Former president says it’s ‘no time for silence’ on migrant rights

Bells ring out at churches across Ireland and internationally in support of refugees

Former president of Ireland Mary McAleese has urged Christians to speak out against against anti-immigrant sentiment as hundreds of church bells were rung on Sunday in Ireland and internationally in solidarity with refugees.

“This is no time for silence. There is a tide of malice and misery to be turned. If we are not to be consumed by it then we must confront it, name it, shame it,and proclaim the transcendent, the enduring power of the commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves,” she said.

Mrs McAleese was delivering the homily at the Church of Ireland Christ Church Cathedral in Waterford where she launched the "Joy of Bells" initiative by Dean of Waterford Maria Jansson. It has attracted support from all over Ireland and internationally.

“Hundreds of Christian churches all over this island and across the globe with many from other faiths and none, are joining us today, to make sure that message of loving tolerance reaches into as many hearts and minds as possible,” Mrs McAleese said.


“We ring the bells for all those who are on the move today fleeing famine, war, lack of opportunity and whose lives could be so simply transformed by a smile and a helping hand. We have the chance to make Ireland a light to the world in the example of tolerance and inclusion we give.”

Racism must be confronted, she said, “in the name of Patrick, the trafficked child kidnapped from his home and brought to a foreign land to work as a slave.

“We say it in the name of Patrick who escaped and became a refugee, in the name of Patrick who returned to Ireland as an immigrant, the most successful immigrant to Ireland of all time.

“We insist on tolerance for the refugee, for the immigrant, for the stranger among us, in the name of the millions of Irish, of our own people who knew the hardship and the hurt of being refugees from famine.

“We insist on tolerance for the immigrants and refugees who have made Ireland their homes, bringing the rich diversity of new cultures, faith and perspectives to our society, some living with trauma we cannot imagine,” and who “hope that the promise of the hundred thousand welcomes is not a fairy story”.

“We the children of Reformation and Counterreformation are joined today as one voice made up of many tones, like the bells themselves, but sending one singularly important shared message.”

She said it was "medieval Irish monks evangelizing throughout Europe who spread the practice of ringing church bells so it is particularly fitting on this St Patrick's weekend, as the first group of Syrian refugees settle into beautiful Ballaghadereen, that Ireland's oldest city, founded by Viking invaders, scene of many upheavals in its 11 centuries, should tell of it has learnt and what it believes, through what Victor Hugo called the dazzling tumult of bells."

Quotin Longfellow that “Church bells are the voice of the Church” she said “that voice is saying loud and clear that there is but one human race and every member of it is equal in dignity, entitled to respect and from Christians, entitled to expect the love that Christ commanded us to offer one another.

“The bells are drowning out the siren voices of racial and religious intolerance which are playing havoc with the lives of so many of God’s human family, making mothers and fathers heartsick and frightened for their children and for their future.”

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times