Just got back from a week in Dublin. I have traveled to many places in this world but the only place outside of the USA that I’ve ever felt at home was Ireland. I’m sure racial memory has something to do with it (I’m quarter Irish) and being American helps since the Irish don’t hold it against us the way some of the Brits (“Iraq! Bush!”) and especially the French and Germans do. But their food is great, their coffee is hearty and black, and of course they’ve got the best beer in the world: Guinness, which I personally haven’t enjoyed in 15+ years but I’m sure St. Peter has one waiting for me, properly poured, at the Pearly Gates because if he doesn’t I’m sure the Other Guy will have one ready for me Down There.
Dublin is a great city with a hint of sadness. It’s fast becoming a multi-cultural European city and losing its “Irish” flavor. This is probably good for the economy and for the Irish people in the long-term, but in the short I’m not so sure. Ireland isn’t known for being a “melting-pot” and still struggles to integrate two very closely related ethnic groups with nearly identical religions. I’m not sure it’s ready to handle an influx of Middle Eastern Muslims, but ready or not they are there and more are coming. In Dublin there are large and apparently growing Eastern European communities. I visited St. Audoen’s Church and heard mass said in Polish. We were served by Czechs and Croats in several pubs and restaurants, and heard Russian several times spoken on the streets. Thanks to the EU’s immigration policy Ireland is opening up, but as an American I’m not sure filling low-skilled and low-paying jobs with Eastern Europeans is a solution to Ireland’s own employment troubles. It’s something that bears watching, and I would love to talk to the Irish more about this issue but since our stay was pretty much limited to Dublin our interactions with the Irish were more limited than previous trips outside of the city.
Talking to the Irish (two taxi drivers and one waitress) we were asked the same question, “So how about President Trump?” The question was posed that way not as a hypothetical, but as a reality. The three seemed convinced he was going to win the election. The Wife and I answered diplomatically, explaining that there was still a lot of time to go before the election and that much could still happen, but none of the three seemed worried. The Wife realized why. They had watched him on TV shows like The Apprentice and were comfortable with him. They knew more about him through those shows and the tabloid stories written about him over the past two decades than they do about Hillary Clinton, who never had the same level of public exposure as Trump. Granted they seemed bemused about him, kind of like, “You crazy Americans…” but they weren’t afraid of him nuking the Chinese or walling off Mexico the way the Hillary-leaning US press tries to scare Americans into fearing him.
We learned that the economy there is still down, but the impression is that things are turning the corner. One taxi driver said that it will be a long time before Ireland returns to being the Celtic Tiger, but remained guardedly optimistic about the country’s future. The impression that we had of Dublin was that the city had clearly seen better days, but the city had potential. Cellphone and broadband services are much better, faster and cheaper than what we are stuck with here. It was easy to get around the city on foot and using taxis, buses and trains. Real estate struck me as overpriced, but then again I’m living in one of the cheapest areas of one of the cheapest countries (real estate-wise) on the planet. And there is plenty to do. The arts are thriving in Dublin and we were bummed that we arrived between major dance performances. The museums are free and top-notch. And the city is filled with plenty of restaurants and pubs so that you never need to visit the same one twice unless you live there or want to.
As an American of Irish descent, I want to see Ireland succeed. I love Ireland and the Irish for many of the same reasons that I love Israel and the Jews. Both nations and peoples have suffered genocide* and oppression. Both have long colorful histories, and both have spawned brilliant scientists, entrepreneurs, and artists that have contributed to making the world a better place. Our next trip back is being planned (as is a trip to Israel coincidentally), and while Dublin’s road to the future remains rocky, I’m confident that the future is brighter than the typical Irish overcast sky.
——*I understand that equating the Holocaust with any other act of genocide in history is dangerous. What the Jews suffered in Europe under the Nazis was unique. No genocide was as carefully planned and executed as the Holocaust – and I respect that. But while differing in scale, the Irish suffered genocide and ethnic cleansing at the hands of the British. I am descended from a husband and wife who came to the US to escape starvation caused by a natural event exacerbated by British policies and used as a tool for the ethnic cleansing of the Irish from their homeland. This was the culmination of several hundred years of oppression that wouldn’t end until the Irish gained independence in 1922. I am not sure how many of my Irish family starved to death during Black 47, but I doubt the number was zero.
And while I remain an Anglophile, I hope that no Brit ever asks me about my guilt over slavery as an American because I’ll have to “let fly” my shillelagh to remind them about their own nation’s sordid past.