Antón Ribas. Photo: Ann Hennessy

From Spain to Athlone


During the recent turbulent times in Catalonia, one resident of Athlone's Priory Park has been tuning into Spanish radio every morning to catch up on the latest developments.

Antón Ribas is a 64-year-old Madrid native who has spent his career serving in the Spanish navy. He is a passionate opponent of the Catalan independence movement.

Antón moved to Athlone with his family fourteen months ago to help his children learn English. When we met in the Radisson Blu Hotel, on Friday, October 6, his mind was on the political unrest in his home country.

“I am very sad about it,” he said. “I don't know why these people (in Catalonia) want to be separate. I don’t know why they think that they are a nation.

“Catalonia has never, ever been independent. They are always crying about being an economic resource. You can imagine that Dublin is richer than Athlone, but the Dublin region cannot be independent. It has to share its resources with others.”

He pointed out that the Catalan independence referendum was illegal under the Spanish constitution and argued that the demonstrations in support of the vote were partly influenced by agitators who came in from other parts of Spain and Europe.

Spain is made up of seventeen regions, each of which has its own parliament. “Imagine if you have a house with seventeen rooms, and you are the father with seventeen sons,” explained Antón.

“One son says, hey, Dad, I want to leave. Then you say to them, go out, leave, but the room is here. The room is mine, not yours. You are using the room because I want you to use it. So it's the same (in Catalonia), more or less.”

Our conversation took place a few hours before Spain played Albania and Ireland played Moldova in World Cup qualifiers. Antón, a Real Madrid fan, said he wouldn't be tuning in to the Spain game because of the involvement of Barcelona's Gerard Pique, a supporter of the Catalan referendum.

“If the Spanish manager wants to play (Pique), and the other Barcelona players, then that is not my team. They are not representing me. Tonight I will support Ireland, not Spain, because of these guys.”

The son of a naval officer, Antón followed in his father's footsteps when he entered naval college in Galicia at the age of 19. Throughout his career, he spent time living in a variety of Spanish port cities and he also had a six-year spell in Naples, Italy, on NATO duty.

Antón is married to Mercedes and they have four sons. He is now in the naval reserve and - because he was not on an assignment - decided to move with his family to Ireland last year to help his three youngest sons improve their English.

“Because I didn’t have any assignment (in Spain) we thought, instead of doing nothing there, we are going to do nothing in Ireland!” he laughed.

A person who helped them with the move was familiar with Athlone and decided to enrol Anton and Mercedes' children in local schools. Their sons Anton (16) and Pablo (15) are now in fifth year in Athlone Community College while their youngest, Santi (11), is in St Mary's National School.

The family hopes to stay in Ireland for another year, to allow their two teenage boys complete the Leaving Cert here. They will then return to Spain, where their current home is in Puerto de Santa María, Cadiz.

During his time in Athlone, Antón has become involved with the local community and he volunteers as a presenter of the Foreign Language Programme on Athlone Community Radio (Tuesdays at 6.30pm).

“I am very fond of radio, so having a microphone in front of me is fun,” he said.

Antón is a gifted artist, having been given “the painting bug” by his mother at the age of 11. He joined the Athlone Art Group and has created some beautiful and distinctive watercolour paintings of the town.

His work is due to be included in upcoming Athlone Art Group exhibitions in the Athlone Towncentre (November 7-14) and the Luan Gallery (December 15 - January 15). He said the latter, in particular, would be a special honour.

“I am very proud of that. I never in my life thought I would get to hang one of my pictures in a real art gallery,” he said.

In addition, Antón is part of the 'Spanish Table' - a group of Spanish and Irish people who meet each Tuesday evening in the Radisson for conversations to improve their proficiency in English and Spanish. He has also started playing the Custume Pitch 'n' Putt course in Cornamagh recently.

Moving to Athlone was a cultural adjustment but, surprisingly, the climate here was not something he found problematic.

“I like very much this weather, and when I say that people don't believe me!” he smiled. “Sometimes it's sunny, sometimes it’s raining, sometimes it’s cold, sometimes it’s not. In Spain it’s sunny (all the time).”

Getting settled in Ireland meant having fill out a lot of paperwork, and this proved frustrating at times. Eating out is more expensive here and restaurant kitchens don't stay open as late as they do in Spain.

“The food is totally different. For instance, the rice here is different than what we have in Spain. If my wife is cooking something with rice here it’s not the same, the result is different!” he observed.

Overall, however, he said that he and his family were happy in Ireland. He praised the schools his sons attend, and said they were adjusting well. They have been joined by Alberto (13), the son of a family friend, who is also living with the Ribas family in order to learn English here.

“I like the people. The Irish people are normally very friendly,” said Antón. “I like the landscapes. I like to walk. I like the green fields.”

“Also, our neighbours are excellent. They are very willing to help us if we have a problem. I like them very much, and that’s important,” he concluded.

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