One of the questions on the Mitchell End-Of-Year Survey asked us the following:
We strive to connect Scholars to people of the island of Ireland. Did your experience have this result? In what ways was this accomplished or hindered? Please be specific regarding your connections, plans to nurture those relationships, and how we can support you in so doing.
When I answered it a couple weeks ago, my original response began with “Not really” because I do not feel very connected to many stereotypical Irish people. The majority of my friends do not fit the image of the “people of the island of Ireland” that has been presented to me constantly throughout my time in the Republic—that is: white, Catholic, straight, and settled (i.e. non-Traveller). When I’ve asked my classmates and lecturers about their knowledge of and interest in minority groups in Ireland, such as the Jews, I have been repeatedly assured that, for example, the Jewish population here is insignificantly small and therefore not of concern. Because I couldn’t understand why the small size of a minority group can justify ignoring its presence, I decided to write my dissertation on the discourse surrounding diversity in the Republic of Ireland. Specifically, I hope to present an extensive critique of the 2010 Intercultural Education Strategy as it appears to further closed notions of Irish identity as specifically white and Catholic, which I believe foster exclusion in the Irish education system.
Therefore, it is quite frustrating that my initial response to the question above fell into the same logic by thinking that my lack of white, Catholic Irish friends means that I have not connected to the “people of the island of Ireland”. Fortunately, my partner Rachel reminded me of the alternative discourses that I’ve been trying to engage and promote. First of all, Ireland has always been diverse. At least religiously, the Jews arrived on the Emerald Isle almost a thousand years ago before there were even Protestants. Now of course the Protestant population has been significant in numbers though increasingly segregated to the North over the last century. Then during the 1990’s and early 2000’s, the Celtic Tiger brought such waves of immigration that Ireland saw net immigration (more people moving in than out) for the first time in its history. While there seems to be a growing discursive current that the ‘diversity’ is just going to leave now that the economic boom has ended, my work at the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) has consistently revealed to me that the population of Ireland has permanently changed. Just yesterday (June 15), 4000 people were naturalised as Irish citizens (see the Irish Times article). With 110 countries represented at yesterday’s citizenship ceremony, there are now lots of Irish people who not white and Catholic. The picture on the right is from the launch of a new project called Ambassadors for Change aimed at helping migrant secondary students navigate the educational system. I’m the only one in the picture who’s not and doesn’t want to be Irish.
Obviously, I now need to change my answer about the connections I have made here. I feel very connected to the “people of the island of Ireland”, though most of them are not white and not Catholic. My boss for my internship at ICI has been one of the greatest mentors I have had in a long time. Because of that, I am sure that I will be emailing him about every professional choice I make especially because he is the most globally-networked individual I have ever met. I hate that I didn’t think about him at first just because he is originally from Rwanda. He has been an Irish citizen for almost 10 years now. Another connection came simply from meeting a couple at the Ireland-US Alumni Association conference in January. The husband and I share Presbyterian connections in the States, and the wife is a lecturer at Trinity in the same field as Rachel. Since we are both interfaith couples interested in human rights and religion, we will definitely stay in touch. Again though, I didn’t initially think of them because he’s a US citizen and her family is originally from Iran. Of course though she became an Irish citizen years and years ago, and they’re choosing to live in Dublin. While those friends are legally Irish, I also have other friends who are long-term residents of Ireland but are legally members of other EU states. With the Republic’s close EU connections, they’re now part of “the people of the island of Ireland” too. Those friends are the closest, and we have shared many a meal together including Thanksgiving and Christmas (pictured above). The value in this diverse group of friends and contacts in Ireland and beyond is immense, and I find it really unfortunate that the stereotypical classification of “who is Irish” made me forget to count and value these connections provided through the Mitchell scholarship. I’m sure you can imagine how important such connections are.