The Ukrainian families being housed in Geashill.

Geashill village unites to help house three Ukrainian families

An Offaly village community has come together to provide accommodation and support to three Ukrainian families fleeing the conflict.

The three families are living in mobile homes purchased with funds raised by the Geashill Supporting Ukrainian Families group.

The project was fully backed by numerous tradespeople and workers who voluntarily installed and serviced the mobile homes, which are sited, free of charge, in the village on land owned by a local woman. Breege Loftus, chair of Geashill Supporting Ukrainian Families, said it was a real cross-community effort, involving people across the various sectors and organisations in the village.

“Everyone chipped in, and it became a community project. We got a lot out of it as well as a community. We created new friendships and new connections.”

The group hosted a cake sale, céili, monster auction and card night amongst other activities to help raise the €50,000 funds necessary to purchase the three mobile homes.

Breege Loftus said the images of the war in media was the initial catalyst for action.

People in Geashill quickly realised, as a rural community, more could be done to help if they came together rather than if they tried to provide help on their own.

“We felt the village could support three families that that they would support each other,” she explained.

Breege said the committee interacted with all the relevant agencies, including the Irish Red Cross and Offaly County Council, but found that red tape in the overall system proved a major impediment.

“We felt we were going round in circles,” she said, and the committee then made contact with an organisation called Helping Irish Hosts, which provided them with contact with families.

Two of the families have been living in Geashill since the summer with the third moving there in September.

Breege said she feels frustrated when she reads criticism of Irish people for not following through on commitments made to provide housing to refugees from Ukraine, given the committee's own experiences in trying to offer accommodation.

The genesis of the project was a public meeting called by Breege, which involved people from all the various groups, clubs, organisations and churches in the area.

She said: “After that it was very easy. It was like pushing an open door".

As for the community response? “I can’t tell you enough the generosity of people... It was just the best in people coming out.

Breege and the committee reserved a special word of thanks and praise for Bernie O'Sullivan, the landowner who provided the site for free for two years. “Nothing would have happened without her,” she said. “Her generosity throughout the programme - no one could have matched her generosity.

She also praised Geashill NS for their proactive response to the new children in the community, and the Tidy Towns for organising vegetable plots.

Breege is keen to highlight the cross-community support for the project.

“My job was in coordinating and pulling it all together.”

The three Ukrainian families are settling into Irish life well but are finding the damp cold of the Irish winter difficult. Breege explained that some of the families came from urban areas where low-cost heat was constantly supplied to apartment blocks, day and night.

The biggest challenge for the committee was the final stage of the process, one that they hadn't foreseen – providing the supports needed to help families to settle in a new country.

“Helping people to rebuild their lives – it was a stage that we didn't really think about a lot before we went into this.”