This is Cork

Cork really is the “City of Welcomes” and THIS IS CORK celebrates all those who make this wonderful multicultural city their home whether they come from a long line of proud Corkonians or someone who has arrived recently for work, love or to seek safety and sanctuary. We tell the story of 5 Sanctuary Runners and what it means to them to be part of the City of Welcomes.

Omar’s Story

Omar stands in the fading light facing west, his long fingers gripping the railings by the side of the bridge. In the distance the sun is setting, beneath him the last of the evening traffic is weaving its way home. This is Omar’s thinking time, when he dreams of his future, when he hopes and imagines – when he steadies himself to focus on brighter days in the city which has become his home, his safe harbour. When he whispers: ‘This is Cork’.

“I cross the bridge from where I am staying on the Kinsale road to Tramore Valley Park where I run or walk. Often passing over the pedestrian bridge I stop and take some time to gather my thoughts and to look out over Cork. To take in this place which has taken me in,” he tells me after finishing a long shift. He works in security at a store in the city. Long hours… but he doesn’t complain, Abdiaziz Hassan Omar never does.

Even when he spent five months, some during a freezing winter, in a tent at the Central Mental Hospital site in Dundrum in Dublin he didn’t complain.

The 30-year-old former English teacher from Southern Somalia is one of over 300 people who has signed up to take part in Sunday’s Cork City Marathon as a Sanctuary Runner. Almost half the team is made up of people who live in Direct Provision with most running the 10-kilometre distance. Omar is running the half marathon.

Like so many of the wonderful people who have run with Sanctuary Runners here in Cork since we began six-and-a-half-years ago Omar is soft spoken, incredibly decent and always seeking to help others. To share time with him is a joy and being a Sanctuary Runner means the world to him.

“When I discovered Sanctuary Runners I think it gave me a new perspective on my life – it gave me something to focus on and helped me to look to the future, not the past. The past is painful so I try to picture my life and my future,” he explains.

He continued: “As long as there is Sanctuary Runners there is hope. It is like a therapy for me, to help me heal and it is the same with many others who have come to Ireland seeking refuge.”

When asked about about anti-migrant sentiment in Cork, about racism and any experience he has had of it here, he has nothing but good things to say about the city and the country he now calls home – and in which he was successful in attaining international protection.

“No, this is such a safe place. I do not feel worried in Cork, I feel Cork is for all, I am Cork and Cork is me.”

Rabie’s Story

A few months back when I joined the Marina group to train and found myself running alongside the tall, strong figure of Rabie Ramadan M Gohar. From the region of Nubia in Southern Egypt – a marginalised ethnic minority in the country Nubians are dark-skinned and over the years have not enjoyed the same treatment as other Egyptians.

Rabie loves soccer. So do I. He used to be a successful football coach in Egypt and Kuwait, I struggle with Fantasy football! And at the time we met the African Cup of Nations was in full flow.

As we ran we got talking about the beautiful game but one particular, not so beautiful, game led to convulsions of laughter to the point where we both found it hard to breathe.

Only a few years separate Rabie and I and so we could both vividly remember the Republic of Ireland V Egypt scoreless clash in the group stages of Italia’ 90. It was arguably the worst game to ever have taken place at a World Cup. That was the game which prompted Eamon Dunphy to throw his toys out of his pram and Big Jack to ban the bauld Eamon from press conferences.

“Oh my God it was so bad,” recalls Rabie. “You know after that game they actually changed the rules of football to stop the goalkeeper from picking up the ball from a back pass. So because we were both so awful in that game we changed football for the better! Go us!”

There was something so beautiful about these two middle aged men, strangers five minutes before, one from Ireland, one from Egypt, running through the darkness in Cork and howling in laughter at how bad a game of football played over three decades earlier was! It was blissful in its silliness. Rabie is a gas man and a great addition to our Sanctuary Runner team. He’s been studying Irish online in recent weeks and greeted me with a ‘Conas atá tú’ recently.

He arrived in Cork last November and says he’s already he has made so many connections in the city. “It reminds me of my home town. Like when I walk into the city now I always meet someone I know, whether that’s through the Sanctuary Runners or some other way. I feel it is a city of welcomes. This is Cork.”

And becoming part of the Sanctuary Runners has drastically improved his health.

“Well, let me tell you,” he says “I smoked for so many years but on the day I came to my first running session with Sanctuary Runners I decided to stop. I had tried so many times over the years but it never worked. But because the training sessions by the Marina are every Tuesday and Thursday it gives me a structure. I would say ‘okay I now must stay off the cigarettes until the next run’ and so on. Now I have not smoked for five months. I feel so much better.”

Mona’s Story

Mona El Kafsi, and her shadow Adam, from Douglas joined Sanctuary Runners after Covid19 restrictions lifted, this year Mona will run for her third time in the marathon in Sanctuary Runner blue.

Adam is nine, and a proud Sanctuary Runner, and if he was old enough to run in the marathon he’d be on the starting line too. By the way he’s no longer his mom’s shadow, he runs at the speed of light and most of us haven’t a hope of catching him. We’ve become his shadow!


“I love the idea of Sanctuary Runners, that it brings all people together no matter your nationality, legal status, culture, age, gender or your running ability. Its not competitive, its social and relaxed,” explains Mona.



She told me of how when in Cobh recently as a spectator for the Sonia O’Sullivan (a friend of our movement) 10 mile-run she got this huge feeling of pride and excitement when cheering on a passing Sanctuary Runner who she didn’t know. “He was one of us, one of the family,” she said.


Oleksii’s Story

For Oleksii Zatsarynskyi, from Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine, the support provided by being part of Sanctuary Runners was an enormous lift when he ran with us in the marathon last year.

“It was amazing and I now run with Sanctuary Runners whenever I can. This is a team which brings people together, it supports our spirit as well as helping our psychological and physical health. Sanctuary Runners is friendship, it is health, it is support and help, a Sanctuary for everyone. And that’s why it’s cool to be part of the team. Last year was the first half marathon of my life. Participating in such a grand event is an unforgettable feeling. And indescribable emotions. Thank you to Ireland and its people for your patience and care”.

Oleksii, a father of four, is in Cork with his wife and three youngest children and can be found at Tramore Valley Park most Saturdays for the parkrun wearing his Sanctuary Runner top and a fetching bandana. He is a lovely man and despite everything always positive and eager to share moments of raw joy and fun.


Carmen’s Story

For Carmen Burns, a retired nurse originally from Ballinlough who worked in the South Infirmary hospital for 38-years, being a member of Sanctuary Runners is so important because it enables her to show her humanity and it gives her so much back.

“I remember when I first saw some of the gang running out at the parkrun in Ballincollig I thought to myself I’m definitely going to join and I did. That was in 2019 and I’ve loved it all, the running, the chats, the craic, I was even part of a Sanctuary Swimmer group. And when I see all those blue shirts flying down Patrick Street on Marathon Day it just fills me with so much pride in my city, I feel like there’s a warm glow around me, Its so special. This is Cork.”

Carmen is a beautiful human being. She’ll kill me for saying that but she really displays all the characteristics of what is best about those in our society who see the need to show compassion for, and solidarity with, others.

“You know I often think that being in the Sanctuary Runners makes me understand how incredibly fortunate I am that because of nothing more than an accident of birth I was born in a place, and at a time, when I never had to go hungry or there was no conflict that threatened my safety – I often think that if people just thought about that it might make them understand that everyone leaving their homes, and their loved ones and all that is familiar, needs solidarity, needs friendship and, above all else, needs respect.”