A Letter from Ireland
Céad míle fáilte. Over fifty thousand fans will descend on the Aviva Stadium in Dublin for the Norte Dame v Navy game this Saturday. The town is buzzing.
This event is bigger than a game. It is a homecoming for fans of the “Fighting Irish”. Despite the passing of generations, it will be a celebration of place, family, and friendship. Irish America, held together by a common bond of history, shaped the US and Ireland.
Some fled Ireland to escape persecution at the hands of the British or following the civil war. Many more fled hunger, poverty, and destitution. In today’s terms, they would be asylum seekers and economic migrants. For us, they will forever be our families.
When immigration was at its peak at the time of an Gorta Mór, the Irish that landed on the shores of the US had to look after themselves. They were branded drunkards, lazy, and uneducated. The aptly named “Know Nothing Party” tried to block citizenship, and blamed the Irish for moral decline and a threat to the American WASP way of life. Maligned in the media, “No Irish Need Apply” was both a sentiment and a policy.
Mobs would attack Irish neighborhoods and Catholic Churches. Groups such as the Hibernians sprung up to protect the community and promote the culture. The Irish took on the worst jobs and were relegated to slums. Many died on the road with broken backs and broken hearts.
The “Fighting Irish” would earn that reputation in the streets, on the battlefield, and across sports arenas. They sought opportunity and a level playing field. The battles for rights and equality would open the doors for their sons and daughters and generations of Irish that followed.
This weekend the children of those generations will come back to Ireland. History never stops, though it can repeat if we fail to learn from it.
Just as Irish America is landing; a new generation of Irish is leaving. They are heading to Australia, Canada, and the middle east. They are being denied an opportunity to put down roots in Ireland. They have jobs but no homes. Working is no longer a route out of poverty. Renting is beyond the grasp of many and home ownership is a pipe dream.
And what of those who come to Ireland seeking sanctuary and opportunity just as generations of Irish did? They are left on the streets. A nation of emigrants failing to welcome those who come to our shores. There are vocal micro-groups of “Know Nothings” repeating the mantras that met generations of Irish in the US.
We are better than this. We are a nation that built the world, but cannot house our children or meet our international obligations. This is not a natural disaster, but the outworking of successive governments’ policies.
It will only be addressed by a change in government. It will be changed by Sinn Féin leading a government in Dublin. We can celebrate and learn from our past. We can build a new and united Ireland. n
I hope Irish America and all the Irish diaspora will walk that journey with us as we build a nation true to the creed Céad míle fáilte. Meanwhile, come on the “Fighting Irish”.
Ciarán Quinn is the Sinn Féin Representative to North America. Each week he writes a letter from Ireland with news and analysis. It is featured in the weekly Friends of Sinn Féin USA Newsletter. Be sure you are subscribed to stay up to date.