Irish in Catalonia: ‘We could be in for some turbulent times’

Readers in the region describe what they witnessed during independence vote

As more than 800 people in Catalonia recover from injuries received during violent clashes over yesterday’s independence referendum, Irish Times Abroad readers living in the region have been sharing their observations and opinions on the vote and the violence.

Joe Denny, Barcelona: ‘Every day people have been feeling angrier’

The increased presence of guardia civil (Spanish national police force) in the Barcelona has been creating a lot of tension in the past week. There were raids on businesses that might be printing material relating to the election. Fourteen Catalan government officials - including a Catalan minister - were arrested. Every day people have been feeling angrier.

There is a form of demonstration here called a “Cacerolada”, whereby people take to the windows of their apartments at 10pm every night with a large saucepan and a wooden spoon, to make a loud noise. Every night since September 20th, the day of the arrests, there has been a “cacerolada” across Barcelona. In my neighbourhood it is impressive; the massive sound creates a mood of solidarity and defiance among those who participate. Each day it was getting bigger and louder. Not surprisingly, last night was the loudest. One way or another, people are making their dissatisfaction known. Regardless of what way they voted, or wanted to vote, people here are shocked and furious.

I went to my local polling station. As a non-citizen I was unable to vote, which I already knew, but I double-checked. The mood was light, civilised and respectful. There was no violence; two policemen were standing by, and a sit-in of a few hundred people around the school of those who already voted.


Today the mood is sombre. Everyone imagined it would be a complicated day, but the level of violence, so much of which was caught on camera, has everyone shocked. It doesn´t fit with what you expect in a civilised country in 2017.

This debate has been going on for so long, and I think a proper referendum would now be appropriate. However, a proper referendum would be a detailed plan of what a break-away from Spain would look like, what the impact would be to the country and its citizens, a clear plan on how it could happen, then a balanced debate from both sides. In all, it would be a concerted effort to empower the electorate to make a fully informed decision, which has never happened before. The antagonism by the government in Madrid has roused more and more emotion against Madrid, and in favour of Independentism. A comment I hear so often is, “who would want to be part of a country that behaves like that?”

Yesterday’s events, and the force used, have only gone several steps further to push people to want separation from Spain.

Maria Dalton, Barcelona: ‘It was joyous, seeing the older generations stepping out of wheelchairs to applause’

I have been living in Barcelona for 21 years where I teach English. I live with a Catalan and we have two sons. Tensions were high leading up to Sunday’s referendum. There was more police presence on the streets and WhatsApp groups were hopping with information on what was being done by the Spanish government to stop voting.

Yesterday, the world saw the images of blood-soaked elderly people, and others being pulled by the hair and ears down school stairs as they waited to cast their vote. Without any provocation, the Catalans were being violently attacked and the world saw at last how these two peoples are different, and why they don’t want to be painted with the same brush as them.

Despite anxiously waiting for an army of police, where we live the day was a marvellous one of community spirit. Tables and chairs lined the streets, and hot breakfasts, coffee and wine were given to the voters who came out at 5.30am to be sure they got their vote in. There was music and beautiful singing on the streets. Whole families took part. It was joyous, seeing the older generations stepping out of wheelchairs to applause and cheers. I cried.

People looked in shock and horror at videos and images of our neighbouring towns being attacked. It is sad it had come to this. Why?

Karl McGrath, Palamós: ‘We could be in for some turbulent times’

I live in a port town called Palamós on the Costa Brava. I came here originally to run an Irish pub, and having worked behind a bar for five and a half years, I have heard plenty of opinions on Catalunya and whether it should be a part of Spain or an independent state.

In this region opinion is, for the most part, in favour of independence and the locals claim they do not feel Spanish. Catalan is the language spoken around here, and Castellano Spanish only when necessary. When I showed FC Barcelona games in the bar, locals preferred commentary in French or English rather than Spanish. They would often bring a set of headphones and listen to Catalan commentary on the radio.

Reaction to the referendum was as one would expect. The majority of balconies in town had Catalan or “SÍ” flags flying from them, as most do all the time. In fact, I had never seen a Spanish flag flying from a residence here until one brave individual decided that the day of the referendum was the perfect time to hang one out.

The people who are not independistas are definitely the minority, and not as vocal. As events started to unfold yesterday and images of the brutality of the police in Girona and Barcelona were broadcast on TV and social media, anger began to rise, even amongst the anti-independence population. They too agree that Catalunya should be allowed to vote on independence, even if their intention would be to vote against it. People I spoke to who would have been on the fence or on the “No” side are now declaring themselves pro-independence. There is anger that there hasn’t been any real attempt at negotiation on the part of the government, only repeated statements declaring the referendum unconstitutional - as if the constitution cannot be changed.

I cannot believe how poorly the situation has been handled. If the “referendum” had been allowed to go ahead, and then subsequently declared to be null and void, there would have been some huffing and puffing and not much more. By employing their bully boy tactics the government has drawn a huge amount of international attention to the cause, and played right into the hands of the independence movement.

Even in Palamós, with a year round population of about 18,000, hundreds took to the street last night to sing pro-independence songs outside the town hall. If a legitimate referendum were to be held now there would be a much higher chance of the “SI” vote prevailing than would have been the case before October 1st.

It’s hard to see where things can go from here or how the relationship between Madrid and Catalunya can be repaired. The mood, at least in this northern part of Catalunya, is one of anger and resentment. If Rajoy’s government remain in power I don’t see any progress being made. Even my Madrileño friends, who obviously don’t want to witness the break-up of their country, are similarly disgusted and embarrassed at recent events. A change of government may possibly offer a chance at reconciliation and a peaceful approach to finding a solution. Otherwise, I think we could be in for some turbulent times.

Joan Gallagher, Sitges: ‘Rajoy has shot himself in the foot’

I live in Sitges and didn’t dare venture into Barcelona yesterday. I observed no violence or police brutality here but apparently Sitges was one of the exceptions. Being Irish, what I saw on TV and social media reminded me of our own Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972.

There is an atmosphere of disbelief, anger, determination and resilience here today. Those people who may have been on the fence with regards to Catalan independence, thanks to Mr Rajoy , today have their feet well and truly planted on the ground supporting it. In my opinion, Rajoy has shot himself in the foot by his actions yesterday. On Sunday October 1st, about 42 per cent of Catalans wanted independence; today, I think that percentage has increased dramatically.

The scenes yesterday in Barcelona and small towns and villages throughout Catalunya were reminiscent of Franco times. For many people here today, their pride in being Catalan has never been stronger, and being Irish, I have nothing but admiration for them. They held on to their language, culture and traditions even after Franco forbade them and murdered them for it. I’m proud to be an Irish woman living in Catalonia today.

Graham Murtagh, Barcelona: ‘At all times, a feeling of community and peace pervaded’

We live in a neighbourhood called Poblenou, near the beach and not far from the centre of the city. I work as a graphic designer. Our daughter’s school is a polling station and a weekend of events had been organised starting from after school day on Friday to keep it open and filled with people, should police arrive to seal it off. Parents occupied the interior yard and gym for two days and nights, aided by music and magician performances, board games, yoga workshops and a barbecue. At all times, a feeling of community and peace pervaded.

In the early hours of Sunday morning the crowd grew and grew, large numbers queuing in the dark and the rain waiting for the ballot boxes to arrive, which they did eventually to cheers of “Votarem” (We will vote). Initially there were problems with the internet connection, the early part of the morning was characterised by attempts to block the system online, but eventually they got it up and running to cheers from the waiting crowd. All through the day people queued around the block to vote, some stayed after casting their vote as support in numbers in case of police intervention. But the atmosphere was one of peaceful community unity, although people were obviously shocked at the scenes from other polling stations in the city. Thankfully, the day ended without anyone being hurt in Poblenou. The station then closed at 8pm to cheers.

A general strike has been called for tomorrow in protest to Madrid’s response to the referendum. The air of tension that increased as the day went on yesterday seems to have eased but confusion as to what happens next remains.

Patrick Bohan: 'The mood today is one of pride'

I moved to Barcelona in 1999. I work in a medical devices company. I do not have a vote, but accompanied my wife to vote in Badalona yesterday. There were no problems; the atmosphere was tense because everybody was aware of the police charges in other polling stations.

The mood today is one of pride; to have managed to pull off the logistics of the vote despite the crack-down by the central government, arrest of officials, closure of website and computer systems, and police brutality yesterday. I think elections to the Catalan parliament will be soon. It is possible that a candidate such as current Barcelona mayor, Ada Colau, could present on a ticket of negotiation with Madrid. The current Catalan administration will not, I think, be able to negotiate anything. There is a possibility of a unilateral declaration of independence but most people are aware that this will endanger the (apparent and tentative) sympathy emerging internationally.

Francis Barrett: 'Spain's government deserves international condemation'

I am an English teacher, and have lived in Catalonia since 1988. I have never been pro-independence, but was disgusted by Sunday's scenes of police brutality. The PP's Francoist roots are exposed, and Spain's government deserves international condemation. Very worried about the next few days.