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'She had charm and candour - and enthusiasm for new life'

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Lisa Smith pictured living in Dundalk in 2011. Photo: Tom Conachy/Independent.ie

Lisa Smith pictured living in Dundalk in 2011. Photo: Tom Conachy/Independent.ie

Lisa Smith pictured living in Dundalk in 2011. Photo: Tom Conachy/Independent.ie

In May 2011 I was invited by two Dundalk-born Muslim women to chat with them on record about their earlier lives, what prompted their conversion to Islam, and what life was like as Muslims living in Ireland.

One of those women was Lisa Smith, now currently detained in Syria on suspicion of supporting Isil.

What struck me most about Smith - apart from her remarkable charm and candour - was her enthusiasm and commitment to her new way of life. A self-confessed party girl before converting to Islam, by her own admission she "did it all - the drink, drugs, smoking, everything".

"I didn't have much grounding in the Catholic religion. I was looking for answers as to why we're here, what's our purpose in life. The pressure of life got to me. There was so much pressure to look good and there were no morals, nothing solid inside me. I was all airy fairy on the outside but inside I knew there was something wrong. I wasn't settled."

She said she got to know a few Muslim girls, initially through friends in Dundalk and then through Facebook.

She spent the following three months studying Islam "nearly 24 hours a day, I was so excited about it".

As for work (at the time Smith was employed with the Defence Forces) she said despite her employer's "great support" of her decision to convert to Islam she was nonetheless planning a change of career. "My role as a Muslim woman is to be a housewife or to get a job working with other women. Working with men is not really a good thing for a Muslim woman."

She hoped to leave work in the following months, "if I find a suitable husband". Failing that, she planned to resign when her contract expired.

She shrugged off the possible loss of pension entitlements and suchlike, and said if she was not married by then she could look for a new, more suitable job. "Maybe something in childcare."

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