On Christmas week, Brian Moore visits West Cork’s only direct provision centre and hears about life for the 77 residents and 30 children who call it home
THOUGHTS of Christmas and the New Year can mean different things to different people, but for the residents at West Cork’s only direct provision centre, in Clonakilty, this time of the year brings a mixture of joy, prayer and hope for better times in 2017.
With over 14 countries represented by the 77 residents, 30 of them children, at Clonakilty Lodge there is certainly a feeling that you have entered something of a cultural melting pot when you cross over the threshold to meet some of the many people who have endured so much to get to Ireland.
‘We have people here from all over Africa, from Nigeria, South Africa, Algeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo,’ said assistant manager and child protection officer Marian O’Regan. ‘From the Middle East, we have families from Pakistan, Iran, and Iraq, as well as Bangladesh and India.’
With such a coming together of different nationalities, cultures and religions, how will the residents spend Christmas Day?
‘For us here the day itself is a celebration and a party,’ explained Marian.
‘While we have residents who never celebrated Christmas before coming to Ireland, everybody enjoys the party atmosphere,’ said Marian.
‘Santa arrives with presents for everybody, and because most of the children go to local schools, they all know about the tradition and are excited about the day, and in particular thoughts of new toys and other gifts.
‘Of course, the adults are not forgotten. We have visitors such as the Mayor of Clonakilty, the local clergy and many other locals who come and help the party along.’
With the Christmas decorations up, the preparations for the Christmas dinner and the arrival of Santa are all well in hand, too.
However, with some many countries represented around the dinner table, will there be a little taste of home served up?
‘We’re having the full works,’ explained Marian. ‘We’ll have turkey and ham and all the trimmings. Good food is critical here, and our chef ensures that we have culturally appropriate ingredients at all times.
‘All our meat is halal and we have special menu nights every week, such as an African night, a Pakistani night, and so on. We also provide for the various religious traditions at different times of the year, such as Eid and Ramadan.’
With 30 children, ranging in age from three months to 12, Christmas and especially the New Year is a time to look forward.
‘Most of the children were born here in Cork, at the CUMH. Indeed more than one was born in the taxi on the way to the hospital!’ noted Marian.
‘So most of the children are well used to the Christmas and New Year’s celebrations at this point. Of course, all want to thank the local community for their support with the presents and toys that are donated for the children and we also want to especially thank the local St Vincent de Paul for all their support.’
Other local groups who have contributed massively to helping, supporting and encouraging the residents at Clonakilty Lodge are the members of the Clonakilty Friends of Asylum Seekers and Grow Your Own (GIY) Clonakilty. With the creation of a community garden, the residents can grow their food and be part of a community activity right on their own doorstep.
Speaking with one of the residents, who wished not to be identified, the mum-of-two from Nigeria said that Christmas for her was all about attending church and being with friends.
‘Christmas is for us about being thankful for what we have, for our safety and for the friends we have,’ she said. Having arrived in West Cork in 2007, there is only one present this mother wants for her children this Christmas.
‘We pray that 2017 will bring us a new life where I can live, and work, here in Ireland. I want to bring my children up outside Clonakilty Lodge so that they can make a better life for themselves here in West Cork.’