“We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started.”― Henry Ward Beecher
Near the current place I’m staying are the ruins from the St. Jude Church of Ireland. Built in 1864, this building was sold in the 1980’s and demolished before the end of the decade. All that remains is the impressive spire in Early English Gothic Style. While there remains a hint of the building’s majestic status, a closer inspection at ground level reveals cheap boarded up entrances, gapping holes, trash, graffiti and an iron fence toped with rusty spikes. From a distance, it looks grand. Closer up, it’s pretty spooky.
A little further down the road stands the infamous Kilmainham Gaol (or Jail). It was the site of numerous abuses, but is best known as the location for the imprisonment, torture and execution of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Uprising by their British overlords. Today, tour buses line up as folks traveling from all over the world come to visit its hallowed grounds. And yet, across the street is a brand-new Hilton Hotel. As I ate dinner overlooking these two sites, I thought about how strange these neighbors, once you remove the 100 years separating them. At one time prisoners sat in darkness, isolation, hunger, thirst and fear as they awaited interrogation, torture and eventual death. Now, across the street folks sleep in comfortable beds and start their day with the convenience of a good night’s rest, a hearty Irish breakfast and a bevy of taxis to take them wherever they would like to go.
Things change. Times change. But do people? Are we stuck in an endless loop? Creating the same problems over and over again, refusing to learn our history lessons, distrusting one another, chasing power and seeking domination over one another, fearing one another, turning a blind eye to oppression, especially if we are not threatened and waiting for a few courageous souls to finally say enough!
The 1916 rebellion organized and planned by Padraic Pearse, James Connolly, Thomas Clarke and others was badly received by the Irish public they had hoped to liberate. Upon their surrender, they were jeered and spat upon because of their failure and the blame placed at their feet for the destruction that had been caused by the overwhelming British force employed to squash them.
But, once they were in custody, it was their unfair and inhumane treatment, secret trial, and quick execution that turned the mood of the public to reflect more deeply upon the common plight they all shared for freedom and the necessity of joining a resistance movement that would eventually produce greater liberation and create the Republic of Ireland.
The Garden of Remembrance on Parnell Street speaks to this struggle. Featuring the impressive Children of Lir statue by Oisin Kelly, it reflects upon an ancient myth of rebirth and resurrection “regarding the transformation of the daughters of king into swans by a jealous stepmother, their subsequent exile, and their symbolic return.” When Queen Elizabeth laid a reef at its base in 2011, it was poorly received in Britain, but a declaration of freedom from the troubles of the past and a sign of hope for the future.
The struggle of freedom still continues. Brexit threatens the hard-won easing of tensions from the last generation in North Ireland. I believe the humanitarian needs of the immigration and asylum issues occurring at our southern border and our slow, callouss and indifferent response to them will one day prove as shameful as any chapter in American history. Brown and black- skinned Americans are still detained, arrested and incarcerated at a higher rate than demographics should allow. Women continue to earn less for equal work done by male counterparts. Over 60 percent of LGBTQ youth deal with depression due to past experiences of bullying, rejection of family and friends, and a hopelessness about their future.
The Republic of Ireland’s flag speaks to a new hope. One side is green representing Irish nationalism and their Catholic faith. The other side is orange representing the Protestant influence mostly from the British. The white in the middle represents the peace that now exists between them. May we not tire in the struggle for freedom and work toward the resolutions that are so possible and yet elusive in the midst of all our challenges.