Tuesday 17 September 2019

'It has been absolutely horrific'

Enniscorthy native and long-time Paris resident Fiona Delaney with her sons Émile-Eoin, and Sean-Louis
Enniscorthy native and long-time Paris resident Fiona Delaney with her sons Émile-Eoin, and Sean-Louis

By David Medcalf

Enniscorthy woman Fiona Delaney has been speaking to this newspaper about her experience of life in Paris as the city where she lives came under fire from terrorists last week.

'The first people knew about it (the attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine) was when the telephones started going bee-beep. Everyone knows Charlie Hebdo,' said Fiona Delaney, recalling how news of the erupting terror broke with a wave of text messages.

She works as pedagogical director of an English language school. 'People in my office cried.'

She and her family did not join the spontaneous demonstration in Place de la République that night but they were glued to the coverage on television. Fiona watched with admiration the partner of murdered cartoonist Jean Cabut being interviewed: 'she just sat there crying but how she expressed herself was truly amazing.

'It has all been absolutely horrific. Everyone has been holding their breath. The last time I had the same shortness of breath was watching the Twin Towers. Everyone has been going around with a stunned look on their face. No one's heart has been in anything.'

All of France has been affected, of course including Fiona's sons Seán Louis (14) and Émile Eoin (11). Tests due to be held in school were cancelled as students joined the rest of the nation in following the reports. Seán Louis's planned school trip to a museum was cancelled on Thursday because of the continuing manhunt.

On Friday, the horror was extended as a halal Jewish supermarket in a familiar location became the scene of a siege. Fiona and husband Eric reside with their sons in the suburb of Alfortville in the south east of the city, a mere 15 minutes cycle away from the shop. This proved not quite close enough to hear the gunfire but still seemed very near, a short distance away on the far side of the River Seine.

The boys' mother was impressed by the way that the education system took on the trauma of the week. Teachers took the time to discuss the crisis and relate it to core French values such as liberty and equality. At home, the debate continued across the generations, touching on the difference between Islamist and Muslim, for example.

Paris became a city of sirens, with a huge security operation going on. The noise outside was a distraction during school time for the two boys. Fiona had to take a train to the city of Nantes for a business meeting on Friday and she found the station was bustling with armed security personnel.

Now aged 45, Fiona Delaney was educated in her home town at the Presentation primary school and at then Coláiste Bríde. She left Enniscorthy in 1988 and her first experience of Paris was as an au pair with a French family.

She later returned to France after a spell at a college in England and has remained there ever since.

'It is a wonderful city and I love it,' she says of Paris. However, the daughter of Bernie and Jim Delaney returns regularly to this country and her sons both have Irish passports.

Wexford People

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