Dublin's Fair City
All my ancestors come from Ireland, but that doesn’t make me Irish. I’m thoroughly American, but my ancestry has influenced me in many ways. I’ve traveled there twice with my wife to see the farms two of my ancestors left from in County Donegal and County Mayo. Along the way, I’ve had interesting discussions around history and politics at pubs and B&Bs. My wife, though, is apolitical. She’d wait politely for a short while before sending me signals that she wanted us to be on our way. After several such episodes, she said, “Why don’t you come back by yourself sometime when you can talk with whomever you want for as long as you want about whatever you want?”
Well, that time has come. Last spring, an offer came up: ‘round trip airfare and hotel for four nights in Dublin for $500. With taxes and fees, it came to more than advertised, but I booked it anyway. I’d spent a day in Dublin on our first trip and I wanted to go back. My plan was to figure out what pubs political types frequented, then drop by and see what developed. In August, however, I was fortunate enough to meet two political science professors from the University of Notre Dame on their way to their Office of International Studies facility in Dublin. They suggested I visit there when I was in town and told me of three pubs where I should find conversation. I won’t, however, fill my time with only academics and government types. If they’re anything like they are over here, they’ll be somewhat out of touch, so I’ll visit blue-collar pubs as well.Ireland has gone from rags to riches to rags again over just the last twenty-five or thirty years. Their economy was hurting badly when we visited with my elderly mother and uncle in the spring of 2009. Everywhere I looked there were unfinished building projects growing weeds and President Obama had just been inaugurated. Just as in America, many Irish pinned their hopes on him. Eating in pubs from Kerry to Mayo, locals noticed we were Americans and asked if our new president was going to straighten out the economy. Uncle Joe is a retired economics professor and a liberal who reads The Boston Globe every day and believes it. He assured them that Obama would make things right while I shook my head. The Irish hoped a rejuvenated US economy would pull them up but, as we all know, that recovery hasn’t materialized. Now Ireland is in danger of default. Things are very bad there, as they are in Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Greece. The EU and the Euro are declining fast while the dollar drags too.
There have been other changes in Ireland as well. The country could be called “post-Catholic” or soon to become so. As Tom Hundley writes in the Chicago Tribune: “As recently as the 1970s, 90 percent of the Irish identified themselves as Catholic and almost the same number went to mass at least once a week; now the figure for mass attendance is closer to 25 percent.” That’s a profound change in a very short time and there are several reasons for it. The Irish church offended people much the way the American church did. As homosexual priests preyed on boys, bishops covered up and transferred them, just as they did in Boston and in other American cities. One Irish priest fathered children and paid hush money to their mother with church funds. Some say their brief affluence steered the Irish away from religious faith as well. Whatever the reasons, shortly after his appointment, Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin asked, “Will Ireland be Christian in 2030?”Europe itself is called “post-Christian” as churches are sold to burgeoning Muslim immigrant populations and converted to mosques. Its great cathedrals are virtually empty. Percentage-wise, there are fewer Muslim immigrants in Ireland than in the UK and the rest of Europe, but their numbers are increasing rapidly. Islam is now the third-largest faith in Ireland.
Meanwhile, our State Department has issued warnings to Americans traveling in Europe: “[Radical Muslim] terrorists may elect to use a variety of means and weapons . . . to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure. U.S. citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling,” they say.
“Adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves.” That’s funny. I won’t have any weapons, of course - not even my little pocket knife. Guess I could give them dirty looks. If that doesn’t work, I could bite them or hit them with my camera.
Assuming I arrive safely, I’m going to feel the country of my ancestors again, and try to get an idea about where people there think the world is going. It’s good to get out of my own country once in a while and look back at it through other eyes.