President delivers the 2012 British Council Annual Lecture
Queen’s University, Belfast on Tuesday, 30th October 2012
It is an honour to be asked to deliver the British Council Lecture and a particular pleasure to be asked to do so in Belfast and here at Queen’s University.
I am particularly glad to do so as part of a continuous reflection on identity and belonging , so well represented in the British Council’s publications – the four volumes of Lives Entwined, to which my words are a response, in particular to Volumes Three, with its beautiful essays on identity and memory, such as that of Olivia O’Leary and Volume Four with its frank and impressively honest expressions by young people on their experiences of identity, encounters and more than that, the full flowering of a peace yet to be encountered at community level. It is interesting too to contrast the undeniable optimism of the reflections in Volume Three with the uncertainty that is at the heart of Volume Four to which the young people have contributed.
Fiú sular tháinig na foilseacháin seo amach ba mhinic a bhain an British Council leas as an aidiacht “entwined” le cur síos a dhéanamh ar na naisc dhaonna i gcroílár na gcomhcheangal sna hoileáin seo. Go dearbh,tugann an ceithre imleabhar sa tsraith Lives Entwined léargas iontach ar cé chomh casta is atá na naisc dhaonna seo agus an dóigh ina bhfuil siad ag athrú de shíor.
[Even before these publications the British Council has often used the adjective entwined to describe the human connections which lie at the heart of relationships on these islands. The four volumes in the “Lives Entwined” series do indeed illuminate wonderfully the complexity, and the ever-changing nature of these human connections.]
The word entwined may seem particularly apt at first glance. It contains the notion of strength and also of a multiplicity of strands, not one source of connection but many, grown as much by custom and accident as by design. But, ‘entwined’, as a concept, contains too a sense of entanglement of knots tightly made and difficult to undo and I wish, in this lecture, to consider the function of addressing memory and the confrontation of stereotypes in this task. The undoing of the difficult knots of memory, I suggest, requires a willingness to acknowledge old assumptions and destructive stereotypes if we are to share together such a pilgrimage in the ethics of memory as will serve a still maturing peace in the present – if it is to become, as we all hope, an enduring peace for our shared future.
That dialogue which is stressed as important to emerge, even necessary in the previous volumes of Lives Entwined, demands that a dimension of the reworking of memory be included. The project must not stop at that, of course. It must generate a living process of inclusive suggestions and actions, such as will invite to a future that is, imaginative, kind, non-judgemental, forgiving and that offers a truly human co-existence. To get there requires the confrontation and letting go of stereotypes invented a long time ago and, while their origin might have been in power relationships, are even through the decades into the present, sustained by myths located and reinforced in the culture.
When I spoke at Magee College last April on ‘The Transforming Power of Culture’ I drew on Richard Kearney’s use of the late French philosopher Paul Ricoeur’s work on the ethics of memory. Professor Kearney had elaborated an agenda that would not only acknowledge a conflict between the narratives of differing sides to a conflicted history held, but would also assist in their exchange and ultimate revision. He suggested five steps:
‘First, an ethic of narrative hospitality; as Ricoeur puts it – “taking responsibility in imagination and in sympathy for the story of the other through the narratives that concern the other”.
Second, an ethic of narrative flexibility – being open to showing, and being shown, how each event can be interpreted differently in different generations and by different narrators.
Third, narrative plurality; as Ricoeur says – “the ability to recount the founding events of our national history in different ways is reinforced by the exchange of cultural memories”.
Fourth, transfiguration of the past – by this is meant, as Kearney puts it “a creative retrieval of the betrayed promises of the past”. This allows the unfulfilled future of the past – with all its emancipatory promise – to be made available as an instrument for the future.
Finally, pardon – this involves moving beyond a narrative of openness to forgiveness. This recognises the difference between an affected amnesia, which would be false and even amoral, and an amnesty such as will open the window for the time when, as Kearney puts it, “an ethics of reciprocity is touched by a politics of pardon”.
Thinking since I first read and quoted Professor Kearney’s work as to how we might make, together, all of us on these islands, such a journey as would be authentic, as would release us for the future and all of its shared possibilities, I am struck by the importance of examining the stereotypes that have come into existence in our view of each other.
In addition to rejecting a false, if accommodating amnesia as to events, recent and in the past, we simply cannot ignore I suggest, either the consequences or the context we have given to such versions of ‘the other’ as enabled us, often unconsciously, to speak of what we assumed was essentially ‘Irish’ or essentially ‘British’.
Reworking history for such an emancipatory purpose calls for both a parity of effort as well as a parity of respect. The confrontations and the revisions necessary have to be inclusive of the assumptions of all sides to conflicts ancient and new.
That we are, happily, in a new space of warm reciprocal relationships perhaps provides us then with an opportunity to examine the sources of the stereotypes we may have held of each other and that in order to be let go, have to be first acknowledged. It goes without saying that the revision which will bring the most benefit has to be one to which both sides of our entangled relationship are called upon to undertake if the knotted sleeve of history is to be unwound and remade.
None of this is to take from the magnificence of recent generous achievements and gestures already made, or their valuable institutional legacy. Rather it is to give such welcome developments an authentic foundation, based on a commitment to a mutual self-interrogation in history.
As to such recent events and to choose a significant and obvious example, Fintan O’Toole in his essay Chums in Volume Four of Lives Entwined captures the importance, and above all, the grace, of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s visit to the Garden of Remembrance and its powerful significance:
“The ceremony in the Garden of Remembrance transformed the visit by making it also about them, the English. It wasn’t just the Irish who were being bravely mature: it was also the English. Generations of English superciliousness towards Ireland (the suave, upper-class, good-natured sort being the worst) was disavowed in that moment. The queen managed a dignified humility and simplicity that were the polar opposites of condescension. Her gesture was not. As some overexcited commentators and headline writers sought to insist, some kind of homage to the rebels who beat the Brits. It was more meaningful than that.
It was a simple acknowledgement that Ireland is a different place, with its own history and mythology, its own encoded meanings. Different, that is, but equal.”
“Separate but equal” had been the injunction of Olivia O’Leary’s mother to her daughter as told in Olivia’s very beautiful essay that used this phrase as title in Volume Three of Lives Entwined.
The task of undoing stereotypes, of renovating our narratives can never be sufficiently achieved unless it is approached, I suggest, through such a revision as includes all of the entwining with which we have been bound or binded ourselves. To exclude, evade, or affect an amnesia is to create an opportunity for a malignant future.
I find it useful to begin our interrogation of stereotypes in the experience of migration. To the late Edward Said, I have attributed before, the comment that everything that is really interesting happens in the interstices. And it is perhaps in the area of migrant lives that this is perhaps most clearly demonstrated. Our social sciences have, I suggest, not only been over-determined in their models but they have also been too sedentary in their assumptions and their methodologies aimed at understanding human migration. They have missed, what literature has often caught, the human negotiation of the spaces between the place of origin and final destination.
Transience, after all is the defining feature of the migratory experience all over the world; and it is on migrants, migrant communities and, migrant children that the cruel, rejecting and exclusionary anti-immigrant stereotype falls most often.
At certain stages of human migration the possibility of populations mingling and changing takes place. When the disabling stereotype is not dominant so much is possible. Yet the context for its emergence has to be recognized. For example, it has been said that Ireland and Scotland share a mythology, a number of languages, a great musical tradition and much history. Irish migrants in the fifth century – the Scoti – gave Scotland its name. The masterpiece most readily associated with Ireland – the Book of Kells – was made on the island of Iona. A Gaelic political culture survived in the Scottish Highlands long after it had been brought to an end in Ireland.
These connections also contain paradoxes that have value for us today. The strong Protestantism in the Scots Gaelic tradition, for example, gives us access to new ways of thinking about language and identity in our own nationalist and unionist traditions.
Much of the pattern is made up of more specific local connections such as the seasonal migration from Donegal and Achill Island for “tattie-hoking” on potato farms in Scotland between June and October. These are links that still bear traces today, for example in the Scottish tunes brought home by Donegal fiddlers. This benign residual of course, which we must cherish, occurred in a context of an economic relationship between two economies, one side powerful, on the other relatively powerless. Celebrating the music and the literature does not require an amnesia on the economic or the human consequences of such power relations.
Yet much of the migrant experience is lost to sight in Scotland. In contrast to the Irish in America, those in Scotland remained locked in disadvantage, educationally and socially, until well into the last century. It was not until mid century that their story was told – and then largely by others. The circumstances of their exclusion, imposed or chosen, is deserving of our attention in historical consideration.
The migrant is better represented in literature than the social sciences. Be it Patrick McGill, Donal MacAmhlaigh or others writing from their diaries or a later generation of writers, that includes Tom Murphy and Edna O’Brien would give voice to that experience in the novel and in the theatre, writers who wrote of the immigrant caught between two worlds but belonging fully to neither.
But all of this issue of migrant presentation of the self is much more complicated. Not only do the colonized and the colonizer take images of each other into their personae, but they see too the value of a mask; and so much of our relationships on these islands has been from behind masks.
James C. Scott’s work Domination and Arts of Resistance which dealt with strategies of defence, effectively to my mind, at a theoretical level overturned the application of Gramscis’ notion of false consciousness in relation to peasant strategies. Far from there being a peasantry in the grip of false consciousness, at a behavioural level, what seems to be a cunning deceit to one side of an exchange is a survival strategy for the other. This strategy of defence draws forth then, in turn, a particular stereotypical response. The encounter is behind masks that are culturally crafted and coloured from both sides.
There is an old and continuous example of this in theatre in regard to ‘Irishness’. Helen Burke in an article in Éire-Ireland last year wrote of Sir Robert Howard’s The Committee produced in 1662 and set in a London street where a discussion takes place between two Cavaliers Colonel Careless and Colonel Blunt, both hoping for a reversal of the confiscation of their estates by the Puritans, and their encounter with a blanket-clad figure who, when asked as to his identify states:
“A poor Irishman, and Christ
Save me and save you all,
I prithee give me sixpence
Such an exchange Burke tells us went on to become ‘one of those points’ or set pieces that audiences used to assess and compare the skills of those performers who were engaged to perform the stage Irishman “line of business”.
In this example we can see how a stage presentation can run on to have an ideological force, Burke went on not only to argue in her article for the significance of this stereotype for following centuries, and to suggest that we in contemporary Ireland have much to learn from an examination of such images of ‘the other’ when we in our turn, in our times, are dealing with contemporary immigration, in a way that is perhaps tolerant but far short of the recognition of equals. Helen Burke, puts it thus:
“In this paper I will argue that Howard’s blanket-clad beggarly figure acquired its cultural currency because it provided a comforting fiction of immigrant management and control for the expansionist, market-driven nation that came into being in the post-Restoration period and of the prehistory and afterlife of this fetishized subject/object also helps to explain the entrenched nature of the resistance that Irish immigrants faced as they sought to advance socially or economically in Britain in the centuries that followed. Recent scholarship on the treatment of the non-Irish immigrant in contemporary Ireland also provides a useful point of entry into this analysis. Present-day Ireland prides itself on having become more cosmopolitan and more multicultural in recent years, a self-congratulatory image that, as Gavin Titley points out, is reflected in advertisements and in the media in “stylised and aestheticised tableaux of difference and diversity. This celebratory depiction of a multicultural Ireland, however, as he and others have noted, functions rather to manage diversity than to fully engage with its challenges and complexities; and in the context of what is actually happening on the ground in Ireland, it acquires something of the status of a soothing mystification. ”
Centuries after the first production of The Committee in 1662 in Edna O’Brien’s story “Shovel Kings” one immigrant comments of another that he “‘doesn’t belong in England and ditto in Ireland.’
But there have been welcome changes.
During the summer, I was privileged to attend the Druid Theatre’s presentation of a trilogy of Tom Murphy’s plays in London; two of them dealt with the Irish emigrant experience in all of its rawness and complexity and the other with the searing tragedy of the Great Famine. They were rapturously received by the theatre critics.
Drawing on my son John Higgins’ work on violence in the early plays of Tom Murphy I was moved to read again the reviews of Kenneth Tynan and Harold Hobson, critics of whom, I as a student of English language and literature was in awe. Reacting to the first London production in the 1960s of A Whistle in the Dark one of them suggested that the Home Secretary should deport not only the playwright but all ‘Irishmen’. The other suggested that while never afraid of meeting an Irishman “he would not like to meet Mr. Murphy after dark”. Thus huge progress has been made in the intervening years in changing what was once, in theatrical terms, a collision of stereotypes.
Because so much of our migrant experience was invisible – and the voice of the migrant was rarely captured – we easily overlook it and its richness and complexity can often be lost to us. So many in both of our nations are, due to migration, neither fully British or Irish.
There were, of course, and famously in literature, frozen images of the English in Ireland. Somerville and Ross’s Experiences of an Irish R.M. had its ironic tone. George Bernard Shaw was more blunt. Today, the English language does not exist as the memory of an imposed vernacular. It is the language not only of Shakespeare and Shelley and Blake but of all those who have come to use it and love it, including those who honour not only the four Nobel Laureates, who know no borders, but all of the writers who have constituted such a great force in support of our borderless humanity, who write in English, and some in Gaelic and English, and many in several languages, including the minority languages of Europe.
Imirce – an mórshruth leanúnach de dhaoine soir siar, ó thuaidh agus ó dheas,chuig na hoileáin seo agus uathu – ar chuid dár stair agus dár neart í. Éilíonn an imirce gníomh daonna na hathnuachana – ní hamháin sa duine aonair ach i ngach sochaí dár gcuid, ag cothú ár ndearctha agus ár modh machnaimh agus bíonn sé ár dtástáil maidir le meas ar éagsúlacht lena chinntiú nach mbeimid sásta go deo le caoinfhulaingt uireasach.
[Migration - the great and constant flow of people east and west, north and south, to and from these islands - constitutes both our history and our strength. It is in itself a great call for a human act of renewal – not only of the individual but of our societies, nourishing our outlook and thinking, and it tests us to respect difference, never to be satisfied with an inadequate tolerance.]
Historically, to leave one place for another has always involved a loss of certainty. But the journey into the unknown can also be a beginning of self-discovery and of growth. The changes in the use of the English language by, not only Irish poets, but by Caribbean and African poets, who as Derek Walcott put it, “cannot curse the circumstance of the encounter without remembering that it gave to me the tongue of Shakespeare”.
To migrate voluntarily or involuntarily is to break a connection, lose a comforting intimacy of thought and being.
Philip Larkin who spent some years as sub-librarian at this University wrote at that time that “to start in a new place is always to feel incompetent and unwanted”. Neither does the literature of the Irish in Britain reflect any single migratory experience of Irishness in Britain. In his The literature of the Irish in Britain 1725-2001 Dr. Liam Harte describes this literary output in terms of its significance and its limitations:
“The best are powerful acts of imagination in their own terms, meditations on how journeys ‘across the water’ breed strange and unexpected dichotomies, produce new patterns of seeing, living and remembering, prompt different stories about who we are and where we belong. Even the middling formulaic works, with their peculiarly vivid reflections of personality and experience, deserve better than to be airily consigned to the midden of literary history. In offering us intimate glimpses of interior worlds, these variegated acts of self-portraiture help us to understand better the role that migrant imagination and its witness have played in shaping those fluid, contrapuntal concepts – home, place, belonging – that are themselves cognates of that most labile and vexing of abstractions: Irishness.”
Dr. Harte’s intention is clearly aimed at demolishing through the witness of literature the myth of a homogeneous Irish migratory experience:
“This book is also intended as a contribution to the ongoing project of purging any lingering traces of the myth of homogeneity that clings to the diffuse entity ‘the Irish in Britain’, and the related task of dispelling assumptions that the experience of immigrants was the same throughout England, Scotland and Wales. Autobiography, as many scholars have argued, is uniquely poised to capture the complex, multi-dimensional nature of historical reality, particularly the interplay of the cognitive and the affective aspects of experience, as well as the intimate dynamics of self-making and remaking, even though the writing self remains elusive.”
He, however, issues a caveat as to method and theory:
“It is not my intention simply to use literary ‘evidence’ to produce an annotated account of Irish migration, as if these texts were unambiguous vehicles of signification. Nor do I propose to allow autobiographies ‘to speak for themselves’, since to do so would be to disregard the materiality of language and ignore the fact that they are crafted literary artefacts. Yet neither do I wish to adopt a wholly textual interpretive framework that would undervalue the testimonial dimension of these narratives and the specificities of the ‘real’, lived experiences that they reconstruct. This is because I regard much of this material as a form of resistance writing through which culturally disempowered and displaced subjects seek to become known autobiographical agents taking charge of their own representation – a case of the written-off attempting to write themselves back into social and cultural history, if you will.”
Such a usage by Dr. Harte fits well with the methodology of James C. Scott’s seminal Domination and Arts of Resistance to which I have already referred.
Linked to this struggle of the migrant in a new and strange place is a sense of invisibility. Joseph O’Connor, writing of the Irish in another great immigrant city, has spoken of the windows of tenements in New York behind which “life was made, losses endured and hope nurtured while out in the street the whole world went past never looking up at the windows”.
This, however, is not quite so. Let us not forget that which we owe in literature to the rich exilic tradition. The late Josephine Hart, echoing Frank O’Connor’s comment that “an Irishman’s private life begins at Holyhead” spoke of “the great gift of exile”, spoke of the liberation that it can bring.
Far from being a mere historical curiosity, migration has broken down barriers to understanding, made modernisers of us, taught us to maintain poise in the face of change, to live in two or even more worlds at once, to adapt and to broker between those milieus in a continual process of change as we strive to move towards the realization of our human possibilities shared with others.
Migration has created multiple polarities, regional and local connections far more complex and profound than conventional political relationships.
Remembering ethically, moving through the Kearney-Ricoeur steps in ethics, is a task that simply underpins what has been secured at the level of the formal.
We in this island are involved in a new kind of symbolic migration – from peace to true reconciliation. In the peace process, we have been engaged in one of the most ambitious and far-reaching political projects of our times.
The results, even with caution as we say so, and realizing that much has to be secured, so much has yet to be even commenced, show that lives have been transformed beyond what might have been imagined when we began that journey. We remember the great moments of public reconciliation. But there are quiet moments also, the stuff of which the ordinary is made divine by both the sedentary and the migrant. Harry Clifton in his poem “Deep Ulster” has reminded us of what it is to live in the ordinary curiosity that the absence of fear, the assurance of peace, makes possible:
To dream, just potter,
In the yard, to fiddle with local stations
In the kitchen, where news that is no news
Finally, at last, fills up the years
With pure existence.
We all know in our hearts that we have some way to travel yet, some work to do, before we redeem the full promise inherent in the Peace Process.
That sense of entanglement and horrific memory is most vividly present in the lives of those who lost loved ones during the troubles, who live with terrible injuries and the legacy of violence. More than any other group, they have been asked so much more than others – and are asked daily – to make a most difficult accommodation for peace. No group has done more to bring about the benefits we have all gained from the peace process than they and I salute them.
Theirs is a huge moral gift. Already in 1984, amid rumours of a ceasefire, the poet Michael Longley reached back over three thousand years to an episode in the Iliad to imagine what would be required – to the story of Priam, King of Troy and Achilles, the Greek warrior who had killed his son Hector.
Longley’s poem, Ceasefire described the generosity, empathy and remorse that are a necessary part of true reconciliation concluding with Priam’s words:
‘I get down on my knees and do what must be done
And kiss Achilles’ hand, the killer of my son.’
What is given in that moment is given with the greatest difficulty. It is not given once only. They are asked to “do what must be done” every day that they are forced to live with loss. Those who have not lost can talk more easily – even at times it must seem to the wounded, glibly – of ‘moving on’ but that is not so easily done. The challenge of reconciling with those who caused that loss is a momentous one.
But those of us who were more fortunate face a challenge also – to make sure that we do not allow new divisions to arise – between those who suffered and those who did not, between those who live every day with what happened to them and those who are intent on “moving on”.
Part of that challenge is to root out hatred from our midst. Hatred is a word that has dropped from our discourse. We have become accustomed to talking of sectarianism but is it not hatred by another name? It is bred by intolerance and indeed by a lack of the capacity or opportunity to change. It is not unique to any one group or place. It operates in two directions – one act of disregard feeding off another. Jack McConnell has described it as a secret shame. It is too rarely discussed. Yet if we fail to name it and discuss it we blind ourselves to the harm it can do, that is part of examining our stereotypes and letting go of what impedes us from the future we share.
The great benefits that flow from such open horizons are well illustrated here in Belfast’s thriving arts scene. The Belfast Festival kept open lines of communication and of inspiration across the world during some of the most difficult days of the troubles bringing here, during the 1970’s, Joseph Beuys and the Royal Swedish Ballet among many other international artists.
We know how important these horizons are at times of great stress. Dubliners still remember, for example, the day in 1973 that the England rugby team defied IRA death threats to travel to Ireland and play to a standing ovation at Lansdowne Road, all stereotypes suspended for the enjoyment of that which knew no borders, was simply human.
Those multiple points of connection that I described earlier are addressing some of the post-conflict challenges I have outlined, because ultimately these are not issues solely of politics or legislation or policing but of finding real points of human connection.
The solution lies not just with government – though Government bears a heavy responsibility – but with countless individuals who take a journey into the unknown animated by the courage of departure and a generosity of spirit, and who are willing to review the narratives they have found, are willing to listen to the narrative of the other, pause, review, forgive, allow or pardon.
In that sense, the next stage of the peace process requires us all to be pilgrims on a journey of such ethical reflection as will lead us to the light of peaceful enjoyment of the complex way our lives are intertwined.
It was the Irish writer George Bernard Shaw who first used the words made famous by John F Kennedy: “Some men see things as they are and ask ‘why?’. Others dream things that never were and ask ‘why not?”
For the past 20 years, as if making up for lost time, we have been asking “why not?” and the answers have brought us to unexpected places.
To quote a recent statement, the British-Irish relationship has “never been stronger or more settled, as complex or as important, as it is today”. There are more things we are doing together every month. Areas where we are not disabled by any stereotype, old or new, and which might be overlooked.
Over a thousand flights connect Britain and Ireland every week. The flow of trade between both countries corresponds to €1 billion per week. Britain is our largest market for tourism and the largest market for indigenous exports, are the benefits flow in both directions. Britain exports more to Ireland than to all of the major emerging economies combined. Forty five thousand Irish people sit on the boards of British companies.
There are also some areas where we can be even more effective together. British and Irish companies are increasingly collaborating to win contracts in third markets, for example.
But as to the areas, taken for granted to the extent that their importance might be overlooked: The first is culture and by this I mean sport and entertainment as much as theatre and literature. The most vivid reminder of this came during the London Olympics at the first ever Women’s boxing finals when Team GB’s Nicola Adams from Leeds fought for gold in the first bout and Ireland’s Katie Taylor from Bray fought for gold in the second.
The ExCel arena was filled with Irish and British fans who cheered as one, first for Nicola Adams and then for Katie Taylor. It was a unique moment when a stadium full of Irish fans sang Olé Olé for a British athlete from Leeds.
Perhaps this is what Joseph O’Connor means when he writes of the “shared citizenship of affection”, or as others might put it ‘being neighbourly’.
But perhaps this should be no cause for surprise. Over 20,000 Irish people live in Leeds which has particularly strong links to County Mayo. For its part, Bray has its Royal Hotel and has been the location for two of the best known films dealing with English and Scottish mythology – Excalibur and Braveheart.
Even in Leeds and Bray, there are manifestations of lives entwined.
As to what is formally recalled; what should be remembered, what should not be forgotten: In a decade of centenaries we are thoughtfully able to include in memories, and honour, all those Irish who died for the ideal they chose as important, those who helped create the Irish State, those who shaped the United Kingdom, and all the lives lost including those from among the 200,000 Irish who fought in The Great War with its awful human carnage.
When the children and grandchildren of migrants take pride and inspiration in their past, that can unlock new potential in society – as the United States learned to its great benefit. The growing pride felt by those of Irish ancestry in Britain and those of British ancestry in Ireland, will be a source of energy, inspiration and vigour for society.
We can certainly take pride in what Irish emigrants and their descendents have contributed to British culture – to popular music for example where the Irish influence extends from the Beatles to the Pogues, Oasis and Morrissey, and to more recent bands such as Mumford and Sons and Elbow; there are examples of not just lives entwined but a very creative entwinement, grown, once again from multiple human connections.
There are, of course, challenges we face together, in Europe, in Northern Ireland, Britain and Ireland. Foremost among these is the necessity of providing jobs for a talented new generation emerging from our schools and colleges.
The notion of prosperity in public discourse is too often measured solely by Gross Domestic Product but society will not prosper on a rising GDP alone. Prosperity has but an instrument purpose aimed at a deeper societal dimension.
Our common future needs the creativity of our young people, and connected to economic questions are such societal questions – as how to avoid new division between those with good prospects of finding a job and those with poor prospects – or no prospect at all. For society in general, that absence of hope can only lead, in the words of a poet and teacher here at Queen’s University, Sinéad Morrissey, to
“A delicate unravelling of wishes
That leaves the future unspoken”
To conclude then; No matter how effective the political and economic solutions we find to these challenges, circular migration, will continue to be a fact of life – within and between our societies and further afield.
This can already been seen in the vibrant young Irish community in London and in the growing numbers of British citizens working in Ireland. This has always been the basis of our shared citizenship of affection.
So if today the number 5 batsman on England’s cricket team and the out-half on their rugby team bear Irish names, and if many of Ireland’s international soccer players are born in England, I predict that this trend will only continue.
And just as these multiple points of connections can help make us more resilient, more creative and in some cases perhaps more sensitive and reconciled, they can also bring surprise results, endless possibilities, féidireachtaí gan teórainn.
We are in a new circumstance of circular migration. Let us take into ourselves the richness as well as the vulnerabilities of our migrants past and present.
No matter how rooted and sedentary our lives, we are all migrants – if not in space, then certainly in time. Those migratory patterns, adjustments and revisions are particularly evident in the human interconnectedness of these islands and we are all the richer for them, facing a shared future beyond the binds of any abused reason or the hubris of false certainties but rather empowered by the impulse of the heart – we go where our intertwined basket takes us, towards an enduring peace and a shared future.
Let me conclude – and illustrate the point – by using one of the languages that enrich our societies and our thinking. This is Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill’s account of a journey begun in hope and apprehension that concluded with undreamed of rewards – Moses journey in an entwined basket. I will read it first in Irish and then in its translation into English by Paul Muldoon:
Cuirim mo dhóchas ar snámh
i mbáidín teangan
faoi mar a leagta naíonán
a bheadh fite fuaite
de dhuilleoga feileastraim
is bitiúman agus pic
bheith cuimilte lena thóin.
ansan é a leagadh síos
i measc na ngioicach
is coigeal na mban sí
le taobh na habhann,
a dtabharfaidh an sruth é,
féachaint, dála Mhaoise,
an bhfóirfidh iníon Phorain?
I place my hope on the water
in this little boat
of the language, the way a body might put
in a basket of intertwined
its underside proofed
with bitumen and pitch,
then set the whole thing down amidst
and the bulrushes by the edge
of a river
only to have it borne hither and thither,
not knowing where it might end up;
in the lap, perhaps,
of some Pharaoh’s daughter.