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Roscommon town prepares for refugees by building a wall... of welcome

The announcement that the refugees would be arriving has encouraged donations of books and toys.

welcome-art-059 / Welcome to Roscommon / Welcome to Roscommon / Welcome to Roscommon

THE PEOPLE OF Ballaghaderreen have begun to prepare for the arrival of Syrian refugees to their local town – by building a ‘wall of welcome’.

When it was announced at least 80 people – most of them children, and most of them fleeing from Syria – would arrive in the town, locals were shocked by the news, as they had been told last minute.

In the immediate aftermath of the announcement, a graphic, anti-Islamic flyer was distributed through letterboxes in what has been an isolated incident.

But a group of locals wishing to welcome the refugees, called the ‘Welcome to Roscommon’ movement say that the announcement has actually brought the people of the town together.

They asked a couple of artists to create a ‘welcome wall’ for the hotel the refugees will be staying in as a symbol of hope and goodwill.

welcome-art-002 The Greener Dream / Welcome to Roscommon The Greener Dream / Welcome to Roscommon / Welcome to Roscommon

One of the artists involved, Maria, said that they were delighted to help, saying that it was “almost impossible to imagine what these families and individuals have been through, having had to leave their homes, communities, friends and many loved ones behind”.

She says that the idea behind the tree was based on the town’s name:

“Ballaghaderreen translates in Irish to Bealach an Doirín, meaning ‘the way of the little oak grove’. The oak is also the symbol for the Celtic Tree of Life.

art-welcome-007 The Greener Dream / Welcome to Roscommon The Greener Dream / Welcome to Roscommon / Welcome to Roscommon

We found it appropriate to use the Tree of Life symbol on this welcome wall as it is a universal symbol, for example in Norse mythology it is Yggdrasil, the mighty ash and in Persian culture it is often pictured as a closely related beautiful flowering World tree.

Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon, has a population of just shy of 2,000, and although 80 refugees are being introduced at the start, this could rise to 240.

The hotel where the refugees will be homed is just temporary: the plan is to house the refugees around the country after the families become accustomed to life in Ireland.

[The project] has given us plenty of time to reflect on how lucky we are to be living in a place, not ravaged and torn apart by war.

“We believe it is our duty to reach out and support the less fortunate.”

art-welcome-013 The Greener Dream / Welcome to Roscommon The Greener Dream / Welcome to Roscommon / Welcome to Roscommon

Locals have also constructed a playroom, and made book donations ahead of the refugees arrival in early March.

This week, the government launched an integration strategy to help prepare refugees for life in Ireland.

This includes English language classes and ensuring that 1% of the government’s civil service are made up of refugees.

This article has been updated at 6pm to include the Welcome to Roscommon’s statement that the announcement of the refugees had brought people together.

Read: When Syria comes to Roscommon: ‘We can’t run to Mass, then say ‘you’re not welcome”

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