travelling down the village, to where the anti-racism rally was being held (in response to the alleged arson attack on the Shannon Key West Hotel, which has been earmarked as an accommodation centre for asylum seekers).

  There was no traffic jam or congestion at the bridge. It was quickly apparent that Sunday’s rally was being snubbed by locals. The people of Rooskey felt no affinity with this event. 

  The reason the people of Rooskey didn’t attend the rally is not because they aren’t against racism…it’s because they’re against the notion that there is a racism issue in their community.  

  Locals clearly felt that, by attending the rally, they would be legitimising the ‘racist narrative’ in this saga. The Rooskey community’s unspoken message seemed to be: There is no racism to express opposition to.

  So, to a man and woman, they stayed away.

  That said, the rally was (not unreasonably) deemed a success by organisers. By 12.30, there were 50 or so people gathered on the water’s edge, opposite the two landmark pubs, Reynolds’ and The Weir Lodge. There was a further dozen or so media personnel there. A woman in a Leitrim jersey was playing the guitar, and campaigners from various groups were chanting ‘One race, the human race’. The atmosphere was good-humoured. There was a discreet Garda presence – four squad cars by my estimation. A handful of curious onlookers stood on the bridge, but did not join in. One of the few cars that passed hooted its horn. In the background, the hotel and its uncertain future loomed large.

  As Leah Doherty introduced speaker after speaker, the message remained consistent: the organisers were not associating the people of Rooskey with racism, but were accusing ‘Alt-right’ elements, fascists and online ‘haters’ of stirring up feelings. There were calls for asylum seekers to be welcomed to Ireland and for direct provision to be ended by the Government.

  The crowd grew to perhaps 80 or so. Many of those present cheerfully held placards. ‘End homelessness’. ‘Direct Provision makes us monsters’. ‘Direct Provision is a prison’. A few Roscommon and Leitrim flags fluttered side by side. One man held an umbrella from ‘The World Meeting of Families’. There was no need; the sun had come out. Two Gardai stood under a Guinness sign outside The Weir Lodge. Just up the road, the hotel remains cordoned off.

  Rooskey’s past shadowed its tense present. The speeches were delivered below an old Bus Éireann sign, under which a notice still advertises the now defunct bus routes. Across the road, a Foster & Allen concert is advertised.

  The absence of locals from the village was impossible to ignore. The attendance was almost entirely made up of activists from various groups, though organisers were anxious to point out that most of these people live in the general Roscommon/Leitrim area. The organisers were complimentary about villagers, emphasising that they consider Rooskey to be a welcoming area. Their ire was directed anywhere but Rooskey.

  When it ended, just after 1.30 pm, there was a quick photo outside the hotel. Then those present were invited to Dromod for refreshments, presumably because you can’t get refreshments in Rooskey just now.  

  Me? I took a walk back to the scene of the rally at around 3 o’clock. The two pubs were still closed, the hotel was still cordoned off, the waters were calm and the sign that no longer stops any bus was still standing, an unintentionally provocative reminder of better times.

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