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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 October 2007, 11:03 GMT 12:03 UK
Ireland's Brazilian Samba town
By Hugh O'Shaughnessy
BBC News, Ireland

South American immigrants have found a new home in the fastest growing town in Ireland.

The town of Gort in the west of Ireland has an exotic South American flavour. Hundreds of Brazilian immigrants live here.

Leonardo Gomes, a young Brazilian living in Gort, Ireland
There are 15 players, known as hurlers, in the Irish sport of hurling

They have taken root and make up a third of the population of 2,500.

A shy, handsome youngster called Leonardo Gomes is doing more than most to cement his compatriots' already friendly relations with the locals.

Leonardo is one of 15 Brazilian boys at his school who are devoted to hurling, a quintessentially Irish sport combining the speed of hockey with the physical force that a big stick brings you.

Leonardo has been a star of his school's under-12 team for the past two years and seems destined for great things.

"I love hurling," he says caressing the protective helmet and the visor which prevents too much blood being spilled in any given match.

His parents Cleomar and Sandra look on proudly. They are among those who have settled and found work and a welcome here.

Dreams come true

The Brazilians are happy. Though they would like a bit more sun every day.

They have made Gort the fastest-growing town in Ireland. It is also a rare success in the usually glum history of migrations in Europe.

"This is a land where our dreams are coming true," says Isaias, a senior member of the community.

A stone marking Irish-Brazilian friendship on a football field in Gort, Ireland
On the football field in Gort a stone marks Irish-Brazilian friendship

Now, Gort was not like that when I first visited 40 years ago.

It certainly disappointed the hopes I had about an area where the O'Shaughnessys first surfaced aeons ago. The countryside was full of pre-historic monuments, ancient roofless churches, and mouldering castles.

Having survived a millennium or more, the town lacked vitality. There were a few shops and a bank but the pulse of life and commerce was beating very slowly.

The only real industry was a small slaughterhouse run by the Duffy family, while the Keanes ran a business baling up the local wool.

Duffy's slaughterhouse could not look forward to a bright future even as Ireland, the Celtic Tiger, rose on a wave of unexpected prosperity.

Few young people wanted to stay at home and those who did were none too keen on challenging work in a slaughterhouse.

Then in 1999 the Duffys learnt a large slaughterhouse had closed in Anapolis in the centre of Brazil.

A mission went off and brought back a dozen or so experienced men, delighted to have a steady new job at European wage rates, and be able to regularly send back good sums to their families.

Over the years they brought families and friends over till now there are 800 or more South Americans in Gort with their children mastering English and settling into Irish ways.

Map of the Republic of Ireland including the town of Gort in the west

Former Irish missionary priests with experience of Brazil came to serve the Catholic majority. The non-catholic Brazilians formed their own evangelical churches, making Gort echo to their enthusiastic hallelujahs.

Reception of Brazilian satellite television brought the exiles their beloved soap operas and the town square was shaken with carnivals and dancing of a sort that Gort had never seen.

And Brazilian business energies helped Gort to prosper. Shops were started selling Brazilian foods and Nilton set up an internet cafe with a car-wash next door.

Now he is planning to expand the cafe into the old hairdressing salon next door while two other Brazilian beauty parlours are doing a very good trade.

And the Brazilian money transfer service is overtaking the Western Union in the remittance business.

Excellent relations

Today, Duffy's slaughter house has fallen on hard times but the Brazilians in Gort have found new work in the building trades, their women in domestic service.

They give us new ideas about race relations
Sean, bookseller

And relations between Irish and Brazilians have been excellent.

"They bring sparkle and they are more popular than the often monosyllabic incomers from Eastern Europe," says Frank, a community worker.

"They give us new ideas about race relations," says Sean, the local bookseller.

The Brazilians have behaved well, conscious of the ultimate risk of deportation. The police are happy and Joseph Mangan, the local judge, chose to spend his holidays this year travelling through Brazil by bus.

There is no inter-communal violence. The older inhabitants painfully remember how for years emigration was the lot of millions of Irish people, exactly as it is for the Brazilians today so they have been welcoming.

Bernadette at the local library keeps a good stock of books in Portuguese.

Striking evidence of good relations came when two Brazilians were killed recently by a defective oil heater in their lodgings.

"There was an immediate appeal for funds and tens of thousands of euros were subscribed within days," says Frank.

"That paid for the bodies to be sent back to Brazil and there is enough left over for a small trust fund to help the victims' families".

Leonardo, with his hurling stick, is helping to maintain that good relationship and the town is becoming known as Samba City.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Thursday 11 October, 2007 at 1100 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

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