How are Syrian refugees faring in Ballaghaderreen?

More than 120 refugees are currently housed in the former Abbeyfield Hotel...

How are Syrian refugees faring in Ballaghaderreen?

Abbeyfield Hotel building, Ballaghaderreen. Photo: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

It was announced earlier this year that the town of Ballaghaderreen in Co Roscommon would host a group of refugees for two years.

The restored Abbeyfield Hotel building is being used to house the group, who are mainly fleeing violence in Syria.

At time time, some local councillors voiced concern over the move, with one suggesting it could lead to "major problems" unless proper services were put into place.

Five months on, how are the new arrivals to Ballaghaderreen faring? Newstalk's Richard Chambers travelled to the town to find out.

More than 120 refugees are currently housed in Abbeyfield. Two of them - Kamel Shaaban and Ghassan Shamet - spoke to Richard about how they ended up here in Ireland.

The people of Ballaghaderreen, meanwhile, have gone out of their way to extend a welcome to their new neighbours.

One local barber has set up weekly soccer matches between the newly-arrived Syrians and the local Pakistani community.

Foróige Ballaghaderreen, the local youth group, won a national prize after organising a series of activities and an art welcome wall for the newly-arrived teenagers.

Jessamine O’Connor, meanwhile, helps coordinate English classes for the refugees. She explained to Richard: "I was at the class, and I thought 'I wonder if anyone will come down?' I'd been putting posters up, but I didn't think people would necessarily come straight down.

"I think 25 people walked in... it was brilliant. It's kind of quiet now because of Ramadan [...] But now we have two different classes - a Tuesday and a Wednesday, because the Tuesday was too busy."

She added: "The local community, volunteers, have been trying to do everything they can do to make people feel welcome. It is a town with not a whole lot going on in it - in that way it's been great for the community, because it's made people come together to try and think of things to do."

She did, however, criticise the Government's handling of the situation, saying: "It seems like the State is relying on the goodwill of the community to provide all this stuff for free.

"Obviously the residents should not be living on €19 a week - I know they're getting bed & board, but they have to buy their own phone credit, because they need to keep in contact with their families. That costs money... and they can't even afford to come and have a coffee in town."

When Richard was in Ballaghaderreen, the 'Clowns Without Borders' group were in town performing for the children living in the town.

As one of the entertainers explained: "We can't imagine what they've been through - so just to be able to give them a bit of fun and laughter is a real gift to us."

Another observed: "It's about celebrating the children, and giving them another story."