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Friday 1 December 2023 Dublin: -1°C

Compassion, defiance, gratitude, grief - but no place for hatred in our Manchester joined thousands of Mancunians as they stood united in the face of terrorism last night.
You wake up, you say, ‘thank God it’s not me’.

IT COULD HAVE been me. It could have been my child. Mary Burke, standing with thousands of her fellow Mancunians in Albert Square this past evening, knows she’s not the only one to feel both grief and gratitude at the same time.

Grief at the loss of so many innocents at the hands of the terror attack on her home town on Tuesday night; gratitude that her own family escaped harm. Bearing signs professing their love for their city, these citizens were united in a vigil of tribute and remembrance.

Some dabbed away tears – but still they stood defiant. They had a message for the world: Hatred has no place in Manchester.

But their city, usually bustling, was quiet today, despite the massive crowd.

Michelle Hennessy / Mary Burke and her son Jamie at the vigil in Albert Square. Michelle Hennessy / /

“I feel empty,” Burke, whose parents hailed from Sligo and Galway, told She attended the vigil with her son Jamie.

“I’m a mother myself, you can’t imagine. It’s shocking, it’s atrocious, it’s heartbreaking. One of my sons goes to concerts himself and went to Paris last week for one, so it brings it home again.”

Manchester is such a beautiful city that it shouldn’t just be slayed like it was last night.

As a candle was lit on stage during the vigil, her son wrapped his arms around her and kissed her on the cheek.

“It’s an awful thing to say, but when you wake up, you say, ‘thank God it’s not me’,” she said.

When Hannah Cropper saw the news last night, she was stunned.

When they showed the footage inside the hall and you could hear the kids crying and screaming, that broke my heart, absolutely broke my heart.

There was a strong police presence in the city and Cropper was dismayed to see armed officers in the streets.

“I never thought I’d see that in my city.”

Manchester was a city united tonight. Several Muslim groups attended the vigil, including the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association. Dozens of people shook their hands, hugged them and thanked them for coming.

Sidrah Sajad said her city was showing the world that, “We’re one, we’re standing together.”

Michelle Hennessy / Sidrah Sajad said the people of her city are standing together. Michelle Hennessy / /

She said: “We’re putting our differences aside, we’re putting our religions aside, this is about humanity, this is about being together.”

Sajad had a message for the attacker and anyone who supports him:

You’re not a part of us. I’m a Muslim, I’m a veiled, niqabi Muslim woman. You’re not a part of Islam, Islam does not teach that. I don’t know what name they do it in, they don’t do it in the name of Allah, they don’t do it in my name, or my religion or my people. They died for nothing.

This community has been shaken, but they want everyone to know they will not let hatred divide them, or stop them from living their lives.

“They should have been able to be there, but it can happen anywhere,” Paul Brady said. With him was his partner Jill and daughter Jasmine. Some of the 12-year-old girl’s friends were at the Ariana Grande concert, though none were injured.

Michelle Hennessy / Paul Brady with her partner Jill and their 12-year-old daughter Jasmine. Michelle Hennessy / /

“One thing we tried not to do is cover things up, we tell her how it is. I think you’ve got to be streetwise these days,” Brady said.

For me the important thing is to keep doing stuff, you can’t let them win. Going to concerts, going to airports, doing what you normally do, you should enjoy life you can’t let them stop you.

Aaron Watson, a 26-year-old fellow Mancunian, echoed this sentiment.

He has been at gigs in the Manchester Arena many times himself. Some of his younger sister’s friends were at the concert. Today, he has felt anxious, but he found comfort in the people of his city as they came together.

Michelle Hennessy / Aaron Watson laid flowers in Albert Square. Michelle Hennessy / /

“There is a lovely atmosphere and this is what northern people are known for – we’re very comforting, we’re very compassionate and I just hope that the people who caused this saw this and saw that we will come back strong and we will stick together,” he said.

“They’ve not won and they’ll never win. We’ll never defeat terrorism, but we will always stand together in the face of it.”

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