Sunday, October 25, 2009

First Impressions

For years I have wondered about my parents' view of Ireland - it was the 1940's and early 50's Ireland - the "top of the mornin' to ya" Ireland. They encapsulated their homeland in the time frame that they wanted to remember it by. But do you know what I discovered? That I have been carrying around my own frozen-in-time 1970's view of Ireland since I was sent there in that particular decade - The place where the air was permeated with the smell of peat fires, and the taste of too sweet Coke and and the neverending military checkpoints. Boy, was I in for a few bubbles being burst on this trip!

Upon arrival in London I breezed through their immigration checkpoint - after all I am a British citizen and they asked no questions. I assumed the Irish checkpoint would be just as casual. Wrong! I may have been expecting an extra warm welcome to the land of leprechauns but instead I was interrogated about exactly how long I would be staying and exactly what I was planning to do while there. When asked if I had traveled to Ireland before I mentioned that I was born in Belfast. The officer looked me in the eye and stated, "Well ma'am....this is NOT Great Britain." Alrighty then....that was burst bubble #1.

I hailed a cab and sat in rush hour traffic for an hour, all the while watching the euro meter buzzing right along. When I walked through the door of my room, I threw open the curtains for an eyeful of Ireland but what did I see? Cows grazing on a hillside? No, I saw a TJ Maxx, a McDonald's, a Starbuck's and a Penneys....what? That turned out to be burst bubble #2...

Where had I landed? Not in my 1970's Ireland! Over 15 years ago, globalization had found its way into this once agricultural country which brought rampant growth and wealth to a place that had been best friends with poverty for centuries. The sight of those Western corporations caused a deepening crack in my emerald colored glasses!

Later, when I entered the restaurant I discovered that all the servers were Bulgarian Romanian, and Polish, as were all the hotel staff. I had trouble understanding them as their English was not the greatest (of course I don't speak a word of their language so who am I to talk?) Where were all the Mollys and Patricks and Liams? This was the final burst to my 1970's Irish bubble .

The new face of Ireland is one of immigration that arrived as the Celtic Tiger grew. But with worldwide recession and job losses this immigration is now being curtailed - hence the intense questioning received from the Irish Customs agent.

I now had a choice to make - I could cling to my old concept of Ireland, and spend the rest of my time whining about what was no longer reality (i.e. an Ireland of only Irish people) or I could accept the changes and move forward, with the realization that it was never "my" Ireland to begin with!

I chose the latter. We are all connected, are we not? and everyday our world becomes a bit smaller. People move around this globe...a lot! Borders are becoming blurred as they should be. In these difficult times of political and economic uncertainty, it is wise to remember that my story is not the only one or the most important one or the chosen one. I'm called to practice acceptance and compassion of all who carry their own stories. It is in hearing those stories that community is formed. May I remember this point.

There is an old Irish proverb that says "It is in the shelter of the other that the people live." I learned the importance of this all encompassing shelter of the "other" on this first leg of my trip.

photo is on how to register a birth in ireland.


Philomena Ewing said...

Hallo again Roberta and glad to see you back home safely. Reading your posts struck a chord with me as something similar happened to me a few years back when I went back to Ireland where I was born. I left as a young child but always returned for family holidays and went back well into my twenties and beyond. I saw ireland throught the troubles and when I went there in the heyday of the Celtic Tiger I thought then that although things were great and it would be wrong to be a "begrudger", that somethingwas already being set in motion that would rob Ireland of so much that people loved it for.I think many of the Irish who live there are a little tired of the romantic view we exiles have. Yet
I still hanker for the soul of my land of birth and I do feel that it still has something that the UK will never give me no matter how long I live here. I think you are great to be adaptable to learn and get something positive from your experience. I want to hear more of what you picked up from the conference too.
I didn't know you were Irish until now but I do feel a strong affinity with what you say so is that me being daft or is serendipity working here ??

Jayne said...

Funny how we get a certain view in our heads of how things will be based upon past experience, and then find that time has indeed not stood still. I think my bubble would have been burst too Roberta. I am hoping that when I take my mom, we can be out in the countryside more, and see more of what Ireland is in my mind and heart. :c)