West Cork welcome for residents of Clonakilty Lodge Direct Provision centre

By Ciara McDonnell

Along with festive crackers, chocolate and a Christmas feast, a West Cork welcome was served up to guests enjoying a break from a local direct provision centre.

Monk's Lane, a Timoleague restaurant, was packed to the rafters with laughing children and doting parents - at the invitation of owners Gavin and Michelle Moore. The guests at this extra special luncheon are residents of Clonakilty Lodge Direct Provision (DP) centre.

Christmas lunch for residents of Clonakilty Direct Provision Centre hosted by Monk's Lane Restaurant, Timoleague, Co. Cork. Siobhán O'Mahony, a fundraiser for the residents of the centre, pictured with her son Jimmy. Picture: Denis Minihane.

The couple were inspired by Michelle’s sister, makeup artist Siobhan O’Mahony, who raised enough money over the last month to gift the mothers of Clonakilty lodge a €50 voucher per child to spend this Christmas.

Siobhan was part of a giving group which I established in October, to ensure that the 300 children living in DP centres across Cork county are given the Christmas they deserve. We wanted to give mothers the simple pleasure of buying their children gifts - something they do not have an opportunity to do while living on €21.60 per person per week.

Very quickly, the people of Cork responded, and soon friends came on board to fundraise for their local centres. Deirdre O’Shaughnessy and Lilly Higgins raised more than €5,000 for Glounthaune; Hazel Hurley raised enough money to gift 144 children at Drishane Castle in Millstreet this Christmas and Kate Durrant raised the money needed for the families at Mallow.

“The reaction to our campaign has been phenomenal,” says Siobhan. “One of the reasons I got involved is that we don’t have a lot of information about DP, a lot of locals don’t know what’s even going on up in the Lodge.”

Gavin and Michelle approached Siobhan with the idea of throwing a party to celebrate the holidays, and an open invitation was sent out to Clonakilty Lodge.

Not all residents felt able to take up on the kind offer, says Siobhan:

“There are huge issues with mental health amongst the residents of the Lodge, and in DP centres in general. There’s a huge issue with mental problems in DP, particularly depression, and a lack of understanding with how to cater for it. ”

Initiatives such as the meal at Monk's Lane are extremely important, says Jennifer DeWan of Nasc, the Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre:

We all know Christmas can be a difficult time when we are far away from family, and many asylum seekers living in DP – whether they celebrate Christmas or not – will be feeling that separation keenly at this time of year.

For Gavin and Michelle Moore of Monk's Lane, inviting the residents of Clonakilty Lodge to a festive lunch at their restaurant was a chance to reach out to the community living within their community:

“We wanted to let these people know that they are part of our community, and to do something that would give them a 'West Cork welcome' and put a smile on their faces this Christmas."

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