Where are you really from?

A Letter from Ireland

a Chara,

Ireland has been rain-soaked and weather-beaten this week. I take no pride in the fact that it was storm Ciarán that brought the worst of it.

It was time to stay indoors. But what to do? Then I got a text from Gerry Adams recommending an RTE program called, “Ireland 100: A Old Song Re-Sung”.

It was a look back at the past one hundred years of the Irish State in spoken word, reminiscences, and reimagined songs. The program did not shy away from the failures of the state including the mother and babies home scandal and Bloody Sunday.

Emigration was a constant theme. The Scratch found a new dept in the boisterous Pogues anthem, Sally MacLennane. Stripping back all romanticism it became a song of loss through emigration, drink, and longing.

The performances were challenging, raw, and joyous. Forcing us to look beyond the headline history to the lives lived by those who stayed and those who left. It was a celebration of endurance and the human spirit. Of hardship and hope. A past reimagined today.

Then Denise Chaila took the stage to sing “Spancil Hill” a favorite of Irish sing-songs. An immigrant dreaming of home, the fair, his family, his lost love, and waking up in California.

Denise is a rapper, poet, and singer. Born in Zambia. Her family moved to Ireland when she was three. After the first verse, she moved into spoken word, immensely proud of her Irish and Zambian identities. Her contribution was the bridge between the immigrant and emigrant experience. Sharing two cultures at one time. But here is the thing: it was not a difficulty for Denise. She is who she is. It is a challenge for a society that asks, “But where are you really from?”

A narrow definition of Irishness that laments the emigrant but questions the immigrant. It was poignant, and thought-provoking but ultimately inspiring. A glimpse of a new Ireland that is emerging. n

We are all products of our personal histories, experiences, and cultures. That is a strength. Ireland is changing, that is a nature of all things.

It is our job to manage that change. To strive for a better Ireland, to acknowledge our past, good and bad, and to look to the future. To make an Ireland that is home to all, a place of shared prosperity and welcome.

This is an exciting time. We are not bound to the past. We have the opportunity to build a new and united Ireland. Céad míle fáilte must be more than a plaque on the wall.

I hope you have a great weekend.

Is mise,


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.