Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year
|Gathering in solidarity at a Galway mosque this week|
Apart from the wanton destruction, it was the look of despair and anguish on the young boy’s face which left the most lasting impression.
As an adult member of his community brought me on a guided tour of the vandalised mosque, the little boy – no more than nine or ten years old – expressed his bafflement that such vandalism could occur in such a peaceful place.
Why would anyone want to destroy this place where his parents brought him to worship every weekend?
Why is there such hatred for his people in the city he knows and loves?
The Ahmadi Muslim boy with the strong Galway accent was upset and bewildered. As they showed me the broken windows, the flittered books, and the place where the CCTV panel was ripped from the wall, he could not hide his sense of anguish.
The irony, of course, is that many of Galway’s 200 Ahmadi Muslims came to Ireland to seek refuge after being persecuted in other countries.
They are considered non-Muslims, even considered heretics, by many mainstream Muslims and faced persecution or oppression. In May 2010, 84 of them were murdered in the Lahore massacre – the year in which the Maryam Mosque opened in Galway.
Such details were possibly lost on the people who carried out the attack in Ballybrit either late Sunday night or early on Monday morning.
In Galway, the Ahmadis had found a place of refuge. But now their safe place has been attacked twice by vandals in the space of three years.
Adults expressed fear, terror even, when community leaders and politicians from across Galway gathered to express solidarity with them on Monday night.
|A discarded Irish flag at the Galway mosque|
The Imam, Ibrahim Noonan, told me he had received an anonymous call three months ago to warn him that a far-right group was planning an attack.
Locks and windows were broken, security camera equipment had been stolen, many of his 2,000 books had been destroyed, family photos were smashed, and an Irish tricolour was thrown outside.
A native of Waterford, Imam Noonan was heartbroken when he saw the scale of the destruction. There was glass all over the place when the alarm was raised on Monday morning.
Nothing seemed to have been stolen, which led members of the community to believe that this was a hate crime. Gardai said that the violent removal of CCTV material from a separate room showed there had been some element of pre-planning.
Politicians from across the political spectrum and community leaders gathered later that night in a show of solidarity in response to the attack.
The gathering at the mosque was organised at short notice to allow people to express their outrage and to show the Ahmadiyya Muslims that the act of vandalism did not reflect the feelings of the local community towards them.
“This act of vandalism was committed by cowards,” said Cllr Alan Cheevers (Fianna Fail). “I can assure you that this does not represent the people of the east side of Galway City. Today was a very upsetting day for me, to see the damage here. I will work tirelessly with the city’s Ahmadiyya Muslim community to make sure that this kind of thing never happens again.”
Gardai launched an investigation into the attack which occurred sometime between 10pm on Sunday and 4am. Rocks were used to break the windows and property was destroyed.
|The smashed up CCTV system|
“This was a clear, deliberate, and vicious attack being delivered to our community. This gathering tonight is the best possible answer to such people, to show that they don’t speak for the Irish. They don’t speak for anyone in Ireland, for that matter,” said Imam Ibrahim Noonan, whose office was damaged in the attack.
“I think that’s what is important. I have been receiving warnings that the mosque was going to be attacked and that I should be careful about my own movements. I have never allowed such people to intimidate me, because I stand for everything that’s good about Ireland, as an Irishman, and I will not back down to such people.”
Imam Noonan urged Irish people to visit the mosque, have a cup of tea and a chat, and to find out about the belief system of the Ahmadiyya Muslims.
Joe Loughnane, of the Galway Anti Racism Network (GARN), recalled that the mosque was also attacked in July 2017, when graffiti was daubed on the walls. Earlier in the day, he had invited people to attend the solidarity gathering to show the Ahmadiyya Muslims that they were not alone.
“When I came here earlier, it was obvious that the people who worship here felt they were alone and under attack. We wanted to prove to them that this wasn’t the case,” said Mr Loughnane.
“People are coming here, drinking cups of tea, and trying to find out more about the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. This is a hate crime. In these situations, the community can come to understand that there is solidarity towards them.”
He asked people to call out hate speech when they see it on-line.
In recent months, there has a significant growth in the number of social media accounts which spread hatred and fear of Muslims in Ireland.
A new member of Galway City Council, Owen Hanley, told the congregation that he had canvassed every house on the east side of the city in the run-up to the local elections in May.
“This act doesn’t represent the east side of the city,” he told the gathering. “Galway is a city of openness and love. Sadly, there is a small but growing number of people in this country who are full of hate. But ‘Peace and Love’ are the first things you hear when you visit this mosque.”
Imam Noonan reminded the congregation that ‘Love for All, Hatred for None’ is the slogan of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. It’s a slogan which attracts a sustained round of applause when his congregation take part in the St Patrick’s Day parade in Galway every year.
A member of the congregation who converted to Islam last year, Roscommon native Alan Kelly, said it had been a traumatic day for the community when word spread that the mosque had been attacked.
He received a call at work, to tell him about the attack, on Monday morning.
“Everyone was so was shocked. We didn’t know how this kind of thing could occur in such a peaceful country. I am Irish and I grew up in this country. We need to join together. Everyone should be united, to create a better life. I don’t see why people have to judge other people or criticise their religion.
“The support we have received today from across Ireland has been amazing, but it is sad to think that there are people out there who want to cause destruction and spread fear without knowing anything about us. I don’t know why anyone would do this to us. There is no reason for any of this.”
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* Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year award at the Tramline, Dublin, in October 2018. Find him on Facebook or