‘Not too many Dutch people have an All-Ireland medal!’

Popular van Opstal family to leave Rahara

Hailing from Assen in the Netherlands, Richard and Irene van Opstal arrived in Knockcroghery with their three children Ina (18), Gerard (16) and Willemijn (13) in December 2013 – and it wasn’t long before they were immersed in the local culture.

“When we first arrived in Knockcroghery we rented a house from Pat Byrne and he called in on our second night there to welcome us,” Irene explains. “He gave the children three hurls and put me in contact with Sylvia Kilcline of St. Dominic’s GAA and they have been involved with the club ever since!”

Richard and Irene and family are members of Operation Mobilisation (OM), a religious mission which has members in over 115 countries across the world. They moved to Lacken House in Rahara in 2017 and have been hosting members of OM from countries such as Germany, Canada, USA and South Korea ever since.

“Operation Mobilisation is a big global organisation and Lacken House is its base in Ireland. Before Covid-19, we facilitated visits from evangelists and other members of OM and we also organised the Kids’ Club in the Big Red Bus. Richard is a qualified electrician so he maintained the property while I was in charge of the catering and taking care of visitors,” Irene said.

Richard and Irene were both born into Christian families in the Netherlands and discovered OM when attending a ‘Discipleship weekend’.

“If you had told me nine years ago that I would live somewhere outside the Netherlands I think I would have laughed in your face,” Irene added.

“We were just looking for a closer relationship to God. Then we were told about the Logos Hope ship, which visits different parts of the world with Christian literature. I said it to Richard about selling the house when the kids had grown up and travelling abroad with OM. But something was triggered that day and it was definitely God’s doing. Basically, we believe that God brought us here”.

Within a week of arriving, the van Opstal kids were enrolled in Knockcroghery National School and Ina and Gerard immersed themselves in Gaelic games while Willemijn took up Irish dancing.

Since then, eldest daughter Ina has won an All-Ireland medal as part of St. Dominic’s’ fabled Scór na nÓg team of 2017.

“Yes, you won’t find too many Dutch people with Connacht and All-Ireland medals,” Irene says with a laugh.

“In 2016, Sylvia Kilcline called and told me to bring Ina along for an audition and that’s when we got hooked on Scór. Gerard has won county and Connacht medals too while Willemijn was big into the dancing.

“We had a great weekend in Belfast in 2017 for the All-Ireland final and there have been many more great nights with Scór too”.

The van Opstals have loved their time in Roscommon and have made plenty of life-long friends along the way.

However, they have made the decision to move back to the Netherlands this summer so that Ina can study civil engineering at the University of Twente and Gerard can start working towards his automotive technician qualification.

“The Dutch education system is a bit different. Students can be learning a skill while still at school. So after three years in school back in the Netherlands, Gerard will have his qualification and can then work at any garage in the country,” Irene said.

The Dutch school system will allow Gerard to work towards his qualification while continuing to study mathematics, English and Dutch. He could be fully qualified in four years rather than having to wait to finish an apprenticeship after school here.

Covid-19 has also played a part in the family’s decision to make the move home and a reduction in visitors means there’s less work for OM facilitators like the van Opstals of Rahara.

The family’s many friends and neighbours will tell you that Roscommon’s loss is very much the Netherlands’ gain, and Irene says leaving won’t be easy.

“We are going back in the summer and it’s the right decision for our kids but we have really loved it here in Roscommon. We have made so many friends here so it won’t be easy to leave them behind,” she said.

The van Opstals will depart Lacken House and their neighbours in Knockcroghery and Rahara in June. They will return to the Netherlands with the very best wishes of their fellow club members and many friends ringing in their ears and with a number of Roscommon, Connacht, and All-Ireland  medals jangling in their luggage.