Escape to Mosney has a whole new meaning
Memories of days of pure freedom are a long way from the experiences of children in the camp now
Published 01/06/2014 | 02:30
It used to be better than Christmas – four days away from home in musty chalets with no parents. But Mosney is no longer where the Community Games finals are held each year. Mosney is now one of the largest, privately owned refugee centres in Europe.
I went to Mosney every single year as a kid throughout the Nineties, competing in the Community Games. I know the place like the back of my hand. When I think about Mosney now, more than 15 years later, the first thing that comes to mind is faded colours. That and the smell of Lynx deodorant. I loved it.
We'd roam the sprawling blocks of crumbling chalets in our green Offaly tracksuits, spend hours down at the ageing amusements with the peeling paint, and pump copper fortunes into slot machines in that musty old arcade. Then Lynxed-up to the last, we'd head off to the disco. It was our brief escape into adulthood, and we treasured every minute of it. Pure freedom.
So how starkly different must Mosney feel now, to the 750 refugees who live there? Originally constructed as Butlin's in 1948, in the Fifties and Sixties, the re-named Mosney was the epitome of the family holiday experience. A place where you ate in giant food halls with hundreds of other happy families, and took photos of each other grinning in thick horn-rimmed glasses.
But like those horned-rimmed glasses, Mosney didn't age well. Mosney even looked dated to us as 12 year-olds, throwing cereal at each other in that same food hall. Fuelling up on Frosties for our prospective events, preparing to strut our stuff in the under-14 front-crawl, and do our county proud. Or at least not come last, which was the same thing, being from Offaly.
Now instead of giddy swimmers in Offaly tracksuits, those food halls are packed full with families of refugees. Unlike us, those poor kids have no events to compete in, no slot machines to pump copper coins into, and no discos. They didn't look forward to this escape to Meath like we did. They made harrowing journeys just to get to Mosney. The most harrowing thing about our journey to Mosney was the smell on the bus after half the choir got sick from too many penny-sweets. Usually somewhere around Kinnegad.
So for the kids in Mosney today, the idea of freedom represents something very different. While the residents are allowed to come and go as they please, some refugees living in contemporary Mosney describe it as a prison.
Many of these refugees are eager to work and have all the education and qualifications to do so but they can't legally get a job until their asylum applications have been processed. This can sometimes take more than a year. So they have nothing to do, and all day long to do it...
This new version of Mosney confuses me. Contemporary Ireland loves to harp on about how welcoming we are as a nation. We dislocate our shoulders trying to clap ourselves on the back and we stage elaborate ceremonies naturalising citizens. But yet that famous Cead Mile Failte is reserved for tourists with bumbags, beer-bellies and baseball caps. Because while it's not exactly Guantanamo Bay, being horsed into a chalet in a camp in Meath is not my idea of a hundred thousand welcomes, in anyone's language.
Of course the argument exists that we should look after our own marginalised and vulnerable citizens first, before we start worrying about immigrants arriving from elsewhere.
But I'll leave you with one thought, to whizz around inside your head and bang against the edges, like those faded old bumper cars at the crumbling amusements in my Mosney. If given the choice, most immigrants who arrive here would rather work a minimum-wage job all week long than draw the dole. Hands on hearts, how many Irish people could say the same?