Returning to the United States from Ireland is always difficult, because I immediately miss the beautiful scenery, mellifluous speech, and friendly people of Dublin. This time, returning was particularly painful because the first news we heard about upon disembarking from our flight to Newark was that two mass shootings had occurred in under twenty-four hours. And we wanted to turn around and hop on the next flight back to Dublin. This trip that began in Norway and ended in Dublin was our honeymoon, and we have babies on our brains. We can’ t help thinking about where we want our children to grow up: in Donald Trump’s violent and hateful America, or in a more civilized country such as Ireland or Norway?

My husband, Chris, remarked after watching 12 days of European news coverage, “Wow, no one here challenges the fact of climate change that is caused by humans.” He is, of course, correct. Norway is particularly concerned with global warming and pollution–and rightly so. Norway’s natural beauty is unmatched by anything I’ve ever seen. The stunning clear water of the fjords that reflects the mountains that grow out of the earth; the delicious cheese that derives from the humanely-treated goats and sheep that roam the mountains, freely grazing on grasses and plants that grow in the wild. And on these issues, Ireland is much the same. On our drive up to Belfast, we heard the faint mooing of happy cows, and indeed we saw a few goats as well.

In Norway and in Ireland, we realized, capitalism and freedom aren’t viewed as synonyms. People don’t want to abuse nature in order to maximize their profits–or if they do, there are widespread and powerful forces to restrain these perverse desires. Does the goat cheese in Norway and Ireland taste better because it’s made from the milk of happy goats who are free to be goats and enjoy nature? I think it does.

I hadn’t been to Ireland since the centenary celebrations of the Easter Rising in March of 2016, but I hadn’t been to Belfast since May 2011. Dublin remains largely the same in character, with maybe a few more trendy shops. But despite the proliferation of high-end donut joints, my favorites still remain the Rolling Donut stand on O’Connell Street. Om Diva still showcases young Irish designers; as much as I wanted to, I didn’t have the opportunity to venture out to Jennifer Rothwell’s shop, now that it’s no longer at Powerscourt. (You should go, though, if you’re in Dublin!)

This time, I had the opportunity to see some of Ireland through my husband’s eyes. I dragged him to a tour of Glasnevin Cemetery, where many of Ireland’s great leaders and rebels are buried. Our tour guide, Bridget, seems to have fallen in love with Daniel O’Connell, and through her eyes Chris was utterly impressed with the brilliance of the Liberator. Bridget clearly cared less for Charles Stewart Parnell, almost taking on the view of the anti-Parnellites who were so offended by his affair with Kitty O’Shea that they repudiated his leadership because of his “immorality.”

She also had undue reverence for Éamon de Valera. Dev had some great moments in Irish history, and he was surely a great leader of the independence movement. I think he was something of a coward in his refusal to negotiate with Lloyd George, and instead notoriously sending Michael Collins to do so. But more than this, de Valera personally crafted Bunreacht na hÉireann in 1937, a document that gave women second-class status in Ireland–an albatross that Irish women are still working to throw off of their backs. To enshrine within the Constitution a woman’s place “within the home” remains utterly repugnant. Women have made great progress, but still we have a long way to go. Electing a female taoiseach would be a nice move (sorry, Leo).

And on to Belfast….

Image result for belfast city hall pride

While I found Dublin to have been very much the same–same joys; same problems (Ireland and Brexit deserves a separate blog, given the insanity of Boris Johnson)–I found Belfast to be nigh on unrecognizable. The photo above depicts Belfast City Hall lit up in celebration of LGBTQ+ pride. We were in Maggie May’s for an Ulster fry and some fifteens (yum), and my old favorite spot also celebrates pride. These photos are my own:

Fifteens! A tasty treat unique to Northern Ireland.

Maggie May’s celebrates Pride 2019.

So of course I give high marks to my former home city for its embrace of pride–although I’m also aware that this embrace isn’t shared by everyone (hey, fuck you, DUP). More than gay pride, though, Belfast has been utterly transformed.

If someone had dropped me into the city centre without telling me where I was, I wouldn’t have recognized Belfast. There are so many posh shops and cafes and restaurants all over! When did all of this happen? Some of the old favorites remain: Maggie Mays, the Crown, Kelly’s, and Archana (best Indian food ever)….but where did all of these swanky places come from?

I’m glad to see all of the prosperity-truly. But I also know that this is an uneasy coexistence with ongoing poverty in West Belfast and much of Derry (among other places). Belfast has a serious drug problem, and sectarianism continues to permeate much of the city. The poverty is difficult to stomach in the face of such blossoming culture–and my distaste for this dissonance is enhanced by the enduring lack of government in the North that has been the status quo for over 2.5 years now.

Stormont was never a terribly effective government–let’s be honest. But at least the MLAs had a realistic picture of the problems facing their constituents on a daily basis. I’m glad Westminster is stepping in to introduce same-sex marriage and abortion, but MPs don’t really give much of a shit about Northern Ireland. Boris Johnson clearly couldn’t give less of a fuck, and his no-deal crash out of the EU is going to be a massive cock up for the North. Shame on the DUP for letting this happen; they are the reason Boris is holding onto power right now, and they are sacrificing the economy of their own country in exchange for what they hope will be greater integration with mainland Britain. Shame.

And while I’m on the subject of shame….Sinn Féin could also put a stop to this. I understand the lengthy history of abstentionism and the reasons for it. Yet, if they really are a pro-EU party, as they currently claim to be (though historically they oppose Ireland’s membership in the EU), they could send a couple of MPs to Westminster to kick out the Tories. So Sinn Féin, too, is willing to sacrifice the economy and the people of the North in pursuit of their ultimate goal of Irish unity. Will Brexit be a big enough disaster to push people into a united Ireland? I surely hope so, because otherwise this Machiavellian strategy will hurt a lot of people for nothing.

But to return to my point about civility…..despite the sectarianism in Belfast, and the housing crisis in Éire, and the new attempt to collect the TV license fees (joke)…..still, it is all far more civilized than Donald Trump’s America. Climate change is real. Vaccines save lives. Strict gun laws prevent mass shootings.

Yes. We would go back tomorrow if there were a job for Chris teaching science. A better place to raise children, without question.


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