Who are the Irish, anyway?
After I left Mrs. Muir in Larne, I had my first long day on the motorcycle. It’s 200 miles from Larne to Kilkenny where I planned to overnight on my way back to visit the L’Arche Community in Callan, just south of Kilkenny. The next day before leaving for Callan, I remembered spying a shop with a big sign reading, “WATCH DOCTOR” from the bus window enroute for my first visit to the L’Arche folks a couple of weeks earlier. It caught my eye because my watch stopped working, and I was getting tired a looking at my bare wrist for the time.
Kilkenny is a beautiful and ancient city and parts of the old city wall are still evident, and it’s filled with these amazingly narrow and winding streets. I located the Watch Doctor and after circling the block a couple of times fruitlessly searching for a spot to park, I drove up on the narrow sidewalk it in front of his large window.. The shop is so small, that I swear I could have parked at the door, turned the knob and established Ireland’s first drive-up watch repair.
This is where I met the esteemed Watch Doctor of Kilkenny, Mustafa Serbeci.
Mustafa grew up in Turkey, the son of a watchmaker whose passions ran to motorcycle repair and riding. The apple dosn’t fall far from the tree. He was afraid toin this photo you can see that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
The photographer’s Johann, a retired long-haul bus driver from Colongne. Truth-be-told, I don’t know if Johann is an Irish citizen or simply lives in Ireland as is his right as a citizen of another EU country.
Mustaffa’s in this blog posting not because he’s an oddity, but because he is the new normal for who’s Irish.
In 1991 the entire Muslim population in Ireland was 3,873, today it is 63,553! After Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism (The Church of Ireland), Muslims comprise the 3rd largest religious community. The immigration of Eastern Europeans into Ireland is even more dramatic. When Poland became a member of the EU in 2004, Ireland was one of 3 nations that opened it’s borders to polish immigration. 13 years later, poles are the largest ethnic minority comprising 2.5 % of Ireland’s population. This dosn’t count the children that were born in Ireland during these years. One figure had the total polish populations at 5% of the nation’s total.
Why is this so significant? Given that the purpose of my sabbatical pilgrimage is to explore Celtic Christianity’s communitarian roots, it seem vital to ask who belongs to the “we” of any community.
This dramatic wave of immigration hasn’t come without some tensions, but overall people here are tremendously welcoming and generous in their welcome.
All of this got me thinking about something I had never before considered. When I was a kid we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, but rather than treating it as our own, we just figured it was so wonderful that everyone out to be Irish at least for a day. Perhaps this has something to do with the Ireland’s generous atttidue toward immigrants and refugees; they expect other folks to want to become just like them! Though amusing, I really think Ireland’s welcoming ways are rooted in the collective memory of Ireland.
A century ago it would have been rare for an Irish family to not have a child or sibling who had emigrated to England or America. If the history of America is the story of the immigrant, the history of Ireland is the the story of mass emigration. Ciarán Ó Murchadha, in this book The Great Famine: Ireland’s Agony 1845 – 52, writes that “Between 1845 and 1855, approximately one-quarter of the inhabitants of an entire European nation, amounting to some 2.1 million persons, were permanently removed from their homeland.” It is this memory of exile that I’m sure infuses the welcoming character of the Irish.
What will it take to awaken America’s collective memory of ourselves as strangers in a strange land?