Ronan's Rant

Ronan McSherry

We were on the coffin ships

“Thousands are sailing across the western ocean to a land of opportunity that some of them will never see…” (’Thousands are Sailing’ by The Pogues).

The haunting memorial in Dublin depicts the victims of the famine

The haunting memorial in Dublin depicts the victims of the famine

As I don’t watch The Apprentice and most certainly do not read The Sun I had never heard of Katie Hopkins before she compared migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean with cockroaches.

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Most inconveniently for Ms Hopkins, hours after her column appeared, a fishing vessel packed with migrants capsized off the coast of Libya, with the loss of 800 lives.

The offending article should have carried a health warning… Be warned! the following excerpt from her article is highly offensive.

“No, I don’t care,” she wrote. “Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad. I still don’t care.

“Make no mistake, these migrants are like cockroaches. They might look a bit ‘Bob Geldof’s Ethiopia circa 1984’, but they are built to survive a nuclear bomb. They are survivors.”

Hopkins and the editor of The Sun have been reported to the police for incitement to racial hatred, a petition urging the paper to sack her has thus far amassed more than 275,000 signatures and it is reported plans for her to host a chat show have been ditched. Who would want to be a guest? Ugh!

Hopefully her days of spewing such bile are numbered.

There are many more like-minded people who do not have such access to a huge readership. They scurry about in the dark of night attacking migrants who escaped brutal regimes only to be… brutalised.

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And judging by the phone-ins there are also those in castles who believe the plight of those cramped into boats risking their lives for a new world are “not our problem governor.” Of course it is our problem. These are fellow human beings for God’s sake!

Say it quickly enough and 800 is only a number. So too a million, the number of people who died during the famine in this country. A further one million people emigrated, causing the island’s population to fall by a quarter.

Phil Chevron wrote of the coffin ships, “…the island it is silent now but the ghosts still haunt the waves and the torch lights up a famished man who fortune could not save..”

Try as the likes of Hopkins might to dehumanise people, everyone has a story to tell.

Dunbrody Famine Ship is a haunting tourist attraction in New Ross, Co Wexford. Centred on an authentic reproduction of an 1840’s emigrant vessel, it provides an incredible interpretation of the famine emigrant experience including costumed performers depicting the despair of famished families bidding to cross the Atlantic to the land of opportunity.

There was Mr and Mrs White from who knows where, who boarded the ship with their four children. Mother and father died of typhoid and no-one knows what became of their children. Harrowing accounts of the conditions appeared in the London Times of the desolation across the Irish sea however migrants slept on bags of grain that were being shipped out of Ireland while the people starved. Over 5,000 souls filled a huge cemetery on Grosse Isle, Canada, many who died en route. Aye, each one had a story. There is also an incredible museum on Ellis Island the gateway for millions of immigrants to the United States during the 19th century. Closeby is the Statue of Liberty holding the torch of freedom; hope.

A poem, ‘The New Colossus’ by Emma Lazarus is engraved on the pedestal of the statue; “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

Should the world be so welcoming. However the late acclaimed songwriter Lou Reed recognised the reality in ‘Dirty Boulevard’ as he penned, “Give me your hungry, your tired, your poor, I’ll p*ss on ’em, that’s what the Statue of Bigotry says, your poor huddled masses, let’s club ’em to death and get it over with and just dump ’em on the boulevard.”

A recent report by Oxfam criticised Ireland for not taking its fair share of asylum seekers from the Syrian crisis, a situation which Irish UN representative Peter Sutherland says also extends to the plight of Libyan and north African refugees.

Meanwhile Bernadette McAliskey co-ordinator of STEP (South Tyrone Empowerment Programme) in Dungannon, which supports migrants to the area, has suggested that every town and village here could and should take in a refugee family.

Not only should our brothers and sisters languishing on the Mediterranean be helped onto to dry land, they should be embraced, nourished and loved when they reach our shore. It’s called humanity.

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