Tuesday 18 December 2018

Games can bring Travellers and settled people together -- Nevin

Shane Hickey and Caroline Crawford

OLYMPIC silver medallist John Joe Nevin has said he wants his legacy from the Games to be a closer relationship between Travellers and the settled community.

His comments came as the owner of a restaurant apologised profusely after a tweet making derogatory comments about Travellers was sent from his phone by another person as a prank.

Before his final fight on Saturday night, John Joe had called on pubs and bars in Mullingar to stay shut during his homecoming parade after a number of them refused to serve members of his family.

Yesterday, a spokesman for the boxer said he wants to work to bring together the settled and travelling communities in the Westmeath town and get children more involved in sports.

"He knows there was 7,000 people on the street and he is absolutely thrilled and shocked how many people turned out for him," the spokesman said.

His mother Winifred said John Joe was touched by the numbers who came out to support him and now wants to put the entire incident with the local pubs behind him.

"He's just going to concentrate on his boxing and forget about all that. He's not thinking about it now so much, he's letting it go.''

Winifred was joined by dozens of family members in the Covert bar outside Mullingar to cheer on the Olympian during his fight on Saturday night.

"It was tough to watch," she admitted, "I think I watched very little because I kept covering my eyes. He was up against a tough boy and he did great. I'm proud of him anyway. I'm his mom and I'm proud of him every day."

There were jubilant scenes in Mullingar as thousands gathered to cheer on their man. Flying flags and homemade posters for the young fighter,they sang and danced as they gathered up to an hour ahead of time.

Winifred said the crowds of supporters meant the world to John Joe. "I found that great because I wasn't expecting the crowds. I saw them on the TV and it was great."

Orla Foy attended the screening with her children Aaron (8), Soirse (6) and Ciara (5).

"I was going to watch it at home but I decided I wanted to join in and have the kids be part of it," she said.


Locals were delighted to see the mix of Travellers and settled fans celebrating.

"The social class issues are breaking down and it's all thanks to John Joe," said Ita O'Donnell from Mullingar, now living in Bristol. She and her daughters Anne and Elizabeth Cousell are back on holiday.

However, the celebrations and John Joe's call for unity came as a storm erupted on Twitter after a message was posted on the account of Dublin restaurant Herb Street.

The tweet said that while he had picked up the silver, his brothers would return later to take the copper and lead -- a clear slight on Travellers.

The restaurant, based in Grand Canal Dock, received phone calls and negative messages on social media as a result.

Restaurant owner Vinny Mullen said a man he was in the company of on Saturday night sent the message from his phone while he was in a pub toilet. He described it as a "very, very regrettable incident" and did not represent their views. "I think he (the man who sent the tweet) thought it was funny. I think he got a text on his phone, I was at the jacks and he decided to tweet it from my HerbStreet account which is a business account," he said.

"We are all a little bit tender because it does not represent us. The fact that it clearly looks like it comes from us is worrying."

The incident caused "quite a stir" according to Mr Mullen, with one person suggesting that people online should write negative reviews of Herb Street's food on the travel review website TripAdvisor. The offending tweet was subsequently removed and an apology placed online.

Irish Independent

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