In case you haven’t been following the news, Ireland has all but officially just became the first nation to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote! And wow – by 70%! I am very proud to have Irish heritage today.
It’s especially fascinating for me to see this after having recently finished reading Angela’s Ashes, a memoir by Frank McCourt. While I’m normally more interested in ancient and medieval Ériu, I’ve been trying to learn more about modern Ireland. There’s so much to wade through, but I feel that it’s important for me to better understand all of my ancestors, not just the pre-Christian ones. McCourt’s story takes place in the early 1900’s, right up until after World War II. It highlights an Irish family’s struggles with poverty and addiction, as well as Frank’s own coming-of-age. Also evident are the deep wounds of English occupation, animosity between Catholics and Protestants, and religious-oriented sexual repression and guilt. Included is a small peek into a generation’s perception on homosexuals within Ireland. The whole story is very depressing, but an incredible page-turner. Part of this is due to McCourt’s wry humor which translates well through his childhood point-of-view. As I read, I couldn’t help but think of my ancestors. The book opened with Frank’s parents moving to New York to escape Ireland’s poverty. They came around the same time as some of my ancestors before returning to Ireland to seek help from their families.
When I visited Ireland a few years ago, I saw many reminders of where the country had been. Not just the magnificent megalithic monuments that I was mostly interested in – but monuments to honor victims of the Great Famine and scars from events like the Easter Rising. To see a nation, once the site of so much animosity, come together to honor love makes my heart swell. Today, I can see and appreciate just how much Ireland has grown. I can only understand it so much as an American removed from Ireland by a couple generations… but I am still so proud. It’s not a perfect country, of course, but it is quite different from the one my ancestors left decades ago.