Thursday, May 17, 2018

Ireland - part seven

Earlier in this series of posts, I stated the all too obvious - Ireland’s history, the history you can touch, is around every corner in a way that in Canada it is not. 

However lovely the aged stone, the Irish cannot escape the past … or can they?

There are those who would say that Ireland, for too long, was trapped by - beholden to - history. But, from the 1970s on, entry into the European Union; the Troubles in the North and their impact on the Republic; a collapse of the Catholic Church almost as dramatic as in Quebec; economic boom and bust, then more modest boom; immigration rather than emigration; all propelled Ireland into modernity. Ireland has looked deep into its soul or, less spiritual, national conscience and displayed admirable maturity while doing so.

Same sex marriage approved; a gay prime minister of Indian heritage and now a May 25 referendum on abortion rights in a country with some of the world’s strictest laws

Given the emotions and beliefs involved, I’ve been very impressed to not see a single sign - ‘yes’ or ‘no’ - vandalized. Doubtless, many I did not see have been defaced, but I cannot imagine similar restraint and civility in, say, my own country should a similar vote be held (although Canada has long had abortion on demand).

Ireland feels - is - progressive, while Northern Ireland still has the UK’s most restrictive abortion laws and, given other significant problems, resolving this is not top of list. It is, in some ways, a pity to focus on such a hugely divisive matter as abortion, but that's the big issue here right now. Or at least the big issue along with Britain’s departure from the EU and the implications for Ireland, north and south.

(May 25 - By an overwhelming majority, Ireland has voted to end the ban on abortion.)

There’s a visit this summer and it will be a lot different from a previous one. Pope Francis arrives in August. When Pope John Paul II came in 1979, Ireland was still a highly conservative, church-going country. The crowds for John Paul were vast. Francis will come to - for better or worse - a secular nation. Many look forward to welcoming him, but far fewer than in 1979. Ireland has escaped the cloister. 

I have really enjoyed my trip. And I’ve learned something while here. My great grandmother may have been born in Ireland. That is still to be confirmed, however I do hope it’s true. Although I am from a very Anglo background, the journey has considerably improved my understanding of - and appreciation for - what Ireland has endured and accomplished. I depart with an affection I did not have before.