Growing up I always felt so lucky to be Irish. And felt doubly lucky to be from Dublin. I was seriously comfortable in my Irish skin.
I suppose there was something about not being one of the colonists next door. Something about being the country that produced so many missionaries, nurses and aid workers and Irish soldiers helping not harming.
We prided ourselves on our literary past, blamed our occupiers for its interruption, and celebrated those who overcame the attempted the destruction of our language and adopted the new tongue to make it more beautiful, clever, funny and expansive.
There was also something about us loving our own country’s glory, mountains, rivers and coasts. And having cities that connected us to our past.
I felt this despite knowing that I was part of a generation educated to be exported. I still remember the ice cold feeling I had when then Irish Presidential candidate Brian Lenihan told a gathered group of young people in UCD that they just had to face the economic realities of Ireland and be prepared to emigrate. We prided ourselves on being so well educated in languages and other desirable skills, we could carry them to other countries.
Now perhaps my being glad to be Irish might be the result of a con job by successive governments to keep us quiet and happy. A deception designed so we did not go absolutely stark raving mad at the poverty, cronyism, cruelty and backwardness of a failed state that suffered in different ways from the northern six counties from partition, but most definitely suffered its pernicious consequence.
And maybe that would be partly true. But also there is something wonderful about our madness that allows us to take courage, see the good side of things and always believe tomorrow will be better. And something fabulous in us loving our country despite its failings and because of them. A spirit of resistance not defined by militarism, but just by being ourselves.
But the debate on partition must not be sidestepped as we try to make the best of things. On either side of the border.
Surely the enormity of the horrors of institutional abuse must be framed as one of the consequences of partition. Surely the savagery of the denial of women’s choice regarding pregnancies in outrageous situations must be viewed as a crisis of the very conscience of our island. Surely the stubborn, consistent poverty faced by thousands on our island must be viewed through the prism of the economic destruction caused by occupation.
It is stupid that women campaign to repeal the 8th amendment in the south and are lobbying to have the most basic concessions in medical care in the North but there is not an all island approach to this most basic matter.
Partition has been described as a state of mind. Maybe it’s time to begin thinking of our experiences and our future in a new, modern all island way? That applies equally to the “Free State” mentality as it does to Unionism. Sometimes those campaigning on liberal social issues are the most narrow minded when discussing constitutional questions. But maybe if we challenge this prejudice or fear we can set all of our people free in a new setting, with a new future.