The community of Ballinagare came out in force to host a welcome party for 27 new arrivals from Ukraine last Friday evening.
The event, held in Ballinagare community centre and organised by a group of local people, featured traditional music by the Killina Céilí Band, singing by pupils of the local national school as well as Irish and Ukrainian food.
Parish priest Fr Micheál Donnelly said the event was partly inspired by recent anti-immigration protests.
“There’s been so much bad press about people coming in (to the country) and people objecting to them being in the community and I felt it would be a nice idea to have something to welcome the Ukrainian people to the area,” he said.
Fr Donnelly, who was part of the welcoming committee, said those arriving in Ballinagare had endured a difficult start to the New Year.
“The Ukrainians that we have here were travelling during Christmas so in reality they had no Christmas. While we were at home enjoying our food they had no Christmas Dinner and Santa Claus couldn’t come to the children,” he added.
“Hopefully this event is a chance to integrate and to allow the people who have come to live in our community a chance to mingle, meet and talk. In particular, the Ukrainian children; there are children their own age here that they can meet and greet. They’ll be in school together in a few weeks hopefully”.
The Ballinagare Ladies’ Group have also been proactive in helping the new arrivals to settle in the area. Group member Bernie Kelly said they were overwhelmed by the response when the group invited Ukrainian ladies to join them for a recent weekly meeting.
“A group of us meet on a Friday for coffee and the week after they (Ukrainians) came we decided to invite some of them to our meeting and lo and behold most of them came along! We had thought two or three (might come) so it was lovely,” Bernie said.
Fr Micheál reached out to the group following this meeting and the idea for last Friday’s welcome party was born.
“The national school then rowed in behind us and it just took off from there,” Bernie added.
Sandra Yaremchuk arrived in Ireland from western Ukraine just three weeks ago. She spent her first few days in Dublin before moving to Ballinagare.
“I was so impressed (upon arriving in Ireland). We came to Dublin and didn’t know what was going to happen. We knew that Ireland was accepting Ukrainian people but we didn’t know how good it would be,” she said.
“There were people waiting for us (on arrival) and it was late so they took us somewhere to stay overnight. Then we were taken to CityWest to go through all the procedures and paperwork and then we took a bus to Ballinagare. It was quick and impressive. I was touched”.
Sandra’s parents and her sister are still living in western Ukraine where the threat of air strikes still remains.
“On one occasion an attack took place just 15kms away from us and then a few times there have been missile attacks. The thing is we don’t have a basement to hide in so it doesn’t really matter where we are at the time of the (air raid) alert. We just have to go on with our lives,” she said.
The Ukrainian woman, who was a teacher back home, was overwhelmed with the welcome she and her compatriots received in Ballinagare Community Centre on Friday evening.
“People have been asking us what kind of help we need (since they arrived). That was impressive. Then they told us they were going to organise this party…sometimes I feel like I want to cry because we didn’t expect this. I can’t event find the words,” she said.
“It’s like a new family; it’s a very small place here and what they have done in giving us a little party welcoming us…I just can’t explain how it feels…”