Galway’s Muslim community responded to a wanton act of vandalism on its Maryam Mosque in the best way possible – by throwing open its doors to Galwegians of all faiths and none. Reporter Paul Hyland joined them to see more.
The first thing that strikes you in the sense of openness and light; walking into the Galway Maryam Mosque, I was warmly welcomed by people – young and old, men and women, Muslims and Christians.
The Mosque held a community open day to show people their place of worship, to help them understand what it really means to be a Muslim and to undo the false assumptions about Islamic people.
The open day was organised in the wake of the act of vandalism that was carried out on the Mosque – an attack that may have been seen in some warped mind as a response to the terrorist attacks in London and Manchester.
The first thing I was struck by was jovial atmosphere at the Mosque. It was everything you would expect from a typically Irish event. There were children of all backgrounds chasing each other around the grounds; oblivious of the context in which this event was being held.
Dr Mamoon Rashid moved to Ireland in 1999. Originally from the UK, Dr Rashid explained the key principles of Islam to me; how his people worship and how Islam doesn’t allow anyone who carries out acts of violence to consider themselves a real Muslim.
“A mosque is a place of worship for the Muslim community, where we come to pray five times a day and it’s all about having a relationship with God. It’s a relationship that is based on love and following the teachings of Islam which are basically two things, one is the rights of people and the other is the rights of God,” he said.
“So if you’re praying five times a day, a Muslim man or woman should become a really good human being. And that’s why when we talk about the terrorist we say that they cannot be Muslims.
“Because if you pray as a Muslim, the rights of human beings are first. So if you are not performing those rights you cannot be a Muslim. The prayer doesn’t work. You have your own false gods or ignorance, you have false gods of pride, you have false gods of violence,” continued Dr Rashid.
As you enter the Mosque the amount of light in the prayer hall – even on a typically overcast Galway day – is the clearest metaphor for the closeness to God that Dr Rashid and his community strive for.
The hallway leading into the prayer hall was decorated with posters and books filled with information about Islam. Here visitors and their hosts chatted about religion, community, family and the importance of these types of all-inclusive events.
More than one person remarked on the sense of shame they felt when the Mosque was attacked.
One interaction, in particular, encapsulated the true community spirit of Galway as an elderly Irish man was putting back on his shoes. Three men from the Mosque came to his assistance. They got him a chair and put on his shoes for him.
The man responded simply by saying: “Thank you very much and I’m terribly sorry for what they did to your church.”
Imam Ibrahim Noonan is the Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslims in Ireland. Originally from Waterford, Imam Noonan converted to Islam while studying theology in London.
He has a unique understanding of what it means to be painted with the wrong brush. During the 1980s, while living in London, Imam Noonan came under scrutiny – as did most Irish people – due to the IRA bombings in the UK.
Now, a devout Muslim, Imam Noonan is coming under the same racially-motivated judgment because of acts of terror that are no more associated with him than the IRA ones were previously.
“At that time every Irish person [in the UK] was considered a potential terrorist. Of course, that wasn’t the case and that is the exact same case with Muslims.
“There’s about 80,000 Muslims living in Ireland, so 99.999% of them would have no desire to be anything like these people on London bridge and so, therefore, their feeling the same anxiety that the Irish would have felt at that time,” said Imam Noonan.
“The Galway people are brilliant. The last few days has proven it; since this nonsense has happened here,” continued Imam Noonan.
The pressure Muslim people feel when an act of terror is committed in the name of Allah is what Imam Noonan describes and an “inner guilt,” and the need to constantly explain themselves.
What I saw last Saturday was the farthest thing from the events on London Bridge. I saw incredibly polite men and women, who showed respect and kindness each other and their visitors.
There were hugs and handshakes abound and an honest effort from Galway residents to make help the Muslims community feel welcome.
Sisters Chanel and Evelyn – nuns from the Presentation Convent in Athenry – were two such locals there to lend their support the Galway Muslim community.
“I know the Imam’s wife very well, she comes up to the resource centre, in Doughishka, and I just wanted to show some solidarity. I was sorry for what happened,” said Sr Chanel.
Support came also in the shape of Galway West TD Noel Grealish who had this message for the Muslim community in Galway.
“We have a good vibrant Muslim community in Galway and they’re part of our community and a lot of them are business people and provide a lot of jobs,” he said.
And it’s a relationship that works both ways – with Galway’s Muslim community anxious to emphasise its openness to people of all faiths and none.
Or as Imam Noonan put it: “Islam is a religion of peace. I’m here all the time. Come and visit the Mosque. If you have questions about Islam or about why these things are happening, I’m always ready to answer the questions and understand that the Ahmadiyya Muslim community is here to serve the people of Ireland.”
As I was about to leave I was a stopped by a young man who invited me for tea with the organisers.
I thanked him and but said I was on my way out. He was having none of it and seconds later I was sitting down at a table with biscuits, cake and tea laid out in front me.
And what could be more Irish than that?
State to look at plan to protect historic monastic ruins
Officials from the Office of Public Works have confirmed that they will visit what is widely regarded as the most complete Franciscan monastic ruins in Ireland to see what works are required to save it.
And a local public representative has said that he does not want to be part of a generation that allowed Ross Errilly Franciscan Friary to fall into worse disrepair.
Correspondence sent this week to those who diligently look after the friary has suggested that the OPW’s Head of Historic Properties will come down to establish what emergency works are required.
This follows the recent visit by the Minister for the Office of Public Works Patrick O’Donovan to Ross Errilly Franciscan Friary which dates well back before the 1400s and requires urgent works to be carried out.
Cllr Andrew Reddington (FG) said: “It would be an absolute disgrace if we were the generation that allowed this friary to deteriorate even further.”
It was explained to the Minister while visiting the Abbey that it is in desperate need of emergency works and it was essential that the Minister brought this back to his department.
He was informed that it was around the late 1980s when there was any major works carried out on the abbey by the OPW.
“The abbey needs remedial work urgently as it is falling into disrepair and the main area of concern is the tower.
“There has never been any serious remedial work done on the tower and there has never been scaffolding put up around the outside of it to deal with the exterior of the tower,” Cllr Reddington told The Connacht Tribune.
A local group who met with the Minister explained that there is no electricity at the abbey or any toilet facilities for visiting tourists.
He was informed that the nearest electrical pole is only 200m away, so it wouldn’t be difficult to get electricity to the abbey.
The abbey, he was told, needs electricity which would then mean there would be options in terms of security lighting and closed-circuit television to prevent any vandalism taking place.
Those who look after the Franciscan Friary – including Glen Corbett and former Galway footballer Seamus McHugh – gave a detailed run down of emergency works that need to happen at the abbey.
They said that it was critical that emergency works start as soon as possible to protect the abbey for future generations.
The Minister committed to working with the group on this. The delegation than joined OPW officials and Finna Construction who gave them a tour of the OPW offices in Headford which benefited from a €5 million investment.
This week came the commitment that the OPW would visit the friary to establish the emergency works that need to prioritisation.
(Photo: Seamus McHugh, Minister Patrick O’Donovan, Glen Corbett and Cllr Andrew Reddington at Ross Errilly Franciscian Friary in Headford)
Gardaí issue alert over fuel thefts
Householders, farmers and truckers in the West of Ireland have been advised to put security measures in place to protect their fuel tanks, following a number of thefts over the past month.
While the thefts aren’t an everyday occurrence, Gardaí have advised that with fuel prices likely to remain high over the coming months, basic security precautions should be put in place.
Galway is one of a number of counties where fuel thefts have occurred over recent weeks with home heating oil, trucks and farm diesel in different parts of the country targeted by the thieves.
Sergeant Michael Walsh, Galway Garda Crime Prevention Officer, said that while the number of thefts reported in Galway had been quite small, fuel thievery was still an ongoing problem.
He said that some of the precautions recommended included a secure fencing off, of outdoor fuel tanks with good quality perimeter fencing.
“Fuel tanks that are located away from houses or offices are most at risk and in these situations, robust perimeter fencing, and gates need to be properly secured.
“We are also recommending that people and businesses consider installing alarms, anti-siphoning devices, security lighting and CCTV cameras,” said Sergeant Walsh.
He added that fuel thieves often used small drill and syphoning pump to steal the fuel with the whole operation completed in a matter of minutes.
Last month in Limerick, thieves stole an estimated €500 worth of diesel from trucks parked overnight in a business park – large trucks and artics can have a fuel capacity of over 100 gallons.
“As with a lot of robberies, fuel thieves will tend to pick out the opportunist targets. Fuel is a valuable commodity and basic security measures need to be put in place,” said Sergeant Walsh.
Where businesses have multiple users of their fuel tanks, the Gardaí also advise that a fuel management system should be put in place to record the users as well as the dates and times when they access the supply.
Housing plan turned down over lack of pedestrian access
The lack of a pedestrian connection to the town centre was listed as one of the reasons why a development of almost 40 houses has been turned down in Ballinasloe.
The proposed development at Poolboy would have been adjacent to an existing housing estate – but planners cited the lack of connectivity to the town centre as a reason why it was refusing the application.
The plans outlined the provision of a mix of three-bedroom detached and semi-detached houses along with 20 townhouses as part of the 38 unit development.
They were submitted by Crownbell Limited, which is based in Clarinbridge, and sought a connection to the existing access road serving the Cuil na Canalacht estate which was granted permission back in 2012.
However, Galway County Council refused planning on the grounds that the proposed development did not provide sufficient pedestrian access to the wider urban area of Ballinasloe.
They said that to grant planning would pose an intensified risk to the safety of pedestrians and other road users and lead to “unsustainable mobility patterns” in the immediate area.
It was stated that the development would be prejudicial to public safety and contravene the sustainable transport policy objectives of the Galway County Development Plan.
Furthermore, planners said that the site was in an area that is zoned open space recreation and amenity in the Ballinasloe Local Area Plan.
They said that this seeks to protect and enhance such areas for exercise facilities, sports grounds and playing fields and to grant planning would set an undesirable precedent.
Given the site’s location to the River Suck, the applicants submitted an environmental impact assessment and screening report. The development would be around 300 yards from the River Suck Callows.
It was proposed that the development would connect to the existing sewer scheme, and it was stated in a submission that it would not overly burden the system.
However, it was a lack of pedestrian access from the site into the town centre which eventually scuppered the proposed development plan.