It has been one hundred years since the famous uprising in Dublin. Today, one can see the bullet marks in the General Post Office, left from the British soldiers.
There is far too much historical debate to need to climb into the specific history in this blog, however please do read William B. Yeats poem Easter 1916. Also, for some more meaningful context, listen to The Green Fields of France – Eric Bogle’s magnificent anti-war song.
Irish uprisings date back since the earliest contact with their closest neighbours. The indignity, brutality and pointlessness of World War 1 was the proverbial straw to break the camel’s back. The Irish died en masse for a foreign and abusive empire.
Yet for us – the Irish diaspora – the history runs even deeper and the story is somehow more complicated. We were the first modern refugees (perhaps the second after the Scottish Highlanders).
Ireland today is a small (still divided) country of roughly 6.5 million people. In 1841 Ireland’s population was over 8. By 1881 the population of the Island had fallen by 3 million through death by starvation and massive emigration.
Here in the Americas, somewhere between 1/5 and 1/3 of people can claim at least some Irish heritage and cities such as Boston, New York and Buenos Aires owe much of their development to Irish immigration.
Even Chile’s national liberator (although historically debatable) – Bernardo O’Higgins – sported a distinctly Irish name. One would be hard pressed to find a single community in Chile without at least one street named after O’Higgins.
So what led to this massive Irish migration into the Americas (and worldwide)?
The answer, of course, was the famine. The so-called potato famine. This is complicated. Potatoes come from Peru, yet within 200 years of contact and conquest, the Irish lived from the South American tuber.
When the single-strain vegetable rotted, no help came from the British colonial overlords, nor from the landowners in Ireland. The 1% watched the masses starve on streets, emigrate or die. It was awful.
My grandmother (D. 2008) remembered her grandmother saying: “you must always feed anyone who needs food.” This is a direct memory from the famine.
Much like the crime of slavery, this is not ancient history. It is a choice to deny.
When the Irish arrived to New York there were greeted by signs declaring: “No Dogs or Irish.”
They were treated with similar disdain the world over. Over a million died of starvation on the Island before they could even board a ship.
Modern Ireland is a wealthy, educated and sometimes too proud country. It carries a heavy weight on its shoulders. The virtual loss of the Irish language (Gaelic), has meant the Irish experience is more accessible because of the English language.
Of course I am proud of my Irish roots and I return to Ireland fairly often. Nevertheless, I have not truly lived in Ireland since the mid-1990’s and my focus has turned more distinctly to the Americas.
Everything that is rich about Irish culture is wonderful. There is so much to enjoy and celebrate. Yet for us emigrants. For us ‘new world’ Irish, I certainly hope we can offer a much deeper level of understanding to those who are escaping oppression.
For those Social Darwinists who somehow think such competition is necessary, please understand the Malthusian principles which contributed to the Irish genocide.
The Irish were left to starve, because they were considered lesser. A ‘natural’ balance was the justification. This is genocide.
Now back in Ireland the nation is celebrating 100 years since the easter rising. More importantly, Ireland has deep democratic institutions and an excellent relationship with its neighbours.
So often I hear people expressing dismay with the ‘modern’ world, but in terms of our history, this must be about the best time in at least 200 years. Let us hope for brighter days for those escaping oppression and war around the world.