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Connacht Tribune

How Nigerian woman made Galway her home following tragedy

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Zeenie Summers came to Galway from Nigeria in 2010 after t he tragic death of her mother. She made the journey to live with her father in Ireland, only to discover he had a new family there, with a new partner.

Zeenie Summers dreamt about her mother the night before she died. In the dream, her mother had been in a road accident but Zeenie was unable to visit her in hospital. She spent the dream walking around the hospital corridors desperately searching for her mother’s room but never found it.

She woke up the following morning feeling very shaken and immediately told her mother what she had seen.

Her mother was getting ready for a cousin’s wedding on Lagos Island that afternoon and Zeenie helped by ironing her clothes and packing her bag.

Her mother dropped Zeenie’s younger brother and sister over to their grandparents’ house before catching a ferry to the wedding.

“I think I told her she looked beautiful just before she left.”

A short time later Zeenie’s aunt called the house and asked that she come join her siblings in her grandparents” house.

“When I got to the house there were loads of people inside. I knew something was up but they wouldn’t tell me. I was seventeen at the time and when they see you as a kid they won’t tell you anything.”

Zeenie eventually found out from her younger sister that there had been a problem with the boat crossing to the wedding. That evening her older cousin took her aside.

“He didn’t tell me my mum had died but said I would need to look after my younger siblings now. He told me not to be scared and that this was the time to be strong. My life took a complete turn that day.”

The following morning, Zeenie was told the bad news. Her mother had drowned along with nearly forty others in the ferry accident. Her body was brought to the family’s home and Zeenie was told to say goodbye.

“They had laid my mum on my bed but there was no privacy for us to be with her. She didn’t look dead; she just looked like she had been cleaned. She looked like herself, almost as if she was smiling.”

After the funeral, Zeenie and her siblings were sent to live with their grandmother. They were used to living in an apartment in Lagos with running water and a generator, yet suddenly they were in a different part of the city taking showers in a tiny outdoor cubicle.  The family waited to hear from Zeenie’s father who had moved to Ireland in 2000. For years Zeenie had been hoping for his return, dreaming of the day her father would come back to his family in Nigeria.

“He was only meant to go to Ireland for a year but then one year turned into a decade. We just kept waiting and waiting. He never visited but kept in touch by phone. Every year was a tomorrow that never came. We were waiting for him to come back to Nigeria or we would join him. But my dad liked Ireland too much and decided to start a new life here.”

When Zeenie’s father called after the ferry accident to say he had applied to the Irish government for his children to join him in Ireland, Zeenie told him she wasn’t leaving.

She was studying Literature and Mass Communication at university in Lagos and was not prepared to leave her life and move to an island she knew nothing about.

Zeenie’s father eventually convinced his daughter to try life in Ireland. The three siblings arrived on Valentine’s Day 2010 where they finally met their father’s ‘other family’.

They knew he now had two children with his partner in Ireland but believed he was living separately from them. On arrival, they discovered they would all live in a house together.

“I expected to come here and join my father after losing my mum. I was looking forward to feeling secure and being happy again. Coming from the disappointment of my mother’s death, my whole life fell upside-down after the move to Galway. I felt so alone.”

Zeenie also discovered that, without a Leaving Cert qualification, she was unable to study at a university.

Her father was eager for his daughter to go back to school, sit her Leaving Cert and study medicine. However, Zeenie made other plans.

She moved to Dublin and enrolled in a Level 5 journalism course in Dún Laoghaire. Having taken classes in music and theatre in Nigeria, the first thing she did when she arrived in the capital was to look for a choir to join.

“I found the choir in January 2011. If it hadn’t been for Discovery Gospel Choir I wouldn’t have given Ireland a chance, I would have moved away. But they became my family.”

After an internship with a news publication, Zeenie ended up back in Galway working in the Next clothing store. She tried moving back in with her father and his new family but struggled to adjust.

She wanted to go back to Dublin but didn’t even have enough money to pay for accommodation in Galway. She ended up registering as homeless with Galway City Council and moved to the YMCA in Dublin.

“I could have gone back home to my father’s house but I felt worse than alone there. There was no love for me in his home; no emotional or moral support, no hope and no future.”

Zeenie stayed in the YMCA for three months and with the help of a social worker she signed up for welfare benefits and applied for financial support to go back into third level education. She found that her love of sewing and fashion design helped clear her mind.

As she gradually settled into life in Ireland, she grew accustomed to the feeling of being different and having black skin in a predominantly white community.

“I didn’t know I was black until I came here. I didn’t know I was limited, I didn’t know people got things according to their colour, it didn’t occur to me. The first year in Ireland I didn’t consider myself black, I didn’t even consider myself Nigerian, I just considered myself Zeenie.”

In 2013 Zeenie met her boyfriend David. Building a strong relationship with another person helped her to finally put some roots down in her Irish home.

“It’s good to have a best friend in a country that’s not your own. Having a person like him makes life much more fun and far more bearable.”

Eight years on from her death, Zeenie is coming to terms with her mother’s absence.

“It took me a long time to look at myself and say I am who I am because of my mother. I thought she just brought us up and rubbed off on us but the more I go through life’s challenges and think about my life choices, the more I realise how similar we are.”

Zeenie is now a singer-songwriter and fashion designer who runs her own online business making custom-made clothes for customers across Ireland.

“I’ve sold clothing across Ireland in Limerick, Cork, Galway and the Aran Islands and also in the UK and the Netherlands. I’m not making as much as I would like but it’s not as little as I would have feared either. I think if it became too much more I would be overwhelmed.”

She has completed a diploma in Business and Law at Rathmines College and gigs with a number of bands around Ireland. She also joined The Waterboys as a backing singer on a two-month tour around Europe.

“When I got the request to go on tour the first person I thought to call was mum. In the past, the realisation that my mum isn’t around anymore would be a shock. But it’s been eight years now so I’m getting used to it. There are times when I do want to ring her, I still have her phone number in my phone.”

She remains in contact with her father and visits him in Galway occasionally. “He’s older now and you can’t keep beating someone for their mistakes. As I’ve grown up here I’ve realised he has to live with the consequences of his decisions. I don’t need to forgive him and he doesn’t owe me anything anymore.

“Obviously it would have been better if my mother had stayed alive but if she hadn’t died, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I would have had no reason to come to Ireland and would probably have gone down a different route in life. But everything that has happened in my life has led from that and I’m very thankful for that.”

In 2017 Zeenie became an Irish citizen. She was not planning to apply for citizenship but was tired of paying the high cost of visas for trips abroad. However, on the day of the ceremony she was surprised by the happiness she felt.

“The sense of pride on the day was because I’m happy that I’m now a part of Ireland and not a part of Nigeria. Nigeria did not provide anything for me, it was always my mother who provided for me. And when I was bold and tough enough to go out on my own here and fight for something to better myself, the Irish government supported me. They gave me access to education courses.

“Ireland has done so much more for me than Nigeria.”

■ New to the Parish: Stories of Love, War and Adventure from Ireland’s Immigrants is written by Sorcha Pollak. The book is an inspiring chronological timeline of personal stories of migration – from Cameroon to Myanmar, Poland to New York, Nigeria to Venezuela, Iraq to Syria – and back home again. Published by New Ireland Books, it is available in all good bookstores now.

Connacht Tribune

Adults and young pupils collaborate on children’s book now in the shops

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A new book – a collaborative collection of stories and poems written by the Oughterard Writers Group and the children from the local primary school – was officially launched in style last week.

Tell me a Story was officially launched at Scoil Chuimín agus Caitríona, Oughterard, by the principal, Micheál O’Domhnaill – to the delight of the children, parents, friends and writers in attendance and those watching live on zoom.
by Jess Walsh and Barbara Dunne
Tell Me a Story is a collaboration between the Oughterard Writers Group and the children of last year’s 4th class from Scoil Chuimín agus Catríona. It had its genesis in January when the writers applied to Galway County Council for funding for the story book.

The book is the culmination of several months’ work, where stories and poems written by the writers, were sent to the children.

The group was unable to meet the children in person, due to Covid restrictions, but met them several times on Zoom, facilitated by Pete Mullineaux, and James O’Donnell, their teacher. And after months of hard work by the children, their handwritten work and illustrations were then passed back to the writers for design and completion.

Each story in the book tells a different tale. The children responded to the story they liked best, and the book is interspersed with wonderful drawings from the children, with new story endings and poems, along with some of the children’s own handwriting.

It was a special night for all to finally meet in person at the official launch.

The children were presented with their contributor copy by the writer of the piece they worked on, and guests were treated to some selected readings from the book by the children themselves.

The evening was rounded off by Muinteoir J O Donnell reading his poem, Last Night’s Wind from the book, and it was a very fitting ending to a wonderful evening.

The book costs €10 (with 50% of profits being donated Scoil Chuimín agus Caitríona) and can be bought online from Kenny’s and Charlie Byrne’s bookshops in Galway, and from Moycullen Bookshop and shops in Oughterard.

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Connacht Tribune

Landowners see red at poor greenway dialogue

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A decision on the route chosen for the greenway between Athlone and Galway City is expected to be announced before Christmas – despite the vehement opposition of a group of landowners.

Opponents staged another protest outside County Hall last Monday to up the pressure on councillors to continue to voice disquiet over the way the project is being pursued by Galway County Council and RPS consultants.

Jean Molloy from Stoney Island outside Portumna, a member of the East Galway Action Group, said there was a complete lack of respect by the project team for the major stakeholders who had the most to lose – those whose land would be taken by the greenway.

Her family, who run a small farm on the land earmarked for the route, had received two letters from the team and not a single phone call over their concerns. She had attended public meetings to outline their preferred route but believes the consultants are not listening.

“We’re expected to give up everything but yet we don’t see a real benefit in the way the route is going as it doesn’t connect villages or neighbours, our kids can’t use it to cycle to school,” she insisted.

“The preferred route is in remote areas off-road, which may suit tourists a few times a year but won’t be safe for us. Why can’t they go along the road, as long as it’s segregated? Yet, we’re expected to give up our livelihoods, our privacy, our security.”

The campaigners allege the process has been flawed from the start.

They accuse those driving the project of “underhanded” tactics and adopting a “divide and conquer approach” and say consultants have failed to engage with every landowner and resident affected in the route corridor. They allege the team is refusing to meeting landowners in groups.

“They have told landowners that a final route is to be released before Christmas, but this is just not feasible. It’s important that the general public is made aware of how the individuals at the centre of the proposed cycleway are being treated.”

Director of service in the infrastructure and operations unit of Galway County Council, Derek Pender, has refuted claims of intimidation and a lack of engagement.

Last September he insisted they had undertaken well over 1,500 face-to-face or phone call consultations with 350 potentially impacted private landowners over 15 months.

The preferred route starts near Ballyloughane Beach, east of Galway City, passing through Oranmore, Rinville, Clarinbridge, Kilcolgan, Kinvara, Gort, Woodford, Portumna, Meelick, Clonfert, Ballinasloe, Shannonbridge, and finishing at Athlone Castle before linking with the cycleway to Dublin.

He claimed there was support for approximately 90% of the route and that the so-called hybrid model – where the cycleway would go along a national or regional road – would only be used in discreet isolated areas that were specific pinch points.

Cycleways beside long stretches of road were not safe, he has previously contended.

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Connacht Tribune

Clifden roster dispute escalates despite HSE recruitment

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Staff at both a hospital and nursing home in Clifden are balloting for industrial action over changes to the rosters – despite a targeted recruitment campaign for nurses that has resulted in over 20 applications.

Last week Clifden District Hospital – beset by critical staff shortages – closed for four days with the HSE claiming that no patients were booked into the facility with respite and step-down beds for recuperating patients who can be medically discharged from an acute hospital but deemed not well enough to go home.

This was the same week when the HSE admitted that 4,662 bed days were lost at University Hospital Galway (UHG) and Merlin Park and 1,295 at Portiuncula Hospital in the first nine months of this year due to delayed discharges.

The HSE said the four days could be used by staff at Clifden District Hospital and St Anne’s Community Nursing Unit to take leave accrued due to overtime they had built up over filling in shifts due to a lack of workers.

Anne Burke, Galway industrial relations officer for the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), said the union did not accept there was no demand for beds in a facility such as the Clifden District Hospital.

“They have orchestrated this downgrading of the hospital because we believe they want it for another purpose which they have not yet revealed. If you don’t advertise you’re open for business you won’t get the business. We think they don’t want it to be a viable option,” she exclaimed.

“They have always told us that staff weren’t interested in coming to Clifden. But there was no meaningful recruitment. Now, finally, they advertised specifically for jobs in Clifden, and we have been told that 29 applications were submitted and 21 are deemed eligible for interview, which we understand will take place next week.”

The INMO and SIPTU [Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union] are to ballot members from the two facilities for industrial action next week over changes to the rosters.

They claim the HSE is breaching the Building Momentum public service agreement which requires changes to rosters to be done by agreement between management and staff. A previous memo withdrawing the staff right to seven uncertified sick leave days was rescinded following lengthy talks at the Workplace Relations Commission.

Over 700 people attending a public meeting last September over fears Clifden District Hospital was being closed by the HSE. The hospital has had 12 beds for patients since the Covid pandemic, down from 30 some years ago.

After meeting with local politicians, the organisation issued a press release stating the facility would not close but said the respite and step-down services “remain on a day-to-day footing” due to staff shortages.

“The HSE has agreed to meet with GPs in the Clifden area to discuss the needs in the community for respite and step-down beds.”

They also announced they would run a ‘bespoke’ recruitment campaign for nurses.

The INMO estimates that seven additional nurses are needed for the hospital and a further six are required for the nursing unit to maintain rosters.

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