DAY 4 –
July 4 2020
Hello from Donegal, where, true to form, July 4th is a wet and windy day! On June 29, our government eased travel restrictions, and all the poor city-bound people came gallivanting west, seduced by 10 weeks of photos of absolutely beautiful weather- and what happens? It rains. For a week now, solid. Not nice, soft rain, big splotchy sideways rain! It will, of course, lift and the sun will peep out for a tease at some hour, but I am just reminded that you can never, ever predict the Irish weather.
Anyhow, I was thinking about it being Independence Day. I wrote a post on the poetry blog yesterday, about commemoration, – the poem is by a poet named Theo Dorgan, and his poem is about the 75th anniversary of the 1916 Rising – this was when the Irish Proclamation of Independence was read out by Patrick Pearse, and it is regarded by many as the birth date of the Irish Republic. It’s a tricky one to commemorate, as the Rising itself was a bloody and scrappy event, with very little public support, no mandate, and an unapologetic faith in violence to achieve change. On the other hand, all seven of the signatories of the Proclamation of Independence were executed in Kilmainham Jail by the British, and that turned public opinion very rapidly. The actual document, the Proclamation itself, is a wonderful text, promising equality for the men, women and children of Ireland. But much of the rhetoric of various parties involved- and there were a lot- dreamers, socialists, communists, feminists, Irish republicans, the IRB, Sinn Fein, The Citizen’s Army…. much of it would be considered provocative and problematic. So the 75th anniversary was in 1991, and the IRA campaign was in full swing, Anglo-Irish relations were very tense, and the Irish Government decided not to arrange any formal commemoration. They were concerned that any ceremony could be potentially hijacked for propaganda, and so they chose to do nothing.
There were some events arranged by private committees and organisations, and one was a concert, arranged by Irish artists, performers and writers. It was held in Kilmainham Jail, (where the Irish founding fathers were shot), and this is what Theo Dorgan writes about in his poem. You can read the poem, and my take on it here, but if you don’t fancy it, I’ll plot-spoil here, and tell you that (I think that) Theo arrives at the conclusion that you shouldn’t trust audiences or governments to remember history – you should trust the artists.
So anyway – back to the USA. This is the first July 4 in 24 years that I have not been surrounded by students from all over America, begging me to have a bar-b-q or a firework display or a day off from class so they can celebrate the holiday. I miss this so much – my teenage summer kids have made my Julys so happy. We’ve never had so much as a wobble with any program – here and there, a teacherish raised eyebrow, but they have been really lovely, joyful times, when we all learned from each other, and studied the shared narratives of Ireland and the USA. We are heart-broken by the turn of events that has seen over 30 colleges cancel their study trips with us this summer, not only because it’s our work, but because the USA is part of our lives.
We also know that things are challenging in the USA right now. I got a lot of replies to my last email (thank you, we love to get them) – and many referenced anxiety and concern. I am so conscious of not being flippant or trivial here, but I do recall so many dark days on this island, when we thought we would never see peace or progress. But it happened. Good people prevailed; and I think Theo is right, the goodness seeped through in Art first- the writers, the poets, the musicians, the artists – they led the way, and the politicians followed. I remember hearing U2 singing ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’, The Cranberries singing ‘Zombie’, Seamus Heaney, Paul Brady (if you don’t know the song ‘The Island’, give it a listen).
The USA is, like Ireland, a young republic, and as Yeats said, there is a terrible beauty in the foundation of a state through bloodshed and discord. I am an optimist, but my optimism is grounded in what I have seen happen here in the last thirty years- and we believe in every American we’ve ever met! So I hope you celebrate your day, have fun, send us a photo, and sing a song for us!
Lots of socially distance observing hugs from us,
Niamh & John.