An escape to the city of Irish hopes and dreams

In a crowded hall in Queens last week, it was hard to avoid the feeling that Ireland was a repressive place – a place to escape from – for so much of our island’s recent history.

A hushed silence had descended over the New York Irish Center in Long Island City as an audience of mainly elderly and middle-aged people gathered to watch a documentary about the harrowing scandal of the ‘Tuam Babies’.

And, then . . . the anger, the questions, and the disbelief. How had this happened to ordinary Irish women and children within living memory?

How had 796 babies and infants been discarded like rag dogs, and perhaps even dumped in a septic tank, in a 20th century Western society?

From the 1920s, when the Irish State was founded, to the 1990s, Irish women had been imprisoned for the terrible ‘crime’ of giving birth to a child outside marriage. Their children were branded as “illegitimate”, many taken from them often against their will, and the women themselves were shamed for life.

That’s why t…

No ordinary friend

A few weeks ago, on a glorious Saturday afternoon, I met an old friend for a cup of coffee outside a café in the centre of town. He might not realise it, but meeting Liam is almost always an uplifting experience.
On this particular day, his positivity was unreal. He was more animated than I had seen him in months.
He had just emerged from an oxygen chamber, where he had been getting daily treatment for a few weeks. As I sat down across from him, he raised his right hand.
“Watch this!” he exclaimed, loudly.
He picked up a cup with his right hand.
The tourists at the next table looked up momentarily, curious as to why this middle-aged man was so animated about picking up a cup outside a Galway city centre café.
He paused.
“I haven’t been able to do that for the past 25 years!”
He was so thrilled, his enthusiasm was infectious. Suddenly, a hundrum afternoon in my home town had been transformed. The significance of the gesture was lost on the people sitting at the nearby table.
I wanted …

They travelled to remember the lost children of Tuam

They came from Cork, Donegal, Tipperary, and even Newry, to underline that the story of the ‘Tuam Babies’ is not just a story of Tuam. It’s a story of survivors and families in similar institutions all across the land, and how the Irish State, their communities, and even members of their own families let Irish women and children down.

Two bus-loads arrived from Dublin. As if to remind some of them of how hurt many people still feel by this issue, one man declined to give the women on one bus directions when they lost their way on the edge of town.

For many, it was a first ever visit to a site which is now known all across the globe.

It still seems incongruous to have to go through a narrow gap between local authority houses and walk around a playground to access a site which has become Ireland’s most infamous unmarked burial ground.

Only this was a day for healing, for forging friendships, and showing solidarity with a remarkable group of people, elderly now, who never sought the glo…

Brexit border implications never even entered some minds

In recent weeks, as Britain has hurtled towards a seemingly uncertain Brexit, many politicians in the United Kingdom have shown little or no interest in recent Irish history - or memory of the anguish of those who lived through 30 years of conflict.

Unlike those living along the 300 mile Irish border, who are waking up with increasing alarm as to the reality of what a “hard Brexit” actually means with every passing day.

People remember Bloody Sunday.

They might not have been in Derry on that terrible January afternoon, but they remember the black flags flying from houses all across the country, the sense of hopelessness, anger, and despair.

Bad enough that 14 innocent people were gunned down, but when the atrocity was committed by the State – the very forces who were supposed to protect ordinary people – the sense of isolation, of a city under siege, was palpable throughout the nationalist areas of Northern Ireland.

And the IRA described the atrocity as the greatest recruitment drive…

Call off the blimp!

Let’s call off the blimp, because Mr President is not coming after all.

Well, not yet, at any rate!

It has been amazing to hear so many people in Ireland express regret that President Trump has postponed (or cancelled) his Irish visit this coming November.

They were so fired up that many said they were looking forward to joining a political protest for the first time.

Irish protesters had to reach out to their counterparts in the UK, who turned out in their thousands to make the President feel so unwelcome when he visited London back in July.

Sorry, they said, we won’t need to ship the giant orange “baby blimp” to Ireland after all!

People in Dublin were really looking forward to the sight of a giant baby Donald in a nappy floating across the skyline.

And a hugely successful crowdfunding campaign had already covered the cost of bringing over the six metre high blimp within days of being set up.

Everyone, it seemed, wanted to be part of mass protests against the US President. The sens…

Just another Sunday afternoon at Shannon

It’s just an ordinary Sunday afternoon at Shannon Airport.

Funny how, in an upside-down world, the small group of peace activists waving flags at a roundabout are made to feel like criminals while the police force ‘protects’ members of the most powerful military in the world . . .  just a few metres down the road.

It’s almost a pantomime at this stage, as everyone knows his or her role.

On the first Sunday of every month, the peace activists descend upon the roundabout on the fringes of the civilian airport.

They unfurl their banners and flags, and commuters, bus-drivers, or cars containing families honk their horns in support as they drive by in sunshine, hail, wind, rain or snow.

It’s some record. They haven’t missed a first Sunday of the month for over a decade now and, indeed, the protests have been going on for a lot longer.

They wish they didn’t have to meet at the roundabout, that they could find something better to do on a Sunday afternoon. But every month they feel a need to…

They stood together in an Irish town

They stood together, side-by-side, in solidarity in the heart of an Irish town.

Their hearts beating loudly, but their heads held high.

These were once the marginalised, the forgotten ones, the ones who were never supposed to speak out, express their pain, or make much of their lives.

As children, they were called the ‘Home Babies’.

Or . . . the children of the ‘fallen women’.

Or . . . the illegitimate ones.

Or . . . appallingly, the bastards.

Bastards –  the disgusting word of choice of a judgmental society, which allowed the imprisonment of innocent women and children to go on for decades.

There were thousands of children like them all around Ireland, malnourished, tearful, forced to march to school in hobnailed boots; forced to arrive later than the luckier ones who were considered “legitimate” in the eyes of a Church and a State which never cared much for their welfare.

There but for the grace of a God who didn’t show much concern for them in the first few years of their lives.