Irish in Barcelona: ‘We knew the city would be hit sooner or later’

Snipers on rooftops have become a common sight at events in the city

Lydia Foster with her husband and daughter in Barcelona.

Lydia Foster with her husband and daughter in Barcelona.

 

The people of Spain are in shock after two apparent terrorist attacks on tourist hotspots in Barcelona and Cambrils. A suspected Islamist militant drove a van into a crowd on Las Ramblas in Barcelona, killing 13 people and wounding more than 100, while in Cambrils, five suspects have been killed after another van attack that left one dead and six injured.

Irish Times Abroad Network members living in Barcelona have been sending us their reaction to the attacks. To add yours, email abroad@irishtimes.com.

Lydia Foster: ‘We’re on tenterhooks about what to do’

I first heard news of the horrific van attack when my au pair’s mother called from Italy. I was visiting Poble Espanyol with my four-year-old daughter and au pair, only 3km from Las Ramblas. Our initial reaction was pure disbelief, but in some ways in my mind it confirmed a grave foreboding that I think all us locals have felt. Somehow, we knew Barcelona would be hit sooner or later.

Every time my Catalan husband and I met friends in Plaça Catalunya (particularly during major festivities such as Reyes or Easter), we had seen an increased police presence. He often commented about the snipers on the rooftops.

We stayed at Poble Espanyol for an hour after hearing the news yesterday, and then decided to drive back home to Cerdanyola on the other side of Tibidado. The Mossos had set up a large police check-point on the Ronda Literal, which was a reassuring presence which also heightened the feeling of unease.

‘Pray for Barcelona’: Crowds have gathered on Las Ramblas to pay tribute to the victims of the attack which killed 13 and injured more than 100. Photograph: Pascal Guyot/AFP/Getty Images
‘Pray for Barcelona’: Crowds have gathered on Las Ramblas to pay tribute to the victims of the attack which killed 13 and injured more than 100. Photograph: Pascal Guyot/AFP/Getty Images

At 3am we were woken with the news about Cambrils, another place we know intimately, as my in-laws have an apartment there. That and the explosion in Alcànar (near from where my husband comes from) have only confirmed that it was meant to be something much bigger, something that had been brewing and that the security forces knew would happen, just not where or when.

Today, we’re on tenterhooks about what to do, and how to go on with life. Our au pair has tickets to see the Sagrada Familia tomorrow (after waiting a month for an opening), but she’s unsure whether she wants to go, even if it does re-open.

I work as a Spanish, French and Catalan to English translator, and have been living in the city since 2004, when I came to do a postgrad in Universitat Pompeu Fabra. The attack doesn’t make me love Barcelona any less; as we’ve seen, terrorist attacks can happen anywhere, any time.

What I can be sure of, though, is that the Catalans will move forward, more determined than ever to not let it stop them. They are strong people whose national day celebrates a defeat, the last stand against the Bourbon king. They do not give in lightly. Tomorrow will be another day.

Angie Lee: 'The media has crossed beyond the lines of keeping people informed and strayed into sensationalism.'
Angie Lee: 'The media has strayed into sensationalism.'

Angie Lee: ‘Normality is exactly what is needed at times like these’

I’m currently in a café in the charming Gracia area, close to where yesterday’s incident occurred. Walking here, it was comforting to see people walking in the streets, kids playing football in the squares, and a “business as usual” atmosphere, except perhaps people are a little gentler towards each other today. It feels counterintuitive, but normality is exactly what is needed at times like these. The barbaric actions of a few cannot disrupt the lives of many.

I first heard of the attack yesterday when a friend in London texted to ask if I was ok. I noticed more people on their phones than usual and my attention was drawn to the sound of sirens and a helicopter overhead. Had I not read the news however, I don’t think I would have realised that something had occurred.

My sister was in town for the night and we cancelled our dinner plans on the advice from the authorities. I was lucky enough to spend the evening with her, my cousin, and a few close friends. We refrained from checking our phones and instead discussed the role of the media in reporting these attacks. I think the media has crossed beyond the lines of keeping people informed and strayed into sensationalism. Society needs news outlets to cover these events in a sensible way as inflammatory reporting promotes the actions of these indoctrinated individuals and creates a culture of fear.

It’s the 200th anniversary of the Fiestas de Gracia, an annual event where streets are decorated beyond recognition and people have dinner in the streets and dance outdoors every night. Last night the events were cancelled. Today, people are wandering around, marvelling at the displays, and enjoying the community spirit that motivates the festival. It is this spirit that will always overcome the hatred that was experienced yesterday.

Enda Murphy: ‘Nobody is going to live in fear. Life goes on’

I was walking down a street near Plaça Universitat, a few hundred metres from the Ramblas, when I started to see a steady stream of people walking briskly in my direction, some of them wiping tears from their eyes. Sensing something bad had taken place, I strolled over to a Turkish Kebab bar where I spotted a TV screen showing the breaking news.

Locals and tourists quickly began to gather around, trying to figure out what was happening. It was hard to see the television with the glare of the sun. The atmosphere felt a bit like watching a car crash. As soon as it became clear though that this was a serious terror attack, smiles faded. People began to make getaway plans. Rumours began to fly around that the attackers had taken people hostage in a bar. Everything now felt much more threatening. I decided to walk home and follow events from there.

For the rest of the day, as I watched the scale of the terror unfold on live television, WhatsApp buzzed with family and friends who wanted to make sure things were ok. Too grim to show on the news, I saw an incredibly gruesome video of the attack, which was being shared via group chats - it was horrible to watch. The people sharing these videos were politely asked to stop out of respect for the victims. It was truly a dreadful day for everyone living in and visiting Barcelona.

Today I was glad to see the city start to go back to normal. I took the metro, which was busy as always. I went to a packed Plaça Catalunya, where a minute’s silence was being held. It was impressive to see tens of thousands of people milling around the area, which yesterday had been a no-go zone. TV cameras were everywhere and the atmosphere felt halfway between a funeral and a movie premiere.

Placards with black ribbons hang on a kiosk in the area where a van crashed into pedestrians at Las Ramblas. Photograph: Sergio Perez/Reuters
Placards with black ribbons hang on a kiosk in the area where a van crashed into pedestrians at Las Ramblas. Photograph: Sergio Perez/Reuters

A gauntlet of curious onlookers formed around the corridor through which various high-level dignitaries were exiting the square on foot, or in blacked-out cars. Spain’s king, the prime minister, the Catalan president and Barcelona’s mayor each received rounds of applause. The most thunderous applause, however, seemed to be directed towards the police and ambulance services, with someone shouting out “viva la policia!”, which is not something you hear often in Barcelona.

After the police cleared the cordons and the square started to empty out, I walked down Las Ramblas. It almost felt like any summer’s day, except for the presence of TV cameras and the impromptu vigils that were popping up along the famous street, amid expensive cafes and souvenir stalls. The mood among the crowd was sad, calm, and defiant. Nobody is going to live in fear. That’s certainly how I feel now. Life goes on.

Bronagh Reade: 'We all silently admit, we are not surprised'

I live about 15 minutes walking distance from Cataluyna square, which leads right onto Las Ramblas boulevard down to the port. I was outside Barcelona yesterday and heard of the news through a good friend who had texted me at 5.30pm to see if I was ok. 

Since 2000, the Ramblas boulevard and surrounding areas have seen a drastic change, and it has become one of the most touristic streets in Barcelona, lined with 50 hotels and an abundance of restaurants and fast food joints. Even when I moved here in 1996, I was never keen on this area as there was often a certain uneasiness about it as you walked down the boulevard. 

Having said that, for the local people here, many years ago, it used to be one of the boulevards where the natives proudly paraded down in their "Sunday best" admiring its street artists, local flower and pet stalls . 

The mood here is of uncertainty, grief for all those innocent victims, and anger as to why this could not have been stopped. We feel helpless in this war. We question, once again, how is it that a young man and his comrades can be convinced to carry out such an atrocity? How does this come about? 

We all silently admit, we are not surprised; it had been a ticking time bomb here in Barcelona over the last two years. 

In the back of our minds we are all thinking, where and when will the next attack take place,  how many innocent lives will be taken, what our political leaders are going to do to stop the violence on all sides?

Joe Denny: 'I am hearing stories about kindness, solidarity and pride.'
Joe Denny: 'I am hearing stories about kindness, solidarity and pride.'

Joe Denny: 'Barcelona is in mourning today'

Like everyone I´ve had contact with in the last 24 hours, I feel shocked and upset about what happened  in Barcelona. I received many messages from friends asking if I was ok once the news broke. One friend commented – "this is the second time this summer I am asking you this, but are you ok?" It seems, in recent months only bad news comes from Barcelona. I am saddened by this.

I moved here 12 years ago, and it only struck me in the last 24 hours how fond and protective I feel towards Barcelona. It is a place that makes me feel safe and happy. I have a fantastic quality of life; every month the city gets cleaner, more advanced and more forward-thinking. Over time, I am seeing Barcelona as an increasingly user-friendly city. I even like the mayor.

With the summer of 2017 came a lot of bad news featuring Barcelona. The tourism crisis and some attacks on tourists, a fire at a music festival, multiple transport strikes, the increasingly heated and sometimes ugly debate about Catalan nationalism and independentism, and now most recently, terrorist attacks. So many people have visited the city, and who doesn´t love Barcelona? But in the international eye, I fear Barcelona is starting to become synonymous with problems – and now terrorism.

Barcelona is in mourning today. But as we hear more and more painful details about the attacks, I am hearing stories about kindness, solidarity and pride. The readiness of its citizens to show kindness to fellow human beings - many of whom were trapped for hours on roads and in buildings during the lockdown protocol - is news I hope gets heard everywhere. Barcelona will not buckle to terrorism, and Barcelona will recover. The Barceloneses are proud people – proud of the city, its values, its openness, its culture, its characters; proud at what a nice place it is to be in, and proud of their ability to celebrate it with neighbourhood festivals and carnivals.

Everything feels different in Barcelona today. We can barely process that anybody would be capable to do the things that were done. But Barcelona will recover. And there will be plenty of good news coming from Barcelona again.                                                                                                                                

Joan Gallagher, Sitges: ‘Our sons live in an apartment just metres from the attack’

We have lived in Sitges, about 40km from Barcelona, for 16 years. We moved here in 2001 with our four sons for a year and never went back. Two of our sons live in an apartment on Las Ramblas, just metres from where the attack happened, but they are ok. We also have a small studio on Carrer Tallers, which is also close by. They didn’t go home last night to sleep, and stayed with friends.

I am not in the city so I don’t have a first-hand view of what is going on there today, but there is a strong police presence here in Sitges. My husband is just back from visiting a town near Cambrils on business and there are serious traffic jams because of police checks.

‘Catalonia, place of peace’. Photograph: Sergio Perez/Reuters
‘Catalonia, place of peace’. Photograph: Sergio Perez/Reuters

I think among Catalans there is a deep sense of shock, as they thought it would never happen here, and that Madrid or other parts of Spain might get hit instead.

We were going to donate blood today as there was an appeal for extra supplies, but when I rang the local hospital they said they were in a state of chaos because so many people turned up. They asked us to wait until tomorrow.

Fiesta Major starts here on Sunday but the local government has just announced some of the events have been cancelled due to the three days of national mourning.

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