'This is just the beginning' - Thousands of Cork students demand action on climate change

Cork school students marching for action on climate change as part of the Global Climate Strike. Picture: Jack Squibb

This is just the beginning - that was the message from the 5,000-strong cohort of secondary school students who marched to demand action on climate change in Cork.

Thousands of students from dozens of Cork schools walked out of classes in solidarity with marches all over the world to send a simple message that enough is enough.

Following on from the lead of Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, students have protested outside City Hall in Cork for the last ten weeks to call for action on climate change.

Today's rally drew a huge turnout. Garda estimates put the numbers at between 4,000 and 5,000 people, with the centre of Cork city coming to a standstill as the marchers walked from Emmett Place to City Hall.

Homemade signs made the message clear: enough is enough, it's time to make a change.

Slogans like "the greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it" showed that these students have had enough. Others, like "the seas are rising - and so are we" made it clear that today's march was not just an excuse to skip school.

The atmosphere was more like a concert or a festival than a protest. There was drumming, chanting and singing from the second the students reached Emmet Place - many were there an hour before the rally even started - until they were met by the Lord Mayor outside Cork City Hall.

Students take part in a demonstration against climate change during a Friday Global Climate Strike in Parliament Square in London
Students take part in a demonstration against climate change during a Friday Global Climate Strike in Parliament Square in London

Organisers attempted to make speeches when the crowd stopped at City Hall but the cheering and chanting was so loud that they could barely be heard.

Outside City Hall, the crowd was so thick that all traffic came to a standstill and gardaí had to ask the organisers to disperse the crowd. Many started to filter away but hundreds remained to hear speakers and show their support.

Cork Educate Together student Samhain Mohally-Castellano was among those to address the crowd.

"This is just the beginning," she said. "We don't know how long it will last but it is incredible that so many people came and stood up for what they believe in. We heard about this movement and we were inspired to do something.

"It was incredible to get so many people: we didn't know if it would be 200 or 2,000. I believe that we can make a difference. They have to start listening to us."

The crowd drew a huge cross-section of support.

The vast majority of marchers were secondary school students but they were joined by third level students, local and national politicians - including Fine Gael Senator Jerry Buttimer and Labour TD Seán Sherlock - and hundreds of supporters, including many young children that had been brought along by their parents.

Chants of "change now" and "leave your carbon in the soil" could be heard as the crowd moved through Cork's main streets, bringing the working day to a standstill.

Another student, Maisie Morgan-Sutton, said that the support was encouraging.

"It is amazing," she said.

When we come together, it is amazing what we can do. If they don't start listening to us, we won't stop. We won't stop until there is a drastic change, until something is done.

Cian Farrell shared the sentiment.

"It is tragic: this is the biggest problem facing the world and it is kids who are the ones telling the government that something needs to be done," he said.

They need to wake up - they can't deny it anymore.

After meeting students outside City Hall, the Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Mick Finn said that he would pass their demands, which include a call for government to declare a climate emergency, onto national politicians.

"It is one of the biggest rallies I have ever seen," he said. "It's our planet and we all have to share it and live with the decisions we are making - or not making."

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