As the world continues to try to come to terms with the devastating attacks in Paris last Friday night, a leading member of Galway’s French community has urged her fellow countrymen and women to ‘not let the terrorists win’.
The coordinated attacks carried out by militants in the French capital killed at least 129 people, and critically injured nearly 100 others. The devastation began with two explosions close to the Stade de France at just after 9.20pm local time. The explosions came as a large crowd were enjoying the international friendly between France and Germany.
In central Paris, a separate team of gunmen arrived at the Right Bank area of the city and shot diners and revellers at three different venues. The men killed 20 innocent people who were simply enjoying their Friday night out. From there, the militants drove nearly a mile and launched another attack on a bar where at least 19 people died.
The most serious incident, in terms of the numbers killed, occured at the Bataclan concert venue. There, at least 89 people lost their lives when they were shot by gunmen wielding AK-47s and wearing suicide vests. The men stormed into the hall and fired calmly and methodically at hundreds of screaming concert-goers.
Speaking nearly a week on, Galway based French Honorary Consul Catherine Gagneux outlined her feelings as she watched events unfold in her home
country on Friday night. “You know any big capital city is at risk of a terrorist attack, but I could not believe it was happening again so soon after the murders at Charlie Hebdo last January. I was completely shocked at the initial death toll numbers that were being cited. I just thought it can’t be true, it is way too high, but unfortunately it was.”
“If one was trying to make sense of these types of things, you could say Charlie Hebdo was a controversial satirical paper but this was just an attack on freedom. It seems these people despise the core values of French life, and what it is we stand for - freedom, equality, and solidarity.”
Ms Gagneux’s sister resides in Paris, as do a number of cousins and friends and she was up all night Friday attempting to make contact with her loved ones. Thankfully in her case - they were all safe. As a gesture of solidarity, she quickly went about organising a memorial event in the city on Saturday evening. Driving rain and storm force winds did not prevent hundreds of people from turning out at Spanish Arch for a minute’s silence and a rendition of the Marseillaise to pay tribute to the victims of the massacre.
“There were a number of young students there, and they were quite confused and emotional. It was good to meet up with others, just to talk, and to share how we felt. Members of the Muslim community also attended, and were also very emotional. That is not what their religion is about - quite the contrary. I was touched at the amount of Galway people who turned out to pay their respects. Paris is such an iconic city, it is a place that so many have a great love for, I think everyone in Galway would have a story or a connection to Paris in one way or another.”
She says the attacks will not put her off visiting her beloved France. “If anything, I would be more encouraged to go and visit my family and friends in Paris. We cannot stop living our lives - this is exactly what these terrorists want. Parisians need to see friendly faces now more than ever. This has changed our lives but it will not change who we are. They can fight their war, but we cannot let them win.”