Paint dried in a windswept Galway alley—an ugly message of hate scrawled across art.
In late October an outdoors photo exhibition of the Galway City Museum depicting famous
American rap artists was defaced with racial slurs. Words such as ‘Monkey’ and the N-word
were reportedly graffitied over photographs of hip-hop stars Notorious BIG, Miss Lauryn Hill
According to Galway City Museum Director Eithne Verling, museum staff reported the
incident to the Gardaí as soon as the graffiti was spotted.
No arrests had been made in connection with the case. Garda Superintendent James
Flanagan’s office refused to disclose any further information as the investigation remains
The photo gallery was part of a bigger exhibition titled “B+ The West is Awake (from one
West Coast to Another),” which had been running at the museum since July. B+ is the
pseudonym of Brian Cross, a Limerick-born photographer. Cross did not provide comment
for this article.
“Vandalism by means of tagging and graffiti is unacceptable,” said a joint statement by the
Galway City Council and Galway City Museum, “particularly when it significantly impacts on
the cultural enjoyment of the public realm by people in our city.”
The defacement speaks to a larger, worrying trend of rising racist attitudes in Ireland. A
longstanding issue for the country, it has become exacerbated by economic hardship and
Far-right hatemongering campaigns, with civil organisations and academics urging
politicians to recognise and tackle the issue.
According to the 2022 Report of Racism in Ireland by the Irish Network Against Racism,
black people were the largest social group to report instances of crime or discrimination.
The number of reported instances of racism in 2022 saw an increase over the previous year.
Reports of criminal offences and incidents were up significantly, with 413 reports versus 154
the year prior. Racist hate speech was also slightly more reported than in 2021.
An Garda Síochána statistics likewise showed a rise in racially motivated hate-related
incidents, with around 250 separate cases reported last year.
People of African descent experienced more instances of racial discrimination in Ireland
than in many other EU countries, according to a 2023 report carried by the EU Agency for
44% of responders faced racial discrimination in Ireland—substantially higher than the
average level of the 13 EU countries surveyed (36%).
Anti-immigrant racism has likewise spiked, with violent outbursts targeting people of colour
as well Ukrainian citizens fleeing from the Russo-Ukrainian War.
In the past twelve months, Ireland has suffered over ten anti-immigration riots across seven
counties including Dublin, Kildare, and Cork. Rioters burned refugee camps and verbally
attacked asylum seekers, per media reports.
Ireland First, a self-described “Centre-Right” political party, was registered in February, and
placed “ensuring that the non-Irish population not exceed 10%” at the forefront of its immigration policy.
Party members described Ukrainian refugees as “invaders” in in-group conversations on Telegram, the Irish Times reported.
While extreme, this example reflects rising dissatisfaction with the sitting government’s
willingness to accept Ukrainian refugees.
A poll by the Business Post and Red C found that more than 60% of people surveyed agreed
that Ireland took in too many Ukrainian refugees. According to Eurostat data, over 94,000
Ukrainian refugees have crossed into Ireland since the breakout of the Russo-Ukrainian War.
“There has been a rise in racism and racist incidents,” said Dr. Paul Michael Garrett, professor at the department of Political Science & Sociology at the University of Galway, “often played out in terms of antipathy to asylum seekers and refugees.”
He stressed that Ireland has never been a homogenous society, and called the Far-right
claim that immigrants are coming to Ireland en masse ‘nonsense.’
“It is a fabrication. There have always been black people in Ireland, Jewish people, Irish
travellers,” he said.
Garrett’s background is in social work, and he has authored books dealing with the
intersection of social work, anti-racism, and the threat of neo-fascism.
His office was a small room flanked on both sides by overflowing bookshelves. The words
‘colonial’ and ‘post-colonial’ repeatedly featured on book spines. Sharp, blinding morning
light streamed through a large window into the space, blocked ever-so-just by wilting tree
According to Garrett, people become more susceptible to racist attitudes in difficult
“There’s a lot of people struggling. And they’re looking around for explanations to make
their social misery meaningful.”
Ama Amponsah, an Irish-Ghanaian postgraduate student studying social work at the
University of Galway, echoed Garrett’s words.
“People want someone to blame for their struggles,” she said. “So rather than blame the
government or the ruling class, they look for people who they feel like are weaker and
easier to get at.”
Amponsah said that there is false narrative that black people or asylum seekers just come in
and receive the dole. She recalled how the 2008 financial crash fueled racist attitudes in
Ireland, with her own family experiencing verbal abuse and threats to their home.
When asked whether gardai took action following those events, Ama shook her head.
Garrett noted that racism affects both those who have emigrated to Ireland, and those born
in Ireland in equal measure. “Ama is a good example,” he said.
“All I’ve ever known is Ireland,” Amponsah said. “When I go back to Ghana, I’m still
considered as Irish as well. I may have a different skin tone as to what people normally
associate with being Irish, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t feel Irish.”
In March the Irish Government unveiled the first national anti-racist plan in 15 years that
aimed to address discrimination toward renters and end racial profiling by gardai.
“We want people to reflect on the things they do and they say which aren’t ostensibly racist
but actually contribute (…) to spaces where racism can exist,” said Minister of State for
Integration Joe O’Brien.
Amponsah remained skeptical of whether the new plan will succeed.
“There has been strives to do something legislatively,” she said. “I feel it’s just caused
people to be more underhanded with racism.”
“It’s question of whether the government will be delivering on it,” Garrett said, referring to
“With this continuing cost of living crisis, people are still suffering,” Amponsah said, “and
they’re still looking for someone to blame.”