Manchester’s Irish community sombre but stoic after attack

Over 34,000 in greater Manchester area identified themselves as Irish in 2011 census

Flowers are left in St Ann’s Square, Manchester, the day after an explosion tore through fans leaving a pop concert in Manchester. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA

Flowers are left in St Ann’s Square, Manchester, the day after an explosion tore through fans leaving a pop concert in Manchester. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA

 

Irish Mancunians evoked the same defiant spirit that swept the city after the 1996 IRA bombing in the wake of Monday night’s suicide bombing at a pop concert that killed 22 people and injured 59.

The mood in Manchester’s Irish community was sombre but stoic on Tuesday as people recalled how the city rallied after the devastating IRA bomb 21 years ago.

Sue Murphy, deputy leader of Manchester City Council, remembered billboards that appeared after the 1996 attack that encapsulated the spirit in the city: “You can take away our hearts but you cannot take away our soul.” That same determination remained in Manchester after Monday’s attack, she said.

“We learned that tragedies like that make us stronger as long as we stand together afterwards,” said Murphy, who is chair of the trustees at the Irish World Heritage Centre, a major events venue for the Irish community in Manchester. “It makes us even more determined to stand together in Manchester.”

The city had bounced back from the 1996 attack and would recover again after this one, she said.

“We experienced a dark day. It is a very shocking attack but we have had dark days in Manchester and we have always remained united,” said Murphy, the great-granddaughter of Irish emigrants.

“They tried the last time to divide us and they didn’t succeed then – and they won’t succeed now.”

Irish festival

John Flanagan, a local councillor and chair of Manchester’s Irish Festival, said that the city would not bow to the will of terrorists and that it would rally as it did after the IRA attack that injured 212 people.

“We have been here before, not to the same extent of the loss of lives. We are not going to be beaten by one individual or any individuals who think that they can divide our city and communities,” he said.

“The people who commit these atrocities want to drive communities apart, whether they are Irish or Muslim. They don’t want communities to live together in harmony but it is our job, not just politicians but everyone in this country, to ensure that this doesn’t happen.”

Members of Manchester’s vibrant Irish community reacted with shock at the attack at the end of the concert by US singer Ariana Grande on Monday that claimed the lives of young people including eight-year-old Saffie Rose Roussos, a primary school student from Lancashire.

“This attack does not relate to ethnicity or nationality; the attack last night was an attack on people,” said Sean Hackett, president of the GAA in Britain and a resident of Manchester for the last 17 years.

“People didn’t come home last night. There were school uniforms laid out for children that were not being put on this morning. What was an enjoyable night last night – maybe they were concert tickets given as a Christmas or birthday present – has turned into tragedy for so many families.”

There has been no word so far of any Irish people being caught up in the attack but the community here has thrown open its doors, like so many others in the city, to help those in need.

More than 34,000 people in the greater Manchester area identified themselves as Irish in the last census in 2011, though the number is thought to be far higher.

Support

Irish Community Care Manchester and the Irish Diaspora Foundation at the Irish World Heritage Centre offered support including refreshments and parking facilities to anyone affected by what British prime minister Theresa May called an “appalling, sickening” terrorist act.

Brian Kennedy, general operations manager at the Irish World Heritage Centre, which is a few kilometres from the Manchester Arena, said he has received no word of any Irish caught up in the attack.

“It is just absolutely unbelievable,” he said of the bombing. “These people are nothing better than cowards who are willing to waste their lives and the lives of others for their own ends.”

Kennedy described the city as “very quiet and subdued” after the attack and said that people were “a little bit on edge” with the evacuation of the Arndale shopping centre and the arrest of a man.

“We live in a multicultural society and we all get along with each other but obviously it takes one lunatic to upset people,” he said.

Rose Morris, chair of Irish Community Care Manchester, described the mood in Manchester as “very sombre”.

“People are just in shock,” she said.