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The Aftermath

'Dirty Irish ba****ds': Irish in Manchester remember hostility after IRA bombing

Members of the city’s Irish community say they can relate to the anxiety Muslims in Manchester are feeling after Monday night’s terrorist attack.

“DIRTY IRISH BASTARDS”. It was just over two decades ago that Brian Kennedy was listening to this abuse on the other end of a phone line at the Irish World Heritage Centre in Manchester. The threats and the slurs have stuck in his memory.

The hostile phone calls followed an IRA bombing in June 1996 that injured more than 200 people and destroyed a large chunk of the city.

Although the Irish in Manchester have come a long way since then, they feel a resonance with the Muslim community this week following the bombing at the Manchester Arena.

They know what it is like to lower their voices in public to hide an accent. They know what it is like to suddenly feel tension in a place they call home.

They know being Muslim does not automatically mean you are a terrorist, just like being Irish did not mean they supported the devastation caused by the IRA more than 20 years ago.

dav Brian Kennedy at the Irish World Heritage Centre in Manchester. Michelle Hennessy / Michelle Hennessy / /

“It was mainly telephone calls and idle threats – we took them as idle threats,” Kennedy, who spent his early childhood in rural Co Mayo, told “The usual, ‘dirty Irish bastards’ or ‘you’re coming down here to blow the place up’, sometimes people just drunk down the other end of the line. We never got anyone physically coming into the centre to create trouble as such.

“It was more the tension that it created within the community, tensions were heightened. And there were the silly campaigns in the Sun newspaper telling people, ‘Don’t buy Kerrygold butter’, ‘Don’t buy Irish products’,” he added.

The Asian community are no different now, they are no doubt waiting for this backlash that will come.

Another Mayo man Michael Ford, who moved to Manchester in 1961, said terrorism activities “made it very difficult for the Irish community in Britain”.

“And even moreso in other cities like Birmingham and London, because obviously there were different bombings happening there and people were killed in those,” he said.

“To be fair, Manchester wasn’t as bad as other parts of the country. Like, I’d been in other parts where they had the signs up saying ‘No blacks, no Irish, no dogs’. But I never saw that in Manchester.”

dav Rose Morris from Tyrone at the Irish World Heritage Centre in Manchester. Michelle Hennessy / Michelle Hennessy / /

Rose Morris, originally from Co Tyrone, moved to Manchester in 1970. She too said she can relate to how members of the Muslim community are feeling:

I was in a waiting room in a doctor’s surgery and someone said, ‘it looks like it’s going to rain’ and I said, ‘yeah it was just starting when I came in’. Then somebody said, ‘did you hear about that bombing?’ and I think it was the Irish accent that brought that out of them. So in those times, I wouldn’t even speak to the woman on the till in Tesco, I’d just do all my transactions in silence.

She spoke of the Muslim groups and individuals who attended the vigil for victims of Monday night’s terrorist attack; how they clearly felt they had to tell the world: “We’re not all like this, we’re devastated too.”

One of these people was Sidrah Sajad, who told at the vigil that those responsible for deaths of 22 people on Monday night did not represent her, or her religion. She is apprehensive about the impact this may have on Muslims in Manchester.

dav Sidrah Sajad at Tuesday evening's vigil in Albert Square. Michelle Hennessy / Michelle Hennessy / /

“After this, [there'll be] a lot of ignorant people, a lot of people who blame Muslims as a label. Yeah, we’re going to have, most likely, hate crime increasing, Muslim women being attacked, Muslims in general being attacked,” she said.

“I want to say to those people: look, don’t hate, it’s not about hating each other, it’s about standing together,  loving each other and respecting each other.”

Labour MEP Afzal Khan said the Muslim community in the city has “mixed emotions” right now. They feel anger about what happened to their city and they feel fear that they will be blamed for the actions of one terrorist.

“Small elements who are ignorant don’t understand that, basically, their behaviour, of a backlash like this against innocent Muslims, puts them in the same category as the mindset of the terrorist,” Khan said.

He said he was heartened by the way in which people came together at Tuesday’s vigil.

“They were all singing from the same hymn sheet, understanding the need for solidarity, understanding the response has to be love or hate.”

dav Members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association at the vigil in Alberty Square on Tuesday evening. Michelle Hennessy / Michelle Hennessy / /

This display of solidarity is welcome, but Sandhya Sharma is more concerned about what happens next, in the days and weeks after this attack.

Her organisation Safety4Sisters works with migrant women in Manchester who have been victims of gender-based violence.

“A lot of the women we work with are petrified of going out of the house, terrified of talking, petrified their accent will be picked up,” she said.

Similar to Rose Morris after the 1996 attack, one Albanian woman told Sharma she whispers to her children in public because she does not want people to hear her accent.

“She was subject to a racist attack on a bus during the build up to Brexit, physically attacked,” she said.

Another Albanian woman was in a park and she was spat on by a group of women and they said, ‘f**k off home, you’re not welcome.

One Pakistani woman who was a victim of a racist attack last year has stopped wearing a headscarf in public because she is afraid of the negative attention it may attract. On Tuesday she was afraid to leave her house.

She told Sharma she wanted to “mourn like any other Mancunian” but she did not feel like she could attend the vigil.

“I felt really sad – she’s put down roots, her children are in school, they’re doing phenomenally well,” she said. “She’s an amazing volunteer here. This is her city. This is the city where she is safe away from the violence – and it was significant violence she experienced at the hands of not just one perpetrator, but more than one, in a land where the laws fail women and actively attack women. This is her home now.”

Sharma cancelled a migrant women’s meeting yesterday because she was concerned about having a group of 20 women, many in headscarves, together in the city centre.

“There is a heightened sense of our visibility,” she said. Her hope now is that Manchester can “create safety after horror”.

“Moving out of the horror and the terror of the attack, we must remember the victims – that’s very important – and we must remember who we are as Mancunians and one of the things we must remember is we still have so far to go in ensuring safety and protection for all our citizens.

“All people deserve to be safe, all Mancunians.”

Related: Ten more victims of Monday’s attack in Manchester have now been named>

Read: Father and brother of Manchester bomber arrested in Libya – security>

More: Compassion, defiance, gratitude, grief – but no place for hatred in our Manchester>

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