Where have I been?

If you’re one of my regular readers, a quick update:

Since November 2019:

1. I’ve herniated two disks in my neck, spent weeks in pain on my couch taking muscle relaxers, and then landed in physical therapy 2-3 times per week. That’s on-going.

2. My never-ending knee injury reared its ugly head again. Thus, I have had 4 more giant needles shoved into my left knee. The last of these was a long-acting cortisone shot that cost me $850. It had damned well better be worth that amount of money.

3. I hit my head two weeks ago. This boo-boo caused a serious concussion that also landed me on my ass for a week. Sitting in the dark listening to podcasts and trying to sleep as much as possible. My brain is recovering. [Yeah, yeah, yeah, insert the obvious jokes here.]

4. I started a new job. Eaters gotta eat.

 

The New York Times Spends “36 Hours in Dublin”

In this Sunday’s “Travel” section of the New York Times, the writers detail what to do with 36 hours in Ireland’s capital city.

The author really looked for things to do in Dublin, although I wouldn’t make the same choices if you only have 36 hours to spend. Some of the itinerary deserves praise: devoting time to learning real history of the country in places like Kilmainham Gaol and Glasnevin Cemetery are great ways to spend part of your day. Both of those historical locations offer tours with knowledgeable guides who can answer questions. This summer, when I took my husband to Glasnevin, our guide, Bridget, answered my question, “Where is Kitty O’Shea buried?” Her answer was more than the location of Charles Stewart Parnell’s mistress, and later his wife and widow. While she is frequently referred to as Kitty in historical literature, the tour guide told me that the famous woman preferred to be called Katherine. A good piece of information indeed!

Inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. I took this photo about 10 years ago. It’s really beautiful, isn’t it?

If you enjoy literature and beautiful cathedrals, go to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where Jonathan Swift was once the dean, and where he is buried with his beloved Stella. Also, remember to read “A Modest Proposal” and “Gulliver’s Travels.” And if you like theatre, the Abbey Theatre is the national theatre of Ireland, and they do wonderful productions. Get ticket in advance.

I would have made different food choices. If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know that I love the Rolling Donut stand on O’Connell Street (at the corner of Abbey Street), despite fancier donut options only a few streets away. Murphy’s Ice Cream is wonderful: brown bread ice cream with raspberry sorbet tastes like brown bread with jam and is divine and not too heavy. And, of course, there is a wonderful Italian restaurant in Dublin right off of Dawson Street called Carluccio’s – still the best focaccia bread I’ve ever had! (Around the corner is Ulysses Rare Books, a shop that specializes in first editions of Irish books. Bring a credit card if you want to buy anything…not cheap.) To be fair, I’m a vegetarian so a lot of traditional Irish pub fare isn’t my thing. You might take the recommendations of the New York Times if you want to eat fish and chips or any manner of dead animal.

Fashion. Here’s where I really disagree with the New York Times. If you want some hip fashion that you can’t get anywhere else, go to Om Diva, for the love of everything holy. This store has several floors of clothing by independent Irish designers. The offerings change constantly, but they do offer clothing by one of my favorite young designers, Orla Langan. And if you want more upscale clothing designed and made in Ireland, obviously you must go to the studio of Jennifer Rothwell. She’s my favorite designer, of any country, as I love her vibrant prints with colors that make you strut like a peacock (paycock?).

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A photo from Jennifer Rothwell’s “Magical Forest” collection. Photo from jenniferrothwell.com

If you have time, stop in to see what’s on at the Irish Film Institute, which has a decent restaurant and bar. The IFI runs a lot of independent Irish films, as well as classics and indie films from all over the world. I fondly remember seeing “Sing Street” at the IFI when I was living in Dublin a few years ago.

Still, I’m grateful that the paper of record didn’t recommend the Guinness Store House (terrible waste of time and money) or the Jameson Distillery (likewise). I don’t drink much whiskey, or much alcohol in general, but Teeling’s Whiskey is a better stop than either of these. Though personally, if you want some really good Irish whiskey at a reasonable price, pop your head into the Irish Whiskey Shop on Dawson Street and pick up a bottle of Writer’s Tears. This smooth, tasty “strong water” is produced by Walsh Whiskey down in Carlow, so strictly speaking you can’t to go the distillery if you’re spending 36 house in Dublin, but you can definitely buy it. It’s better than Teeling’s.

I think it’s worth getting outside of Dublin if you visit Ireland, and seeing the beautiful country. Maybe take a walk in mountains at Glendalough (Wicklow Mountains National Park), or see some of the scenery in Gougane Barra, Co. Cork, including the tiny stone houses carved into the hills in which monks once lived. Hike the Ring of Kerry, go up to Dingle, and of course the Cliffs of Moher are stunning. And don’t neglect the North: few sites in your life will be more impressive than the Giant’s Causeway–and you can even stop at Bushmill’s Distillery on your way there (or your way back), which is the best whiskey tour in Ireland. And have a pint at Kelly’s Cellars in Belfast city centre, which does a great pint of Guinness and a fantastic pickled egg.

Fascism in Ireland

I’m working on an article on right-wing nationalist movements in Ireland, focusing on Anti-Corruption Ireland, the National Party, and Identity Ireland, with a historical background of the Citizenship Referendum of the early 2000s. These parties employ rhetoric and tactics associated with fascism. Political scientists don’t typically agree on all of the ideas that define fascism, but they do agree on a couple: (1) Pro-natalism and anti-abortion policies that oppress women while simultaneously idealizing them as keepers of the “home”; women thus have the responsibility of raising the next generation of X nation; (2) Extreme nationalism that rejects immigrants and other “races” as inferior and as defiling the purity of the nation; this type of nationalism also looks to the nation’s mythic past and wants to restore the nation’s bygone greatness; (3) corporatism that tames capitalism, and attacks powerful/wealthy companies (and labor unions, sometimes).

I posted about my research on Twitter, with a little joke about Justin Barrett and Gemma O’Doherty having an excellent ouija board with which they communicate with Benito Mussolini.

This was an excellent lesson for me in Internet cultures, and how such groups operate. First, a supporter of Gemma O’Doherty asked me a question about alleged fascism in Israel–a response to a tweet that had literally nothing to do with Israel. This person started by saying: “Weinstein. Interesting name, that,” followed by a question about the Israeli government. The implication here was clear: Because my last name is Weinstein, I’m (1) Jewish, and (2) harbor loyalty to Israel. The person seemed to have been attempting to induce me to defend Israel.

First, this tweet was overtly antisemitic. The deployment of my surname in this way is definitive proof of that. Second, this person invoked the antisemitic trope that Jews have dual loyalty to Israel. I pointed out that I’m American and sometimes live in Ireland, but the person–eventually people–involved in this was not moved. Finally, I noted that while I think Israel engages in a variety of human-rights violations, I’m not an expert on Israel/Palestine, and so I don’t feel comfortable commenting further.

Before I blocked the offending morons, I realized a couple of things about how the supporters of far-right nationalism work:

(1) They operate in online gangs in attempts to bully people into backing off of their positions, or, in my case, research.

(2) While I don’t believe all criticism of Israel is antisemitic, in this case, their use of conspiracy theories to attack Israel stank of anti-Jewish ideas.

I have no interest in engaging with gobshites on Twitter, so I just blocked this person. But, he gave me excellent fodder to open my article when I have enough research to write it. A personal anecdote is always a good way in, right?

For reference, here’s my original Tweet:

My original tweet about my research.

And here’s a small selection of the insanity that I received in response:

A sampling of the bullshit response to my simple statement that I’m researching fascist movements in Ireland.

Update:

These boneheads have also suggested that I’m aiding and abetting paedophiles. Seriously:

seriously!

Reflections on my recent trip to Éire

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.

Irish History & Politics Consultant

The school year is coming to an end, and as soon as I finish grading 26 papers on McCarthyism, I’ll no longer be a secondary-school teacher anymore. I’ve learned a lot from the four years I’ve spent teaching teenagers.

Teenagers are energetic and funny and quite often frustrating. But, overall, I would say that they try to be good people and want to grow up to do good things in the world. Sometimes, as I’ve seen, this changes in college as they are pressured to major in a subject that will be lucrative (say, computer science), as opposed to one for which they have genuine passion (say, philosophy…or, in my case, Irish history). It makes me sad to see this happen to people who were once so gloriously interested in John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry.

I’m an activist and a researcher, not a teacher. The moments I enjoyed most when I was in the classroom all connect with left-wing activism in some fashion. The most gratifying day for me as a teacher was my last day at my first teaching job, when I showed John Oliver’s interview with Edward Snowden. Afterwards, I asked my students if they thought that Snowden is a hero or a traitor. Every single one of my students answered that they thought he was an American hero, and I thought to myself, “I did a good job this year.” I had a similar experience when a student from my second school paid tribute to me before I left, by explaining how much joy he found in my use of Hasan Minhaj’s speech at the White House Correspondents Dinner–that I engaged them in history and current events, and made them think about their own beliefs. These moments put in sharp relief the thousands of other moments that people who love teaching would find satisfying, and yet I do not.

Teaching United States and World history also made clear how much I love researching and talking about Ireland. I tried to find ways to work Ireland into my lessons. I spend an entire day on the Battle of the Boyne when I teach the Glorious Revolution, and I play “Young Ned of the Hill” for my students. I hit on the Penal Laws, Catholic Emancipation, the Great Famine, and the juxtaposition of the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Ireland is my country of choice when I teach about nations and nationalism. And yes, I cover the Unionist perspective and why Unionism is a form of nationalism. Many of my colleagues think all of this is a giant waste of time; but my students have enjoyed it most because it’s what I love to talk about. One student remarked that I’m a different teacher when I teach about Ireland.

I think that student was correct.

And so I’m ending my teaching career this June to return to researching and writing about Irish history and politics. I comment on Twitter, and of course I write here, too. I don’t know what my future will be–I hope there is a career to be had as a consultant on Irish history and politics–but I think this path will make me happier.