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Young refugee Varvara, sings a traditional Ukrainian song for Minister for Rural and Community Development, Heather Humphreys TD, during her visit to Lisdoonvarna Fáilte. Photograph by Eugene McCafferty

Resilient refugees bring bustling life to north Clare town

THE resilience shown by Ukrainian refugees who have been forced to flee to North Clare was the first thing that struck Lisdoonvarna Fáilte CLG chairperson, Marie Urquhart after their arrival.

“Ukrainian refugees are very happy, content and resilient. Their willingness to be involved in the community was one of the first things that struck me. They are very gracious and thankful for what is being done for them.

“They are happy to muck in and help with Tidy Towns, Spring Clean and are actively looking for work. It has been challenging and humbling. I am mesmerised by their resilience and get up and go given what horrific events they have been through.”

She has confirmed up to 800 Ukrainian refugees are being accommodated in three local hotels.

According to the last Census the indigenous population of Lisdoonvarna was about 600, which is apart from about 200 asylum seekers who are also living in the Spa town.

Asked about the logistics of getting everything ready for the arrival of Ukrainian refugees, Marie admitted preparations were continuing around the clock for a number of weeks.

Issues that were addressed included securing PPS numbers, bank accounts, medical assessments, basic needs such as clothes, buggies, nappies and toiletries.

“It was 24/7 for a few weeks. The community rallied around and were very good to respond to everyone that was involved in the preparations.

“We have been advised by professionals not to dwell too much on what the Ukrainians have left behind them because we want them to feel safe, comfortable and secure in their new environment.”

She said the government is working to resolve issues such as allowing Ukrainian refugees to secure car insurance to allow them to drive a motor vehicle.

However, she acknowledged securing transport to get children to and from national and secondary schools and adults to see North Clare is the biggest issue that is being addressed at the moment.

In view of the fact the normal bus service is full, she noted it would be helpful to provide an extra bus serving Lisdoonvarna and North Clare for a few months.

Praising all the schools for getting on board so quickly, she recalled Lisdoonvarna Fáilte provided children with school bags and stationery with the help of the local community to ensure they were all receiving education within ten days of their arrival.

Children are attending Lisdoonvarna, Doolin and Kilshanny National Schools as well as Mary Immaculate Secondary School, Lisdoonvarna.

It is understood that some children started attending Fanore National School this week.

Councillor Joe Garrihy said some refugees are still probably running on adrenalin from the trauma of the war and trying to get to Ireland from a country 3,000 miles away.

“It is a privilege and honour to be able to do something that really matters. The entire community in North Clare has rallied around the refugees.

“We are lucky that Lisdoonvarna has a lot of quality accommodation and has experienced hoteliers. We also had the benefit of the White family in running a direct provision centre for asylum seekers already.

“We had a connection with the Clare Local Development Company and their social inclusion programme, which helped dealing with the numbers in the early days. We didn’t have to learn that piece.

“Being able to respond to their questions in the early days calmed people down. One of the most basic things when the refugees came was the question ‘are we going to be moved again tomorrow night? Can we stay here? Are we welcome? Can we get clothes and food?’”

He recalled people like Michelle Nolan, Orla Ni Eili and Monica McKenna were already working with asylum seekers in direct provision in addition to a very good welcome group who work with the King Thomond Hotel called Links, who passed on their experience and knowledge.

He said the availability of a park, playground and big hall help refugees not to feel claustrophobic or overwhelmed.

“The reaction of the schools has been incredible. More than 240 children have been accommodated in schools in three weeks thanks to the principals and everyone working together.

“The community has been providing whatever resources are needed when they are required from donations. Tenders have gone out to provide transport through the school transport system. Hopefully, these tenders will kick in after Easter to take up the slack we have been filling.

“We have applied for a circuit bus to travel throughout North Clare, working with Local Link three or four times a day. That could like in with transport for employment, shopping or recreation.”

Councillor Garrihy said it was very important not to have refugees working too soon in view of the trauma they have experienced until they are ready.

The Fine Gael Councillor said Irish people seem to have a lot in common with Ukrainians.

“You can’t watch the war in Ukraine and not be moved by it. They are humans as well. We have made a very strong connection. There will be challenges and things may go wrong.

“By a very twisted way for the worst possible reasons, we have a living population in our towns and villages in North Clare and our services being used to their maximum.

“We now have an experience of what a busy small town can be like. It is perverse. I see 100 children walking from a hotel to school. I see a picture of what a living vibrant town could be with everyone living in it. This is a North Clare experience.”

He said it is hoped to run Ukrainian events in the local hall as part of the ongoing integration.

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