Saturday 19 October 2019

'Kia Kaha... stay strong' - Irish cancel St Patrick's Day in NZ

Tributes to the dead at the Botanical Gardens in Christchurch (AP)
Tributes to the dead at the Botanical Gardens in Christchurch (AP)
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

The Irish tricolour will fly at half mast in Christchurch today as a mark of respect to those who died at the mosque massacre. Many of the St Patrick's Day celebrations, due to take place across New Zealand, are also being postponed and replaced by more subdued community gatherings.

But as the Muslim community mourn their loved ones, acts of charity, compassion and goodwill have begun to ripple out from the Irish community.

Irish Ambassador to New Zealand Peter Ryan said: "Traditionally, what is always the first St Patrick's Day parade in the world, due to the time zone difference, will not take place. We want to be in line with how everyone feels here. The gatherings this weekend will be very subdued as the Irish community want to show their love and respect to the Muslim community in Christchurch."

Mr Ryan, who described the local community as "stunned", said: "A major St Patrick's Day Mass will be held in Auckland and the Irish New Zealand society has reached out to the local Islamic centre to extend the hand of sympathy and friendship and to ask a representative from the centre to attend the service. That is being repeated in every Mass right across New Zealand this weekend."

Meanwhile Kieran McErlain, President of Christchurch Irish Society, said social gatherings will still take place today - in an act of defiance against the mass killer. "There was a lot of soul searching after Friday. We had numerous discussions about whether we should close the doors or remain open.

"The decision was made to remain open and offer our support to the community so people come in and have a cuppa and a chat.

"Personally, I feel that the actions of one individual should not hold us all to ransom. We expressed our condolences to the local Muslim community and as a sign of respect have flown the Irish flag at half mast for the duration of the weekend," he said.

On the local Irish sports teams, he said: "The members of the Canterbury GAA have postponed their Ladies and Men's football Championship finals as a mark of respect and they met and laid flowers at the memorial wall that has been set up in the town.

"The Irish community in New Zealand is a minority, much like that of the Muslim community and standing strong together is much more in tune [with what we feel is right] following the events that occurred on Friday.

"We have a condolences book here at the hall for members to sign and it will be presented to the local Muslim community. Ambassador Peter Ryan has also been in contact regarding support on behalf of the Irish Government for which we are grateful for and we will be arranging to lay a wreath as another sign of respect."

Citing a traditional Maori phrase used by the people of New Zealand, Mr McErlain added: "Kia Kaha... Stay Strong."

Meanwhile 25-year-old Cork woman Vicki O'Connor, who lives near the mosques where at least 50 people lost their lives, said she regularly sees the local Muslim community pass her home to attend their daily prayers.

"A lot of young children attended the mosque. Friday was always their busiest day too. It would have been a day when most people came to pray."

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