I am an African American living in Europe. More specifically I live in Ireland. This creates a pretty unique living situation. There aren’t many African Americans living in Ireland and I certainly don’t know many that have lived here as consistently as I have. In the last few years I have seen a lot more people of color arrive here from African countries or the UK. I have gotten to know some of them quite well and count them as very dear friends. But being American is a very real difference. We have a very different outlook on life, sometimes positively and more recently I’ve seen sometimes it is negative.
I have definitely seen a lot of changes in Ireland in the last few years.
How I got to this country is a story for another day, but I have a number of daily confirmations that this is where I am supposed to be right now. Ireland is not entirely free of racism or ignorance but it is definitely not riddled with the open division that I felt on a recent trip back to the US. There is a different spirit in Ireland to the US. There is a high population of people who are culturally Catholic and Celtic here and it definitely forms part of the fabric of this relatively newly independent republic.
For years under British rule, Irish folks weren’t allowed to practice Catholicism. They also weren’t allowed to speak Irish. My understanding is it is for the very same oppressive reasons as African American slaves were forced to speak English in the US slave trade. I also think it is for the same reason that we as slaves had to adopt Christianity instead of the varying religions we practiced before being plucked from our homes and stuffed into coffin ships.
The strategy behind separating people from their languages and religions is that, without effective mass communication, it is much more difficult to rise up and revolt. It was important that the oppressor be able to understand what we were saying and praying to one another because they couldn’t control what they didn’t understand. In both African American culture and Irish culture our native tongues and religions became subversive languages that were threats to the oppressor and they quickly recognized the need to remove those forms of communication from us. I see strong remnants of this form of oppression in both the African American community which I grew up in and the Irish community where I live. I’m sure there are examples of this in many other cultures who are clawing themselves out from under oppressive rule, but this what I have observed from my background and in the place where I am currently living.
Before the civil war in Ireland, which eventually led to Ireland’s independence in 1921 (contrary to what some UK neighbours might think), there was a lot of underground religion practiced. There are plenty of sites on this island where people went under cover to worship. Many of those places are still revered today. The Catholic church helped with the reconstruction of Ireland by building hospitals and schools and of course churches to oversee the communities. While people spoke the English they were forced to under British rule, as soon as Ireland regained its independence, Irish became the official language. A lot of official documents, media broadcasts and street signs are published in both English and Irish. You won’t find it difficult to understand people or to be understood if you travel here though, as you will find that most people still speak English as well.
What I find as an “inside-outsider” observing this country is that the spirit that prevails under the surface of this island is Celtic. From coast to coast, there is a Celtic culture that really forms the core of this country. And luckily, you are not very far from getting in touch with visiting sites that bubble over with that energy. I did this recently by taking what I can only call a pilgrimage to the Hill of Tara.
The Hill of Tara is an ancient site where High Kings and Queens of Ireland were conferred, long before St Patrick dispersed his patronage on the land. It is believed that on a clear day, you can see 26 counties from the royal seat at the top of the Hill of Tara. I visited on a very clear and sunny day and find it easy to believe that I was looking at 26 counties from the 360 degree view.
It is only 40 minutes from Dublin and I was told that there is a very strong creative Celtic energy which remains around this site particularly from Danu, who is a very important female figure in Irish Mythology. When I drove up outside the Hill of Tara, I thought it looked like a farm from outside. Before you get to the site, there isn’t anything that I would have classed as spectacular.
But when you get past the unassuming country gates, the view had an overwhelming affect on me that I wasn’t expecting. I found it very moving and I was deeply honored that I was allowed to walk the path that so many historical figures had walked before me. I could see why the ancient people saw this bit of earth as magical.
Whether you live near The Hill of Tara or you are just visiting Ireland, I feel a visit to this historical site is well worth it. It costs nothing at the minute to pass through the gates, free is what I would call good value luxury. I would definitely recommend you wear some hiking boots or wellies because it can get a bit mucky if it has been raining. When you’re finished exploring the Hill of Tara, you can enjoy a lovely cup of tea to warm yourself up in the Hill of Tara cafe. Maybe I’ll see you there sometime….