Tag Archives: Ireland

I Am Lucky

I am lucky to have been born when I was born.

I am lucky that my parents were married to one another.

I am lucky that my mother survived my birth.

I am lucky that my father was not sick, or unemployed, or addicted to anything.

I am lucky that I was raised with love and stability.

I am lucky. Simply that.

Other babies, born just as I was in Ireland, the country I call home, were not so lucky.

They were born to women young enough to be called children themselves.

They were born of rape, or incest, or simple love relationships not ‘sanctified’ by marriage.

They were born to women who could not care for them.

They were born into families where too many children existed already.

They were born to women who were committed to institutions against their will.

They were born to women who fought for them, who begged for them, and who were told ‘no’.

They were born to women who never knew that they’d been sold to good, decent families abroad.

They were born to women who never knew they’d died, unloved, and were buried in unconsecrated ground.

They were born to women who loved them desperately, but who were torn from them before an ‘attachment’ could form.

None of this was their fault, just as nothing about my birth had anything to do with me.

 

It’s the tiny cruelties which break me open the most – the fact that these children were stigmatised by being called ‘illegitimate’, sent to school at different times to the ‘ordinary’ children so that friendships couldn’t grow between them – for fear, the horror, the very idea that an illegimate child from a Mother and Baby Home could be friends with a legitimate child of a married couple. The fact that information about families was kept from the members of those families – names, birthdates, addresses – meaning that parents couldn’t trace their children, children couldn’t trace their parents, inquiries were met with stony silence.

Hush it up. Brush it off. Ignore them. They’ll go away.

Ireland did this – my country, which I love. Members of my church, the Catholic church, were intricately involved with this decades-long conspiracy of silence.

Let us be silent no more, and let the names of the lost children shame us all. Let the memories of the lost women remind we who are lucky enough never to have seen the inside of a Laundry or a Home exactly how lucky we are.

And let every single one of them be counted, claimed and told – too late – you belong.

 

 

 

 

#HomeToVote

I don’t think I’ve ever been as amazed by any social phenomenon as I’ve been by the #HomeToVote hashtag on Twitter.

Today is the day Ireland goes to the polls to vote on whether we should allow people who are twenty-one and older to run for President (currently, one has to be thirty-five or older to run for that office), and whether we should extend the rights and protections of civil marriage to same-sex couples. They are both important issues, but I think the latter is the one which has drawn so many people home, and which has seen over sixty thousand people register to vote for the first time.

Honestly, I’m flabbergasted by the whole thing. In the best possible way.

In a little over twenty years, we’ve gone from a country where homosexuality was illegal to a country where thousands of people are streaming home for a flying visit simply to vote – let’s hope! – that same-sex partners can get married, and be considered equal under the law and the Constitution to their heterosexual brothers, sisters, cousins, coworkers, and friends. I have seen arguments to suggest that holding a referendum, or a popular vote, on an issue which should be one of human rights (and therefore above a mere vote) is an inappropriate thing to do, but in Ireland, we have no other way of doing it. To amend our Constitution, we must hold a referendum. And to give same-sex couples the same rights as everyone else, their right to marry must be enshrined in the Constitution. It does make me uncomfortable that I, as part of the heterosexual ‘majority’, have the power to essentially bestow a human right upon my fellow citizens, but I hope that – should the ‘Yes’ vote carry – it will be seen as solidarity, as brother- and sisterhood, and not a patronising gesture.

In any case, whatever happens today, I have never been so emotionally moved by any electoral or referendum campaign, and I have never been more amazed at the people of my country, and overwhelmingly the young people of my country, at that. I will be so proud to take my place in line today (for queues are forming at polling stations! I’ve never seen the like!) and cast my vote, in the full and certain knowledge that I am living in a democracy, and that the people – when they truly rise up and claim it – have power beyond measure.

It almost makes up for the Eurovision. Almost.

Image: irishexaminer.com

Image: irishexaminer.com

Lá Fhéile Phádraig

All of us have things we love about our native lands, and all of us have things we can’t stand. I’m no exception. I’m very proud of being Irish, and by and large I’m happy to live in Ireland and to say that ‘ich am of irlaunde‘, but there are also things which make me angry, mad, and depressed about the country of my birth. As ‘modern’ as we like to think we are, there’s a lot of inequality here, and there can be a strange, parochial, ‘me-me-me’ mindset which privileges some people over others, and certain groups in our society are given far too large a platform to espouse their viewpoints, sometimes at the expense of reasoned debate.

Hm. No different to anywhere else then, I suppose.

There’s one day of the year, however, when it’s easy to cast all your cynicism about being Irish to one side, and just enjoy the fact of your nationality, and that’s ‘Lá le Phádraig’ – St Patrick’s Day. I never go into Dublin to watch the St Patrick’s Day parade there any more, because as spectacular as it is (and this year was no exception) I can’t deal with the crowds, and the noise, and the public drunkenness (though if you’re younger, fitter and more of a party animal than I am, you can’t beat Dublin on St Patrick’s Day for ‘craic‘). I stay at home instead, where the parade consists of a few old tractors chugging up the main street, and the local Irish dancing school jigging along behind them, and local amenity groups taking a chance to thank the people who’ve supported them all year round. This is the sort of St Patrick’s Day parade that I love.

Photo Credit: Hotelsireland via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Hotelsireland via Compfight cc

I haven’t been living in my local village for very long (well, it’s several years at this stage, but in Ireland, unless you’re born somewhere you’re always a ‘blow-in’!), but I have made friends in my time here, enough to see several familiar faces in the crowd and walking in the parade itself. This recognition connects me to the parades of my childhood, in which I knew everybody, and makes me feel part of something bigger and more meaningful. I love that I live in a place which has a hugely rural flavour and sensibility, where showcasing farm machinery and celebrating our local Macra na Feirme (an association for young farmers) and Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (a nationwide network of Irish music and dancing groups) is a parade highlight, and where people of all nationalities and backgrounds walk together in the strip of our local Gaelic Athletic Association football and hurling clubs. I’d sooner stand in the cold to watch this sort of parade than I’d like to look at the fancy, multi-million euro spectacles put on in our larger cities; the smaller parades make me feel Irish, and they make me feel proud of the hardworking, dedicated and connected community which unites our smaller towns and villages up and down the country. I’m wary of nationalistic fervour, and I don’t believe that pride in one’s country should make a person blind to that country’s flaws, but watching the effort that people put into their costumes and floats, and the good humour with which they wait for hours for their turn to walk in the parade, and the sense of togetherness that the day fosters, I can’t help but be happy to live where I live. And that’s a good thing.

Whether you observed it or not (and whether you were even aware of the day at all!) I hope you had a good St Patrick’s Day, and that you wore a little bit of green, somewhere. Did you manage to catch a parade, or do anything ‘Irish’ on the day? If you’ve never been in Ireland on March 17, maybe next year is they year you should pay us a visit – just make sure to wrap up warmly while you’re waiting for the parade to start!

Photo Credit: Mijos via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Mijos via Compfight cc

Eine Kleine Tagmusik

It’s a Bank Holiday, and the sun (the actual sun! Accept no substitutes!) is merrily flowing forth upon the spume-bespattered pebble that is my country. Not only has my brain short-circuited from all the light, but I’m feeling an irresistible urge to get my rickety old bones out into it; accordingly, the following Public Service Announcement will have to do for a blog post today:

Happy Easter, to those of you not in chocolate-induced comas today. And to those of you in chocolate-induced comas – good job, my friends. Good job.

Image: citybibleforum.org

Image: citybibleforum.org

 

Wednesday Write-In #86

The prompt words this week:

mistake :: baggage :: curlew :: tear :: shatter

Image: brokesch.blogspot.com

Image: brokesch.blogspot.com

The Uncrowned King

Whoever found the curlew would be crowned King of the Slob, and Da had been limbering up for weeks, getting himself in prime hunting fettle. Me and Jimmy had been spending every evening after I came home from school gluing feathers to our paper headbands, which Mam had measured out just right for us, like crowns. Camouflage, she called them.

Now it was the night before, and Jimmy and me were nearly sick with the excitement.

‘It’ll be us, this year. I can feel it,’ Da said, striding around the kitchen table with his legs spread wide, body low to the ground. ‘The Flahertys, lads. This year. Kings of the Slob!’

‘King of all the eejits, more like,’ said Mam, stepping over him to dump a load of warmed plates on the table.

‘That’s what you say, Mary,’ said Da, in a dark and shivery voice, turning on Mam with his hands outstretched. ‘But it’d be a mistake, me dear. A big mistake!’

‘Phelim!’ she shrieked, flicking the tea-towel at him. ‘Will you ever cop on to yourself!’ But she was laughing, too, so me and Jimmy knew everything was grand.

‘I won’t!’ he roared, grabbing Mam up into his arms. She shrieked as Da tickled her, and Jimmy started clapping, like a baby. He slithered down off his stool and ran to them, but Mam swung back her hand just then to clatter Da around the head, and she knocked Jimmy down instead.

There was a second when nobody moved or said anything, and then Jimmy’s little wail – like a newborn lamb – rose up from under the table.

‘Holy Mother of God,’ said Mam, dropping to her knees.

‘Is the child all right?’ asked Da, holding onto the sink to keep himself on his feet. ‘Oh, sweet Jesus,’ he muttered, half to himself. From beneath the table I could hear Mam’s gentle whisperings, and Jimmy’s sobs, easing until they were barely there at all.

‘Come on, now,’ she said, straightening up, a red-faced Jimmy in her arms. His whole body was juddering and he had one fat fist shoved into his gob. Mam wiped a tear from his cheek. I wondered if I was the only one who noticed his curlew-hunting crown was shattered, though – it hung down at the back like a broken washing line, trailing feathers and bits of glue and Sellotape.

‘Me poor little man,’ said Da, and Jimmy started sobbing again. He threw himself forward, reaching out, and Da plucked him from Mam’s arms. The crown fell apart then, tumbling down in pieces all over the floor and Mam’s clean tablecloth.

‘Ah, will you look,’ said Mam, flapping at the shards of hat with her tea-towel. ‘There it is, gone.’

‘No matter,’ said Da, smoothing Jimmy’s sweaty hair, fine and blonde, back from his sticky face. Jimmy blinked, his bottom lip puckering out like the bowl of a spoon. ‘Sure there’ll always be next year. Won’t there, Joe?’ Da looked at me. The band of my own curlew-hunting crown felt hot against my head, and a stray piece of feather was digging into my skin. I felt like I’d swallowed something that was too big, something that was struggling as it went down into my stomach. Something with claws, and a long beak.

‘Answer your daddy, Joseph!’ said Mam, scooping up bits of feather with her hand. She frowned down the table at me. ‘You can hardly expect to go hunting the curlew without Jimmy, now, can you?’

I slid my crown off and put it on the table, and before anyone could say anything I ran out the back door and off down the lane. Redmond, the farmer, kept cows in the far field, and they seemed to understand most things.

I came back when I was ready, muck to my ears, and Jimmy was sitting on the kitchen table playing with Mam. She was clapping, and he was giggling, and he was wearing the crown I’d left behind like it was his birthright, and not one bit of bother on him, none at all.

**

Note for the curious: The ‘Slob’, or Sloblands, is the name given to an area of marshy land not far from where I grew up; it is now a bird sanctuary, where curlews are encouraged to breed and nest. I’ve invented the ‘King of the Slob’ and the curlew hunting, and – because curlews are endangered in the British Isles – I really don’t recommend hunting them for real!

Reasons to be Cheerful

Earlier in the year, I posted about the (as I saw it) deplorable acceleration in Ireland’s crime rate, and the increasing savagery of those crimes; in that post, I spoke about how Irish people were losing faith in their government and the Catholic church, and that only the system of law had any credence left.

Well, since then, the Gardaí – our police force – has imploded under the weight of a bugging scandal and the dismissive treatment of two whistleblowers who sought to bring corruption within the force to light and crime, very sadly, has carried on undaunted. I have stopped counting the amount of shootings and attacks that line every news bulletin, because there’s only so much darkness that one struggling mind can take. Sometimes it truly feels that Ireland is under a black cloud – partly of its own making – which will never clear.

But today I have a reason to be proud of my country.

Image: rte.ie

Image: rte.ie

Seo é Úachtaráin na h-Éireann, Michéal D. Ó hUiginn – this is the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins. And today he, his wife Sabina, and our ‘Tánaiste’ (equivalent to a Deputy Prime Minister) are travelling to London to meet with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth on the first State Visit to Buckingham Palace by an Irish head of State.

Perhaps, to a non-Irish person, this doesn’t sound like a huge deal. But it is.

A few years ago, when Her Majesty visited Dublin, I was still working in the city. Getting around Dublin during the weeks before the visit was complicated, as security checks were being completed absolutely everywhere. Buildings were checked. Sewers were sealed up. Barriers were erected to cordon off the expected crowds, for not only did the Queen visit Ireland that summer, but so did President and Mrs Obama, whose trip came a few days before hers. In practical terms, these barriers meant that a hurrying, short-legged pedestrian – i.e. me – racing to catch buses and make their way home after a long day at work was often thwarted in their efforts.

But, somehow, it didn’t seem to matter all that much. The Queen was coming to Ireland. The Queen. No British monarch had set foot in the country since 1911 – exactly one hundred years before – when we’d still been part of the Empire. This was huge. Of course, there was the usual sabre-rattling from the expected corners of the country; there were bomb threats. There were howling voices in the media decrying it as an insult to our fallen forefathers.

And then, there were ordinary citizens like me, praying that nothing would happen to Her Majesty or Prince Philip on Irish soil. Praying that they’d be safe, not only for their own sake but also for the sake of the future of Ireland and its relationship with Britain.

Image: telegraph.co.uk

Image: telegraph.co.uk

When the Queen stepped out of her car dressed in a green suit to shake hands with the then-President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, it was a lump-in-throat moment for me.

Her Majesty went on to lay a wreath in the Garden of Remembrance to honour the fallen in the cause of Irish freedom, and I watched it on TV and wept, as – I’m sure – did many in my country.

When she gave a speech at a State dinner in Dublin Castle – once, of course, a British stronghold in the city – and began it with a few words of Irish, it was stunning. I think it was at that point the country, and its relationship with Britain, turned a corner.

I hope our President and his wife will be safe in the UK, because I’m sure there are still dissenters who would wish to derail the peace that has been hard-won between our countries. I hope he acquits himself with as much dignity as Her Majesty did on her State visit to Ireland – I have no doubt he will, for he is a scholar and a gentleman. But most of all I hope the trip gives Ireland something to be proud of, something to lift the spirits; I hope it reminds us all how far we’ve come since the terrible times when it seemed we were going to tear ourselves in shreds, all for the sake of the indefinable idea of ‘freedom.’

There is more than one way to be free. Ridding ourselves of the burden of the past is a good first step toward the liberty we’ve fought so long for. But above all, let there be peace, and peace evermore, and let no more blood be shed.

Newspaper account of the Queen's historic handshake with Sinn Féin politican and ex-IRA member, Martin McGuinness Image: andrewsherman.blogspot.com

Newspaper account of the Queen’s historic handshake with Sinn Féin politician and ex-IRA member, Martin McGuinness
Image: andrewsherman.blogspot.com

 

‘Wednesday’ Write-In #78

Alors! Apologies for being late with this week’s Wednesday Write-In, chers. Life – including a storm complete with winds strong enough to almost bash the windows in, a power supply which saw fit to flicker on and off, and hail fit to batter holes in the roof – interposed. But, to my very great delight, everything is fine, and things can resume as normal today. We got away lightly compared with some of the rest of the country, which has seen extensive damage and widespread power outages. Winter storms, eh? Great fun.

Incidentally, this is my fiftieth Wednesday Write-In. Incroyable.

This week’s words were:

maple :: collection :: coarse :: husky :: cigar smoke

Image: megthegrand.blogspot.com

Image: megthegrand.blogspot.com

The Morning After

We’d driven to the beach to watch the sunrise, a collection of people too random to be friends, but joined by an inexplicable and unspoken bond. Someone, from somewhere, had stolen a cigar; smoke hung in the air inside the car like incense, and the heavy scent of it was making me feel sick.

A guy in the back was humming a song I loved, one about the Maple Leafs and ladies with lacy sleeves. I settled into it like a favourite shoe, my eyes sliding closed, wanting so desperately to sing along, out loud.

‘Hey,’ said Robin, suddenly. ‘There it is.’ His voice was husky – too much shouting and not enough sleep the night before. ‘The sun, guys. It’s comin’ up. Our first day as adults!’ He pulled himself up using the steering wheel, the bowtie on his rented tux coming askew.

‘Oh, gimme a break,’ moaned Stacey, curled up like a golden lullaby in the corner of the back seat, her head tucked under Brian’s arm. ‘It’s too early for this.’

‘Well, sadly, the sun has been rising early in the morning for a very long time, my dear,’ said Brian, stroking her arm. Whimpering softly, she folded herself further into him and he shifted, slightly, to make room for her. I looked right at him, but he didn’t see me.

‘Hey, I wonder what we’ll all be doing a year from now,’ said the guy in the far corner – the one who’d been singing, I thought. I didn’t know his name, though I was pretty sure we’d had art class together.

‘Time, I should think,’ quipped Brian. Stacey slapped him in that gentle way that only pretty girls can get away with, and he laughed.

‘Bri-bri! Don’t be coarse,’ she said. ‘I’m sure we’ll all be doing wonderful things. You and I’ll probably be in college. And you!’ She pointed at me. ‘Shirley? Sharon?’

‘Sasha,’ I said.

‘God, sorry. Sasha. Of course. Well, I mean, you’ll probably be working, right? In the shop, with your dad?’

‘My uncle.’ I cleared my throat. ‘My dad’s dead.’

‘Oh. Wow.’

I lowered my eyes against the barrage of pitying stares that washed over me, and wished I’d just kept my mouth shut. A long, empty moment passed, and the sun crept up the sky like ink bleeding into a piece of paper.

‘You do know we’re never going to have a truer moment than this one, right here,’ said the guy who’d been singing, his eyes distant. ‘We’re never going to be, like, between things the way we are now. Not ever again. This is it. The turning point of our whole lives.’

Nobody said anything. The car filled up with sharp, harsh light, the sort of light that makes dust motes look like tiny Tinkerbells, and makes eyes sting and shutter themselves away. Already, it felt warmer in here. Crowded. Full.

‘Hey. Maybe we’d better get back, yeah? People will be wondering where we took off to.’ Robin’s voice was soft. He started the engine without looking at anyone, and had already started to pull away from the cliff’s edge before we’d even started settling our uncomfortable, unfamiliar clothes around us, and sitting straight in our slept-in seats.

I took one look back as we drove away. The sunlight danced across the sea, and the sky was like the inside of a blue bell.

It was going to be another beautiful day.