ABBEYLEIX sent out a warm céad mile fáilte to residents of the town’s Hibernian Direct Provision Centre at an uplifting and memorable community gathering.
More than 500 people packed into the parish hall for the welcoming event on Sunday 13 October, which aimed to promote cultural sharing and understanding between the local community and the town’s newest residents.
The centre on Main Street is ‘home’ to 66 children and adults from 20 different families, who come from a variety of nations ranging from Guatemala to South Africa and Syria.
Since arriving in the town more than a year ago, many have become involved in sporting groups such as Portlaoise Rugby Club and Abbeyleix GAA club and a variety of community and school activities.
On a special and meaningful afternoon, Fr Paddy Byrne, PP, officiated at a symbolic candle-lighting ceremony that reflected the coming together of diverse cultures in a positive and mutually supportive way.
The afternoon ‘gathering of nations’ was a life-enhancing experience for locals and new neighbours alike, as people shared food, music, songs and stories from a variety of cultures and got to know each other in a relaxed and understanding atmosphere.
Entertainment included wonderful performances by Spink comhaltas and the parish choir. The celebratory event also featured welcoming projects by local schools and was attended by representatives of social, heritage, sporting and voluntary groups. Speakers included former direct provision residents who have moved on to live fully integrated lives in the community, who were able to give valuable advice and hope to those following in their footsteps
Heartened by the success of the event, Fr Paddy said: “Although the new residents in Abbeyleix are locked into a system called direct provision, we want to ensure that they feel welcome and that they are experiencing warmth and a safe place. Most of the adults are professional people who are looking forward to getting processed so that they can look after their families and contribute to the community. They have so much to offer and we hope that they will always feel welcome here.”