WORLD HIJAB DAY 2014

In 1920s America it was considered socially unacceptable for women to smoke. The tobacco industry wasn’t happy about this because they were losing out on 50% of the potential market. And so, one day, a man called George Hill – the then president of the American Tobacco Corporation – approached a guy called Edward Bernays and asked him for help ‘to persuade women to smoke’.

Edward Bernays was the nephew of Sigmund Freud. He was also the founder of ‘public relations’. He was influenced by his uncle’s psychoanalysis and used it to transform objects into emotional symbols that tapped into unconscious desires and feelings. By organising a cunning publicity stunt which involved attractive young ladies smoking cigarettes as ‘torches of freedom’ he made smoking for women not only socially acceptable, but desirable. Sales of cigarettes rocketed.

The point here is that objects are rarely just objects. They are imbued with the significance of symbolism. A headcovering for aesthetic or functional (to keep the head warm) purposes is usually unproblematic but when a headcovering is connected to an idea or is a symbol it has the potential to rouse strong emotions and initiate vigorous debate.

Headcoverings are part of many cultures and religions but it’s the Islamic headscarf which has caused most controversy in recent years. Ultra-orthodox Jewish women are expected to cover their hair and generally do so by the wearing of a wig. Up to around the 1960s Irish women used to cover their hair with scarves and there is a ‘headcovering movement’ for Christian groups in the US who cite extracts from Corinthians.  None of these attract the same level of attention as the Islamic hijab.

The hijab is simply a piece of cloth that covers the hair (as opposed to the niqab which only leaves the eyes visible or the burqa which covers everything). The hijab is banned in France. In Turkey and Tunisia it’s not allowed in public buildings or schools. In Ireland, although there are no legal restrictions, it has been the subject of debate.

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Lorraine of the Muslim Sisters of Eire showing me how to fold the scarf

I’ve spoken to many Muslim women in Ireland, including Irish converts, who have felt discriminated against on the basis of wearing the hijab. I’ve met women who were stared at, called names, told to go home to their own country, who were forced to take off the hijab if they wanted certain jobs and who were even spat at. One Irish convert stopped wearing the hijab because of how she was treated in her social circles.
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And so, when I got a phonecall last week from Lorraine of the Muslim Sisters of Eire asking me to wear the hijab for World Hijab Day ‘to walk in their shoes for a day’, I was delighted.

On Tuesday I headed up along the motorway that brackets Dublin and
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With some of the Muslim Sisters of Eire with my first hijab

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A shoe box filled by the Muslim Sisters of Eire for the Syrian shoe-box appeal

The room was cold and bare. Around eight colourful prayer mats were facing one of the corners. There were just three other women there when I arrived – all seated on the floor close to the radiator which was just heating up. But the room filled up to about a dozen women and a handful of young children and babies. A talk was given by one of the ‘sisters’ about ‘manners in the mosque’. It included instructions not to eat garlic or onion before going to the mosque and to not go with smelly socks either.

After the lesson Lorraine showed me how to fold my scarf and wrapped it around my head. It was my first time ever wearing a proper hijab. My immediate impression was that it felt surprisingly snug and that my hearing changed. Sounds were slightly numbed by the cloth against my ear. The women told me that I’d get used to that. They smiled when they saw me with the hijab on and told me it looked good on me ‘mashallah’ (which I think is the equivalent of ‘thank God’). I headed off as the women sat down to wrap dozens of shoe boxes that they had filled with goods for people in Syria.

Later, at home, I watched a few videos online about how to wear a hijab. All the hijabs looked beautiful and stylish. My cotton green pashmina seemed plain by comparison. I searched online for where to buy hijabs in Dublin but had no success so I decided to make do.

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Me trying to photograph myself on World Hijab Day

Saturday morning was stormy so my intention to visit the nearby Marlay Park market was scrapped. We were planning on a traditional Irish dinner of bacon and cabbage with a glass of wine for dinner so my husband did the dinner shopping as I reckoned it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to buy pork or alcohol whilst wearing the hijab.

It took me a few trial runs to get the hijab on snuggly. Then I set off myself to a supermarket nearby to get a few things and to gauge reaction. I did feel slightly nervous as I drove there. I’d no idea if people would react or not. But no-one even noticed me.

Then I headed down to Dundrum Shopping Centre. I didn’t actually need to buy anything and purely went for research purposes. I noticed two or three people looking at me but their looks were curious rather than malevolent.  Usually no-one pays me any attention so it was novel to have anyone looking at me. I was hot in the hijab and reckoned I looked more like a pre-Vatican II nun than a Muslim lady.

I did have an idea that because I was wearing the hijab that I was meant to be invisible to men or that the hijab conferred upon me an invisible boundary of ‘don’t come near me’. So when a male shop assistant asked me if I needed help with anything I was taken aback and almost recoiled.

Later on that night I was in town but again, attracted no attention. Someone told me that the reaction depends a lot on the area. Next year I’ll be braver and venture into other areas but for now that was my experience of World Hijab Day this year.

For the day I felt an affinity with Muslim women all over the world and temporarily felt part of the great Muslim sisterhood – more so, even, than when I fasted for Ramadan last summer.

I did a search of the Quran to find verses relating to the hijab and did find a few verses about veils and clothing but nothing explicit to say that the hair should be covered but I’m not an expert and as a non-Muslim am not qualified to interpret the verses.

The debate about the hijab is essentially a power struggle about control of the meaning of the symbol. The hijab means different things for different people – its symbolism depends on cultural and religious perspective, gender, geographical location and social norms. For some it’s a symbol of faith and piety, for others it’s linked to oppression and patriarchy, and for some it’s about liberation, pride, beauty, sisterhood, a celebration of cultural difference or escape from Americanisation.

There is no one way to wear it, no one way to view it and no one way to decide on what the wearing of it means. For World Hijab Day 2014, it was my pleasure to ‘walk in the shoes of Muslim women’ in Ireland. And maybe next year I’ll do it again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A shoe box wrapped and labelled and filled with things – all newly bought

 

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The inside of one shoe-box – this one had toys inside. Others had shoes, a coat, hairbrush, vaseline, toothbrushes, clothes, chocolate bars. Lids had to be wrapped separate so that customs officials could open the boxes

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Goods ready to be packed into the shoe boxes. One woman I met had spent over €150 euro with her family on goods to fill boxes.

 

 

 

The Bhagavad Gita

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The Bhagavad Gita

When I was interviewed on the Ray D’Arcy radio show last year Ray recommended that I read a book called ‘Beyond Belief’ by Jenna Miscavige Hill. The book is about a former Scientologist who lifted the lid on her life inside Scientology. It was, I think, Ray’s attempt to show me the dangers of religion and of religious belief.

I responded (uninvitedly but immediately) with a recommendation of my own  – ‘The Bhagavad Gita’, an ancient Hindu scripture which I had read for the first time in its entirety last winter. It was, I think, my attempt to show him the wisdom or beauty of some religious texts or beliefs.

Afterwards, when I got home, I realised that the Gita, as it is often called, was probably not a great choice. Within the book there is mention of things like ‘divinity’ and ‘god’ and ‘spirituality’ and ‘the divine within’. Dirty words. For some.

In today’s emerging post-Catholic Ireland, a new atheistic fervour is burgeoning. Certain conversations or words, in some circles, initiate or even unwittingly invite ridicule. I would suggest that ‘coming out’ as an atheist is now passé, the new ‘coming out’ is for those who have faith. Meaning it is, these days, sometimes a brave ‘admission’.

This cutting down of conversation means there are new conversational boundaries and social norms in relation to religion or religious belief. It also means that certain texts and ideas which could open up interesting discussions are consigned to the dung-hill-heap. And this is a shame. The Bhagavad Gita, in this new Ireland, is tricky because of the ideas and words it contains. It requires a freeze-frame of preconceptions and perceptions of ‘divinity’ or what is divine in order for a reading of it to be worthwhile or enjoyable.

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God in the sky – 15th century painting ‘The Annunciation’ by Jacques Yverni on display in the National Gallery of Ireland

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Little but powerful god in the sky – ‘The Virgin Invoking God to Heal the Hand of Pope Leo I’, 15th century painting by Antonia Romano, on display in the National Gallery of Ireland

In the National Gallery recently I saw paintings from the 15th century. Where god was portrayed as a white skinned, blue-eyed, bearded MAN, looking down on earth from up in the skies. God as a ‘supernatural being’. Such a simplistic definition of the divine lends itself easily to atheistic leanings.

Words can be tricky things. The idea of ‘god’. Labels depend on perspective. On how ‘god’ is defined. The idea of ‘god’ changes over time and space. As does the idea of ‘love’. The Hollywood ‘Notebook’ notion of love is different to love as it is lived. For most. So can it be possible to discuss the ‘idea’ of god without any assumption of belief?

On to the Bhagavad Gita.

The Gita is one of the (arguably the) most important and influential texts of Hinduism. Composed a long long time ago it is just one part of a huge Hindu epic called the Mahabharata. The Gita is set on a battlefield and is focused on a conversation between a man called Arjuna and his charioteer who is Krishna, an avatar or embodied divine being.

When Gandhi died one of his very few possessions was a copy of the Gita. It’s the key text for the Hare Krishna movement. It’s also influenced a host of western thinkers including Henry David Thoreau.

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Hindu Cultural Centre of Ireland, Rosse Court, Lucan

And so, today, I headed off to the new Hindu Cultural Centre of Ireland in Lucan where, every Sunday, there is a talk about the Bhagavad Gita.

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Shrine area

The HCCI centre in Lucan is located in a small flat-roof building rented for use as a temple and cultural space. There are around 10,000 Hindus living in Ireland there is no purpose built Hindu temple – this is the closest they have to it.

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Swami Purnananda

The main room of the building has a large shrine area where there are lots of idols of different gods (or aspects of the divine). The idols are made of marble and hand carved in India.

There was some confusion today about keys and the building was late opening for the talk which was due to start at 2.30. There were about five people attending the talk which was given by a guy called Swami Purnananda who was wearing orange robes and a white-ish beard and had blue eyes and is originally from Zimbabwe and has been a monk since 1970.

The event officially began with everyone chanting ‘om’ together three times and then a recitation of a mantra called the Gayatri mantra. Then Swami Purnananda began his talk by saying that today is an important day as it is the 30th National Youth Day in India and that it is the birthday of Swami Vivekenanda. He said that he himself belongs to Vivekenanda’s tradition. (Vivekenanda is attributed with bringing Hinduism to the west and he gave a real important talk at the 1893 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago.)

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Tables with offerings and lamps in front of some of the idols

Swami Purananda talks about the god debate – saying it’s an important debate in the occident but not so important in the orient. He says that ‘in Hinduism theoretically there is no requirement for god’. He talks about the importance of concentration and the ability to not be easily distracted.

A man comes into the temple in his black-stockinged feet and rings the bell at the entrance to the shrine area, clears away empty night-light holders from in front of the idols. He then lights fresh little candles and places one in front of each idol. Another man reads from the Gita in Sanskrit and the swami translates and gives some interpretation. They are reading from chapter 10. It is their third week covering chapter 10. There are 18 chapters in the Gita in total.

The talk today finished promptly at 3.30 as a group, new to the temple, arrived. The new group were all connected to Kerala in India and told someone that up to now they had met to worship in a space over a supermarket in Lucan. News of the new temple, it seems, is still only reaching some of the Hindu community of Ireland.

Beyond talk of god and divinity, the Bhagavad Gita talks about selfless action, impermanence, reality, duty, ego, peace, detachment,  greed, fear, anger, karma, reincarnation, death.

If I could turn back time, not like Cher (and apologies for putting the song in your heads) I would instead recommend to Ray ‘Chuang Tzu In a Nutshell’. No mention of god or divine in that one. Much easier to discuss a thing called ‘the way’. Taoism. But the message seems the same. The butterfly life of illusion and no need to grieve a dream.

Some quotes from the Bhagavad Gita

‘Do your worldly duty, but do it without any attachment to it or desire for its fruits’.

‘Meet the inevitable good and bad of life with an even mind’.

‘Concentrate on freeing yourself from the tyranny of the so-called pairs of opposites. Release yourself from always trying to evaluate and judge everything. Disentangle from your habit pattern of seeing things as good or bad, lovable or hateful, pleasant or painful, and so forth’.

‘Work performed with anxiety about results is far inferior to work done in a state of calmness’.

(There are many different versions and translations of the Bhagavad Gita – I have ‘The Bhagavad Gita; A Walkthrough for Westerners’ by Jack Hawley which was recommended to me by my cousin Shelagh who teaches Hindu philosophy for yoga teachers).

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Idols representing aspects of the divine – note the ‘om’ symbol and the swastika (which Hitler adopted and twisted the meaning of)

 

 

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Kali

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Durga

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Door into temple entrance

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A poster in a window – visible from outside – the only indication that the building is used as a temple/Hindu cultural centre

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Ganesh

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Shiva and Parvati

 

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Krishna and Radha

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Shiva Parvati Lingam Yoni

A levitating Hindu yogi on Grafton Street

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Levitating on Grafton Street

Last week a Hindu friend of mine sent me a photograph of a man who was levitating in the middle of Grafton Street in Dublin city centre. The levitator was wearing the orange-robes of a Hindu holy man but was pale skinned and blue-eyed. My friend also sent me the levitator’s name (Ananda) and phone number.

I call the number and a South African-accented man answers. He tells me he is only in Dublin for a few days, that he lives in Cork. We arrange to meet. He suggests McDonalds. I am surprised.

And so this morning I head into town armed with a spiral bound notebook and we meet in McDonalds. We sit in the café section. An elderly woman sitting next to us seems to be eavesdropping and throws me occasional dirty looks as the conversation progresses.

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Ananda-Emil in casual clothes in McDonalds

Ananda is wearing a black jacket and black trousers and his long hair is held up on the back of his head, tied up with his one dreadlock. He tells me his real name is Emil. He has a small black backpack beside him.

‘I’m a world traveller’ he says. ‘I’ve been travelling for 25 years looking for a place to settle and haven’t found a place yet so I’ve settled in myself’.

He tells me that he started life in South Africa as a Christian ‘but that didn’t really do it for me and then I looked into Hinduism and that didn’t do it for me either’. So now he does his own thing. He was even a Hindu monk or yogi for a time.

He quit life as a monk because, he says, he was disappointed by his teachers. ‘They were supposed to be vegetarian and spiritual and I caught one of them doing something very far removed from the path they were teaching. I’m not going to say what it was. But I left immediately. Then I met a person who taught me what I know now’. This person, he says, was an African from a remote village.

These days Ananda lives on a farm in West Cork, makes his own electricity and lives 20 minutes walk from the nearest road. He uses a thing called ‘woofing’ whereby people come and stay on the farm and help him with the work in exchange for accommodation. He spends three or four days a month in Dublin and this is when he levitates. He tells me that he’s not vegetarian. For the moment he is celibate (but not tied to it as a life choice).

He says that in his country it is said that those who are born with a helmet on their head are called to a spiritual life. It seems the ‘helmet’ is what in Ireland is known as a ‘caul’ or ‘cowl’ which is a kind of membrane that sometimes covers the head of a baby after birth. In South Africa it is said that a spiritual life is unavoidable for people born with this helmet.

I myself once worked with a woman from county Cork who’d been born with a ‘caul’ and it was seen as a precious thing because a caul meant a person couldn’t drown. As a child she kept her caul in a shoebox under her bed. It looked like shrivelled skin. She used to bring friends upstairs, pull out the shoebox and proudly show them the caul. Fishermen or sailors sometimes used to buy cauls in the hopes it would keep them safe.

Regardless of the reason why, Ananda has spent a lot of his life searching for spiritual answers. He talks about different dimensions of being – physical, mental, spiritual, astral. He mentions twelve dimensions and says that these are not removed from god but lead to god. He says he is ‘very involved in spiritual things’.

So what about the levitation? ‘It’s an illusion’ he tells me. ‘I can’t levitate. No-one can really levitate. I saw it in India and it’s very simple to do. It’s the same as what the yogis or sadhus in India do. They fake it. In all religions there are people who make use of religion to make money’.

Ananda then tells me about an Indian guy called Basava Premanand who spent most of his life exposing the tricks of holy men in India and then sending people out onto the streets to perform the tricks. ‘There’s a lot of trickery in the Christian revival movement too’ he says.

On Grafton street when he ‘levitates’ he sometimes has a crowd of hundreds around him. He says people respond in all kinds of ways  – ‘disbelief, aggression, anger, jealousy’. He’s also been attacked but, he says, looking bemused, ‘I’ve only been attacked by women not men’.

‘Why do they attack you?’ I ask him. ‘I think it’s too much for them to comprehend’ he explains. ‘I allow them to take pictures and to check underneath. It’s very well done’.

I chance my arm – ‘you’d hardly tell me how it’s done?’ ‘No’ he says, smiling, ‘I don’t tell the secret’.

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The tiny piece of paper Ananda hands out to people who watch him levitating

So why do the levitation trick? ‘It’s something I do. I enjoy it. It makes people happy. It makes people sad. I make good money. And I give something in return’.

He pulls a little piece of white paper from his pocket and hands it to me. This is what he gives to people who watch him. It says ‘smile, be happy’. ‘The simple order in life’ he says ‘is smile and be happy and don’t think too much’.

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Ananda waiting for his ‘busking’ spot on Grafton Street to set up his levitation

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A wet January day on Grafton Street, Dublin

Dublin Unitarian Church

It’s a December evening in Dublin. It’s almost four o’clock and it’s dark and the rain is pelting down. I’m running up the side of Stephen’s green as fast as I can. People are huddled in doorways waiting for the heavier rain to pass. I’m flying past them all, belting my way up against the wind towards the Unitarian church on Stephen’s Green where I’ve an appointment to meet the minister, Brigid Spain, at 4. I can feel a coldness on my feet as my shoes start leaking. My trousers are stuck to my legs. I reach the church, ring the bell and the huge heavy wooden doorway opens into light and heat and the welcoming smile of Reverend Briget Spain.

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Reverend Briget Spain at the front door of the Unitarian church on Stephen’s Green, Dublin

Dublin’s Unitarian Church has a fascinating four-hundred-year(ish)  history in Ireland but this year is a significant anniversary for the church. The Gothic Revival building where the church is housed is marking its 150th anniversary.

Reverend Briget Spain is the first female minister of the church in the Republic of Ireland. She’s middle aged and is married with children and has been minister here for three years.

We walk inside and step up the stone stairs and I peel off my saturated coat and leave it by the heater in the hallway to dry. Inside the church the lights are off and we look at the stained glass windows, visible against the city-light behind the darkness.

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The stained glass windows of the Unitarian Church pictured on a December evening

Briget switches on the full lights and I sit in a pew as she tells me a little about what’s happening in the church these days.

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The plain decor of inside the church – Christmas tree visible (and angels too)

The church itself is quite plain inside. Simply coloured walls. No statues or pictures. Dark-coloured pews. “There are angels but no crucifixes” Briget says as we look around the walls. (The angels are up on the roof under the rafters). There’s a Christmas tree with presents underneath.

The Unitarian church has its roots in Christianity and the Reformation but it has changed quite a lot since its inception.

“We don’t have rules that people are required to follow and we don’t have a creed that we impose or that people have to believe” Briget explains to me.

In the Unitarian Church there’s no belief in the Trinity; Jesus is believed to have been an inspired teacher, a man; Mary isn’t honoured; readings are often secular; baby welcoming ceremonies are held to celebrate the arrival of children to the world and there are female and gay ministers.

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One of the angels that sits atop the pillars

“Is there a belief in the divine?” I ask.

“There is a belief in the divine” she tells me “but it’s not imposed and the divine is not defined and some people here would be atheistic”.

“We don’t follow a liturgy” she goes on to explain. “Originally it was the Bible only but now we use whatever we find useful”.

At last week’s Sunday service, for example, there were readings of pieces by by G. K. Chesterton, Pam Ayres, Dylan Thomas, Andrew Greeley and a piece from Luke’s gospel. Briget says they read what they feel like reading and it could even be readings from Hindu scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita or talks about Buddhism or other religions. Earlier this year they had a Muslim lady speak to them.

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Reverend Briget Spain inside the church

“Most are familiar with the teachings of Jesus but would say that Jesus didn’t say anything original. Jesus said “love your neighbour”. Confucious, 500 years before Jesus, had the Golden Rule which was the same thing. And in Judaism Rabbi Hillel when asked to teach the entire Torah while standing on one foot said “what is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour””.

“Is there communion?”

“We have communion rarely” she tells me. “We have it when there are five Sundays in the month and then it’s just about sharing bread and wine together”.

Remarkably, (considering the statistics relating to other churches in Ireland) the congregation is growing. “In 1996 there would have been around 20 or 25 here on a Sunday” she says. “Now we have around 120 most weeks.”  Most of the congregation are Irish and are “mainly recovering Catholics and disaffected protestants”.

They have no holy days but there will be a service on Christmas Day. They do say prayers but the prayers can change over time – currently they are debating the use of the Our Father with some members believing it to be a bit “out of date”.

We’re sitting in the pews chatting and the wind suddenly picks up and the roof creaks. Then we hear the sound of water dripping inside. Rain has started coming in one of the windows. “At least it’s not the prevailing wind” says Briget happily. “It does come in that window sometimes”.

A man called Charlie comes in and explains to Briget that he’s looking for a bag of bread he thought he left earlier. It’s not there. Charlie says that if anyone finds it over the next few days they are welcome to it. Briget explains that on Wednesdays they have a lunchtime meditation.

As well as Sunday service and Wednesday meditation the church is open for baptisms and weddings and same-sex blessings too. For the baptisms Briget explains that they do use water “but we’re not washing away sin”.

“This year we had around 75 baptisms for children of parents who weren’t members of the church. They want a service to mark the birth of a child – a service of thanksgiving and welcome. It’s getting more popular”.

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The 102 year old organ at the back of the church which is currently undergoing restoration with fund-raising underway

Briget also says that this year she was hearing new things from people who were phoning up looking for the baby welcoming ceremonies. “I had never heard it before. People were phoning up saying that they were brought up Catholic but wanted nothing more to do with the church anymore. I’ve also had grandmothers coming up to me after the baptisms saying “my child had no sin either””. She senses changes in the attitudes of many people towards Catholicism.

I’m anxious to get to the heart of the belief system of the Unitarian Church. I probe Briget for answers to questions on dogma and truths and practice. I ask her if she could sum up the teachings of the church in one sentence (a bit like Rabbi Hillel on his one foot).

“I could sum it up for myself but not on behalf of the members” she replies.

“We are searchers. We don’t claim to know all the truth. Most churches have their truth that is set is stone, that they are imparting and want people to believe. We say our ideas of truth change all the time and they change with knowledge”.

She reads me some lines which she says are recited at Sunday services: “Love is the doctrine of this church, the question of truth is its sacrament and service is its prayer. To dwell together in peace, to seek knowledge in freedom, to serve mankind in fellowship, to the end that all souls shall grow in harmony with the divine. This do we covenant with each other and with god”.

The rain has eased when we finish chatting and I make a promise that I’ll return for a service. “If I had a penny for every time someone has said that to me” she laughs.

Out in the foyer my coat has dried by the heater. Briget opens the big black door and I’m out into the storm again but the rain has eased enough for me to take a few photographs from the far side of the Luas line.

On the way home I’m thinking of all the people I know who would like to have baby welcoming ceremonies here…

 

 

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Taken from inside the hymn book – summing up some of the beliefs of the Unitarian Church

 

 

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Christmas tree with presents underneath donated by members for charity. One Sunday in every four the weekly collection is also given to charity

 

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The Unitarian Church, Stephen’s Green, Dublin – wet December evening

 

Lady Olivia Robertson and the Fellowship of Isis

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Lady Olivia Robertson and her brother Lawrence of the Fellowship of Isis

Lady Olivia Robertson of Huntington Castle in Clonegal, County Carlow, Ireland, died earlier this month aged 96. She was one of the founders of a group called the Fellowship of Isis – an organisation devoted to the worship of the divine feminine.

The dungeons of the castle were transformed into a large ‘temple’ filled with shrines, statues and small rooms dedicated to various forms of the divine goddess. It also had a holy well.

I visited the castle just a few times. The last time I was there I recorded a short interview with Lady Olivia. Part of this interview is included in the very first section of this short programme which was broadcast on Newstalk in 2008. The second half of this piece is at Dzogchen Beara Buddhist retreat centre in west Cork.

Her obituary was published in the Telegraph today. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/10468198/Olivia-Robertson-Obituary.html

Secular Sunday Brunch with Atheist Ireland

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The ‘Secularism, Atheism, Humanism’ stall set up by Brendan Maher (centre), of Atheist Ireland, outside the GPO on O’Connell Street in Dublin [photo taken from internet] L-R: Jon Pierson, Maureen Meleady, Brendan Maher, Jane Donnelly and Michael Nugent

“One man came up to me and asked “what’s secularism? Is it some sort of sex thing?”

It’s a cold bright Sunday morning in November and I’m in the lobby area of the Trinity Capital Hotel in Dublin’s city centre talking to a man called Brendan Maher. He’s with a small group of people from Atheist Ireland who have met up for their monthly Secular Sunday Brunch. Brendan is telling me about the stall he set up on O’Connell Street last year promoting secularism, atheism and humanism.

“I set up the stall on the 6th of October 2012” he tells me. He had seen lots of street preachers in the area from different religions – Islam, Christianity, Mormonism, Scientology, Falun Gong, Jehovah’s Witnesses – and he had engaged with them all and then decided that there had to be an alternative voice. “So I bought a table” he says “it cost me €30 or €40 and it was the first stall of its kind in the world”.

He tells me that he was extremely nervous the first Saturday. “I had no idea what would happen” he says. “Would I be arrested? Stoned? Here were all these other people talking about their gods and here am I saying “that’s all rubbish””.

The stall is outside the GPO in Dublin City Centre on the first Saturday of every month. Brendan says they don’t approach people and they don’t try to give out information but instead that they let people come to them.

“Overall the reaction has been positive” he says “although Muslims see me as the anti-christ”. He’s also been told many times that he’ll go to hell “one Texan millionaire guy said to me “all I can do is pray for you”. Around 60 to 100 pieces of literature are taken from the stall each Saturday” he says “and I talk to around 40 people a day. I enjoy it, it’s great fun”.

When I arrive at the hotel there are only about five people gathered but more arrive and soon there are twelve. There’s only one woman besides myself and she tells me that the gender balance isn’t usually like this, that there are usually more women. Two more women arrive a while later.

Atheist Ireland was set up around five years ago as an organisation to promote atheism, reason and ethical secularism. Its chairperson, Michael Nugent, who is at the lunch, tells me that there’s a lot of misinformation and misunderstandings about atheism.

“Religious people assume atheists have specific answers and at the same time they haven’t thought of the implications of their own belief” he explains. “Most atheists say we don’t know, instead of inventing explanations.”

He says people sometimes pose the question “how did the universe begin?” as though it’s a trump card proving the existence of god. “Our answer is that we don’t know how the universe began, and neither do religious people, but everything that we do know about the universe suggests that it is likely to be yet another in a long line of natural explanations, rather than an invented supernatural explanation.”

Another question he is asked is “what happens when we die?” He tells me that he sometimes counters this question by asking “what happens when dogs die?” A few other members of the group then ask jokingly “what about cats? Caterpillars?”

There’s plenty of jokes and laughter during the lunch. At one point I say I might not stay for food and one man sardonically tells me they won’t be eating babies. I stay for food.

I ask if the secular Sunday brunch is open to religious people and I’m told “if they are accompanied by responsible adults”. More laughter. On a serious note, they say that everyone is welcome to come along.

Atheist Ireland is currently fundraising to develop a course on atheism and humanism which is to be piloted in Educate Together schools. They have raised €4,000 of the €10,000 needed for the course. They are hoping the course will start officially in 2015. “God willing” one man says. More laughter.

I ask what books they would recommend for people who are interested in atheism or ethical secularism and one man says “Scooby Doo”. Another says “The Wizard of Oz”. I think they are joking but they are serious. “Just peep under the curtain” one man explains. Other authors are listed: Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Bertrand Russell, Mark Twain.

The conversation ranges widely during the lunch – from religious issues to pets, procrastination and the current Constitutional Convention. There are also stories of “coming out” as atheist, discussions about religious education in Ireland, discrimination against atheists, their O’Connell Street stall, and the story of one woman who lost her lift home from a friend after posting a picture on Facebook of Jesus on a trampoline bouncing to heaven.

The chairperson, Michael Nugent, tells me about an event he attended in Limerick last year when two theologians said “atheists aren’t fully human”. There’s also talk of the new atheist church, Sunday Assembly, which held its first ever Dublin event at the beginning of the month.

The Sunday Assembly is basically a church without god. It was set up in London earlier this year by comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans and now their vision is expanding with the idea to open branches in towns and cities around the world. At the church in Dublin last week they sang songs such as ‘All you Need Is Love’, and ‘Get By with a Little Help from My Friends’. There was also a talk and a minute’s silence. There are plans to hold regular gatherings.

The church is not connected with Atheist Ireland but a few members of A.I. did attend and there’s mixed reaction – including questioning the inclusion of the U2 song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” as it contains the lyrics “I believe in the kingdom come”. Another guy said he thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

The national census of Ireland in 2011 recorded 3,905 people who self-identified as atheists. However, the number had jumped so much from 2006 (when the category numbered 929) that atheism has now become the fastest growing ‘religion’ in Ireland. Atheist Ireland themselves suggest that the real number of atheists may be closer to the 270,000 who ticked the ‘No Religion’ box on the census.

Atheist Ireland currently have around 300 paid up members and around 2000 Facebook members. As well as the once-a-month Secular Sunday Brunch they have meetings, take part in debates and discussions and are politically active by making submissions on government policies (including on issues of education and health) and campaigning for human rights and equality issues.

Most recently they took part in the Constitutional Convention on blasphemy laws and Jane Donnelly, Human Rights Officer with Atheist Ireland, is now working on a submission relating to the legal discrimination of atheists and secular citizens in areas of health and education in Ireland which will be submitted to the Equality Authority.

Atheism is not a unified belief system – there are many diverse strands – and Atheist Ireland is more than an organisation for people who do not believe in a god or gods. It’s a community, a forum for discussion and perhaps most importantly it’s a politically active group who seek change and who campaign on ethical issues.

Sanal Leaflet

Leaflet for event organised by Atheist Ireland

Michael Nugent tells me that they used to hold an ‘atheist in the pub’ night but it was so difficult to try to find a wheelchair friendly pub to rent a room that they’ve stopped the meetings for the moment. “Do you have members who use wheelchairs?” I ask. “No” he tells me “but the policy in ethical atheism is to try to be as open as we can be”.

Migrant places of worship in Ireland

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The Irish national headquarters of the Redeemed Christian Church of God

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Hindus begin to gather to celebrate Navaratri in the Taney Community Parish Centre, Goatstown, Dublin 14 (the room is rented for the evening)

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‘Paddy Ganesh’ at the Indian Sculpture Park near Roundwood in County Wicklow – some Hindus think of the park as a kind of outdoor ashram or temple

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Warehouse used as a mosque in Dublin 15

All three of the following radio pieces were broadcast on Newstalk’s Global Village between August and October 2013. They were made with the support of the Mary Raftery Journalism Fund

Islam and makeshift mosques in Ireland

Hinduism in Ireland

Pentecostalism in Ireland

 

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The Temple or shrine in a wardrobe in the hallway of a Hindu home in Dublin

Ireland is still a Catholic-majority country but the statistics tell stories of religious decline. The fastest growing ‘religions’ according to the last national census were atheism, agnosticism and ‘lapsed Catholic’ and, although the figures for these categories still only number in their thousands rather than tens of thousands, the trajectory is clear.

But religion is a tricky thing, inseparable from the societies and cultures which it inhabits and in Ireland the growing trend is towards ‘cultural Catholicism’. A religion divorced from faith or belief systems but rooted in cultural practices and concepts of community.

Meanwhile the boom years in Ireland saw a new migratory trend – inward migration. A new phenomena. And the people who arrived came not just with their material belongings in tow but also with their ideas of identity and ‘self’ and the cultural collateral which, though not necessarily visible, were important elements of their presence here.

The migration of people involves migration of ideas. Another inseparability. The migrants brought their religious beliefs, practices, iconography and prayers. Religion is not just a solitary affair but involves the primacy of communal element and so one thing that migrant groups set out to do, upon their arrival, was to establish places of worship.

For Catholic migrants they found their religious homes in pre-existing buildings. For other non-Catholic groups, finding places of worship proved more challenging.

These programmes look at some of the challenges these migrant groups face in Ireland in relation to finding places of worship.

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Pastor Samuel of the Church of Pentecost Ireland – Dublin City Centre (note the reinforced steel doors

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Inside the transformed warehouse – Church of Pentecost Ireland

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Manning the P.A. system – all the Pentecostal churches I visited had large P.A. systems. Music is a very important element in Pentecostal churches.

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The pointed-roof of the warehouse used by the Church of Pentecost Ireland is visible between the blocks of flats, Dublin City Centre

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All the Pentecostal churches I visited also had projector screens with the words of the songs – the flags in the background represent the different countries from which the congregants come

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Warehouse of the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Damastown, Dublin 15

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A small unit housing the Christ Apostolic Church in Tallaght

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The amazing choir at the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Tallaght

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Inside ‘Betania’, Romanian Pentecostal Church, Damastown, Dublin 15 – the day of a baptism (six adults were being baptised). Choir and musicians and projector screen visible on the altar.

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A Hindu priest preparing for a celebration in the community hall at Ballyroan Community Centre – the Ireland Vinayaka Temple is housed upstairs in the centre but is only rented on a part-time basis

The conclusion at the conclusion of the making of these pieces is that the issue of migrant groups and places of worship is something that has not been addressed sufficiently in Ireland. Migrant groups themselves often erroneously believe themselves to be in compliance with planning laws and are even sometimes unaware of legislation requiring planning applications for changing the use of a building to a place of worship. Meanwhile planning authorities are often unaware of the requirements of these migrant groups and some local authorities do not have sufficient provision in their development plans or zoning regulations for the creation of new places of worship or do not recognise the financial limitations of many of these groups which often works as a prohibitory factor in terms of purchasing land in an ideal location or buying suitable pre-existing buildings.

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The main shrine area of the temple at the Hindu Cultural Centre of Ireland, Lucan

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Some of the idols or deities at the recently opened Hindu Cultural Centre of Ireland, HCCI, Lucan

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Section of the full Sunday evening carpark outside Betania Romanian Pentecostal church in Dublin 15 – porters are on hand to ensure cars are all parked orderly

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A warehouse used as a mosque in Dublin 15

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A sign on the door of one of the Pentecostal churches

A meeting with the ‘Blessing’ guru

I always half-hoped I’d meet an Indian guru someday. But I never imagined that the meeting would take place in an Irish bungalow in the remote winding laneways of an autumnal county Kildare. That’s where I met one today. The real deal. India’s ‘Blessing’ guru – Swami Jyothirmayah Ji – clothed all in white and with flowing long black hair, beard and a white dot in the centre of his forehead.

In the email I was told that Swamiji would meet me 9.30-10am – I get to the house about 9.45 and the worried face of Shankari who had organised the interview tells me that Swamiji is very strict about time and that she doesn’t know if he will talk to me as I am late.

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Swami Jyothirmayah in Ireland

A few minutes later a tall Indian man in long white cotton robes comes into the kitchen with an almost-luminous smile – everything about his face exudes warmth and openness. I smile in return. He welcomes me into the living room where we sit down to talk.

‘So’ I say ‘it’s exciting to meet an Indian guru’.

‘Guru?’ he replies. ‘I’m not a guru, I’m only a disciple, a student’.

‘Oh’ I say. He is still smiling. ‘But people do call you the ‘Blessing’ guru’.

He tells me he is from Bangalore in India and that he is Roman Catholic by birth. ‘I have a strong belief in Jesus Christ’ he tells me. He says that the title ‘Blessing’ guru comes from the fact that he goes around the world blessing people and that he has blessed over three million people.

‘I just touch people on the head for a few seconds’ he explains. ‘Some people are getting miraculous healings – physical and mental.’

I ask him if he feels anything when the healings occur. He laughs heartily. ‘That’s a trade secret’ he says.

He tells me that the title ‘Swamiji’ is for someone who has dedicated their life to society and to helping other people. He says he lives a life of celibacy and ‘cannot enjoy worldly things’. His home is in the ashram (temple) in India. ‘We are here to share, we keep moving, we give help wherever it is required’.

He belongs to the organisation Art of Living Foundation which he tells me is ‘beyond religion’. He is here in Ireland for five days as part of a visit organised by the Irish branch of AOL.

‘Does a person have to believe in God?’ I ask him. ‘Not necessarily’ he replies. ‘They just have to believe in himself or herself’.

‘But how does a person believe in themself?’ I ask. ‘Go deep into oneself and then one will realise that one is part of divinity, part of one consciousness – it’s like in this room you can see different kinds of lights and a tape recorder and different things – if you go beyond these you will realise there is only one electricity but different projections’.

The room where we are sitting is cool. It is early morning and it is October and although there is a clear blue sky there is no direct sunlight in the room. I feel cold and realise that Swamiji is only wearing short-sleeves and is bare-footed. ‘Are you not cold?’ I ask him. ‘No’ he smiles. ‘I’ve been in minus forty, minus fifty but I never use any jacket. Pranayama (breathing exercises) will make the immune system very powerful’.

‘Is there anything you would like to say?’ I ask him. There’s a pause for a few seconds and then he says very slowly and clearly ‘life is a celebration’. Another brief pause. ‘And meditate everyday. Learn meditation.’

‘Normally people have a concept of meditation, and think it is concentration. In Art of Living we say it is de-concentration. Whatever you do effortlessly is meditation. It is to be aware of what you are doing here and now. The mind has the tendency to go into the future and the past. How to bring it back to the present moment? If we are aware of our own life and mind then our real life journey starts.

‘The best way to control emotion is to control your breath’ he continues. ‘If you’re angry you’re breathing fast and if you’re sad then you have a shallow breath so our breath and our emotions are connected. This breathing technique that we teach will help to get out of unnecessary emotions’.

I bring the conversation back to Catholicism and ask if his master follows instructions from the Pope. ‘My master is not a Christian’ he tells me, looking slightly puzzled at my question. ‘He’s a humanitarian’.

‘I’m not caught up in religion’ he adds. ‘I’m a spiritual man. I respect all of religion but I’m spiritual – we are working for one world family, beyond religion, beyond nationality, beyond caste and creed’.

He tells me he has to be strict about time so that he doesn’t keep people waiting and says ‘I think we have about two minutes left’. I ask him if I can take a few photographs and I also record a short video of him talking about religion and before I leave I ask him for a blessing. He tells me to close my eyes and to breathe deeply, to let my body relax with every breath. And then I feel the heat of his hands over my head for a few seconds as he blesses me. And then it’s time to leave.

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Swami Jyothirmayah in conversation in Co. Kildare

I drive away delighted to have met the ‘Blessing’ guru but aware that the niggling pain I’ve had in my stomach for the last while is still there.

Swami Jyothirmayah ‘Wisdom Evening’ is taking place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Blanchardstown tomorrow night from 7-9 pm (arrive promptly!). Admission is ten euro.

The Art of Living Foundation is an organisation that was set up in India in 1981 by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Art of Living has a presence in 152 countries and has thousands of centres worldwide including an Irish branch. They teach breathing, yoga and meditation techniques and run courses regularly. Participants on these courses are required to sign a non-disclosure agreement before tuition commences. For more information visit http://www.artofliving.org/ie-en

Islamophobia – or not?

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Donaghmede shopping centre, North Dublin

It’s a sunny September morning in Dublin and I’m back on the northside of the city – Donaghmede – where I’ve organised to meet a local guy who is opposed to the construction in his locality of what will be Ireland’s largest mosque.

I head to McDonalds outside the Donaghmede shopping centre where I’ve organised to meet him. It’s a busy Saturday morning and there’s a queue at the counter even though it’s only 11. A man with a book in his hands is watching me quizzically as I walk in. I head over to him. “George?” I ask. “Yes” he smiles, “Colette?” We shake hands and I sit down in the booth opposite him.

George Sturdy has pale skin and bright blue eyes and an almost-shaved head. He looks like he’s in his thirties. The book in his hands is red-covered. It is ‘One Day in September’ by Simon Reeve about the 1972 murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. George tells me he reads a lot.

I came to meet George after local Labour TD Sean Kenny forwarded me a strongly-worded email he had received from George objecting to the construction of the Clongriffin mosque. I’m here to hear his objections. George tells me that he subsequently sent an apology to Deputy Kenny because of the way the email was worded but that he is still opposed to the construction of the mosque.

George lists reams of incidents that have been in the media in recent years relating to Muslims: the decapitation of a British soldier in Woolwich in May, calls for Shariah law in England, various bombings, protests, complaints about Christmas lights and alcohol consumption, attacks on homosexuals and stones being thrown at scantily clad people trying to raise money for charity.

George tells me that he himself lives in the nearby suburb of Baldoyle which is about a mile and a half from Clongriffin which was just fields when he was growing up “where kids used to play”. He says that anyone he has spoken to in the area does not want the mosque to be built.

I ask how many people he has spoken to. He tells me “about ten”. But he adds that “most people in the area don’t know the mosque is being built”. He says that he heard about plans for the mosque about a year ago but “I heard nothing more about it until I went on to the Nationalist Movement Ireland forum about two weeks ago”.

“Are you a member of the movement?” I ask him. “No” he says “but I do follow their forum”. He tells me that he supports their policies “against this mosque and against Islam being allowed to grow in the west” but that he doesn’t support extreme right wing views.

George explains that the main concern is that the area will become “Islamofied”. He cites instances of areas in England where the street signs are in Bangladeshi and says that people are concerned the area would “be taken over” and not recognised as an Irish neighbourhood. He says people are also wary of Islam because of “what they’ve seen over the past ten years or more – beginning with 9-11”.

I ask him if he knows any Muslims himself. “No, I don’t” he says. He adds that when he visited Paris in 1996 the only guy who was friendly to him was a Moroccan. “I’ve no problem with any person – black, white, brown, foreign – it’s just Islam that seems to cause trouble wherever it goes”.

“Muslims take offence at the slightest insult that they perceive against their religion or against their prophet” he says.

“Would you be open to meeting and chatting to a Muslim?” I ask. “No, I don’t see any point” he says. “I’m not going to change their views and there’s only a point in talking to people if you can reach some compromise”.

I ask him what would be a compromise. “If the mosque wasn’t built” he says “or a giant cathedral was to be built in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia”.

I suggest that maybe if he met Muslims involved in the Clongriffin mosque he might understand it from their perspective. “No” he says again. “There wouldn’t be any point. It’d be like Gerry Adams sitting down with Ian Paisley”.

“Are you afraid of Islam?” I ask. “Yes” he answers. “I’m afraid of what it does when it becomes the majority religion and takes over. It’s the only religion in the world that has significant problems with other religions and as their numbers grow they become more insistent that you can’t criticise their religion. They want to erode freedom of speech and freedom of doing things that don’t comply with their religion”. He cites examples of attitudes towards homosexuality, alcohol or the wearing of mankinis to raise money for charity.

I ask him would he speak to a Muslim who drinks alcohol and has no problem with homosexuality. “No” he says again. “Talk is cheap – every city in Europe that has a significant Muslim population has had trouble. We only have around 40,000 Muslims here but if we had 500,000 it’d be different”. What about an Irish convert? “No, they would be even more entrenched in their views”.

“I have no reason for meeting anyone of the Islamic faith” he tells me. “It’d be like meeting the Pope and trying to convert him to the Church of England”.

I suggest that communication and dialogue is important for peace and understanding in the world today. “Dialogue – that’s for the leaders. Putin, Obama, Cameron”.

“Basically it’s a medieval way of life and is not compatible with modern western society. If it was a Sikh temple or a Jewish synagogue I wouldn’t care”.

“Would you say you’re Islamophobic?” I ask. “No, I’m rational” he responds. “A phobia is an irrational fear”.

So what next? “I’d like people to get out and protest because once the mosque is built it would be too late” he says.

After I leave Donaghmede I take a trip back to Clongriffin which is only minutes away by car. Although the buidings in Clongriffin are modern and shiny and the area is well manicured and clean it has a desolate air to it. Almost like a modern ghost-town. But with no ghosts.

The main 'square' in Clongriffin on a Saturday morning.

The main ‘square’ in Clongriffin on a Saturday morning. The site for the planned mosque is the green field in the background.

As I drive up the ‘main street’ and around the town square I count 33 ground-floor retail units. Only a handful further down the street have businesses inside. Most of the units have ‘To Let’ signs in their windows. Then there’s a Centra, an Italian chipper, a barbers, off-license and an office. That’s it.

A once-used retail unit on Clongriffin main street. Now closed.

A once-used retail unit on Clongriffin main street. Now closed.

As I drive away from Clongriffin I think to myself that the mosque will revitalise an area left frozen in time at the height of the boom. I’m back to the main junction and as I prepare to turn left at the traffic lights I see a large dark-coloured decrepit looking development facing me with big iron railings blocking what was once a road. There are security guards hanging out beside a little cabin.

I get out of my car and go over to ask them what’s going on. “This is Priory Hall” the female guard says. I’m stunned into silence as I survey the scene. I think that this bleak space of emptied out apartments is where protests should really be taking place. The reality of the tragedy of Priory Hall hits when it becomes visible outside of the frame of the TV. Reality via the media is a different reality. People in the media are different too.

Down the road from Clongriffin - the desolate legacy of the Irish boom - Priory Hall

Down the road from Clongriffin – the desolate legacy of the Irish boom – Priory Hall

The stories of real life don’t have simplified beginnings and ends. Are media representations accurate portrayals of the reality beyond? Are the Islam and Muslims of the media the same as that of not? Are the stories real? Representative? Accurate? George Sturdy thinks yes. Muslims I’ve spoken to think no. What picture would a non-Irish person who’s never met an Irish person have of me? What preconceptions?

Later, at home, I google ‘Nationalist Movement Ireland’ Their home page says, in large writing, ‘SHOW MULTICULTURALISM THE RED CARD’. I think about Ireland and all the Irish people who have left over the years. Irish people in countries all over the world. No to multiculturalism? Does this mean Irish people stay in Ireland?

The forum on the website has one section dedicated to ‘Real Immigrant Stories: Scammers and Criminals’ and the ‘General Discussion’ area has lots of stories about people of different nationalities and there’s also a story on the death of Hitler’s bodyguard.

George had told me that he is not a member of the movement but that he did speak to one of the leaders, John Kavanagh, before meeting me. I also googled John Kavanagh.

And what of the issue of meeting ‘others’ who do not share our views, opinions, beliefs, values? Should we only meet those with whom we agree? Or those who we can convince to change? Or should we meet people in order to listen? In order to understand?

 

Nationalist Movement Ireland - website home page

Nationalist Movement Ireland – website home page

George won’t speak to Muslims but for the next blog I’m going to look into the issue further – I’ll be speaking to Irish Times journalist Mary Fitzgerald about Islamophobia in Ireland and I’ll speak to someone from the Clongriffin Mosque Project to get their response to George’s concerns.

Ireland’s largest mosque gets green light

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Clongriffin – looking towards the site where Ireland’s largest mosque will be built

An Bord Pleanala, Ireland’s national planning appeals board, have given the green light for what will be Ireland’s largest mosque.

The three-storey domed mosque planned for Clongriffin in North Dublin is part of a huge project that includes minarets, schools, a conference centre, gym, swimming pool, restaurant, crèche, library, offices and residential apartments.

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The shopping centre in Clongriffin – most of the units inside lie vacant

It’s estimated that the development will cost between €45 and €65 million. It will cater for around 550 people for Friday prayers and for up to 3,000 during festivals. 

It will be Ireland’s third purpose-built mosque. The other two purpose-built mosques are in Ballyhaunis, County Mayo and in Clonskeagh in Dublin. There is also a purpose built Shia Islamic Centre in Milltown in Dublin.

The Muslim population of Ireland is estimated to be over 50,000. Most Muslims in the country worship in ‘makeshift mosques’ in housing estates, community halls or industrial warehouses.

The Dublin Welfare Society, who submitted the planning application, currently manage two mosques located in industrial units in Clondalkin and Swords.

The group are made up of a number of Dublin-based Muslims from different backgrounds and nationalities.

Dublin City Council had granted planning permission to the Dublin Welfare Society last March for the development. However, local Labour TD Tommy Broughan appealed the decision on the grounds of size and potential impact on traffic in the area.

Clongriffin is a newly developed area of Dublin. It was born in the boom years with a major residential development in 2002.

I visited the site for the Clongriffin mosque in July when I attended a special Ramadan event hosted by the Dublin Welfare Society. The event was held in one of the spanking-new retail units that surround the ‘town’ square.

Inside, the shopping centre was fitted with clean shining floor tiles and sparkling light fittings but the elevator was frozen in time and the retail units lay empty.

Development in Clongriffin almost halted completed with the collapse of the property market. Roads have been left unfinished and many of the retail units have never been occupied.

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One of the vacant retail units in Clongriffin’s main square

Access to the dart station, which was developed to cater for the burgeoning population, has also proved problematic.

It is hoped that with the go-ahead given for the new mosque and Islamic centre, that the development will result in much of local infrastructure being completed and a new access area to the Dart station.

Full article in the Irish Times:

http://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/ireland-s-largest-mosque-gets-approval-from-an-bord-plean%C3%A1la-1.1509586

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The site for what will be Ireland’s biggest mosque – Clongriffin, Dublin

My first visit to Clongriffin during my Ramadan blogging:

https://religioninireland.net/2013/07/28/plans-for-irelands-biggest-mosque-and-photographs/