“Give me a name and I’ll tell you if their Irish or not.” He was drunk, but not too drunk to explain to me that Sean Combs (P.Diddy), Ella Fitzgerald, and Shaquille O’Neal were all Irish. He said it with an assurance that smelled of rehearsal and Guinness. Sipping my cider I laughed and nodded with him. Like the descendants of enslaved Africans, the Irish know a thing or two about survival. America intertwined the children of Ireland and Africa in interesting ways (read:slavery). However, just like enslaved Africans, the Irish have an identity well before the American shore. I am drawn to all evidence of cultural past lives, so naturally a large part of me wants to see all the pieces they have gathered and clung to. Clearly, the Irish have not forgotten their identity before the conquers came. Accepting and open as they are to me, I am sure they were to the first missionaries to bring word of Jesus. As they, like we all, opened the package of Christianity our relationship with the land, ourselves and each other shifted.
I have lately been drawing connections between places of natural beauty and the hate in the hearts of those who inhabit them. Being a Southern American native, I’ve seen the most beautiful parts of the American South, as well as the most dark and hateful corners of the hearts of men. It has always troubled me that being surrounded by such natural beauty does not counteract the ways humans find to divide and hate each other. As I learn more about Ireland and her children’s history, I see the same trend as my home in the American South. It is most interesting to me that constructs brought with conquers and oppressors have the power to divide the conquered and oppressed to such lengths. In the United States the social construct of race exists like this: our largest and most obvious organ, the skin, is divided into gradients of melanin. In Ireland, it is the way in which you believe in the package of Christ. I am so aware of our similarities; I am so aware of the survival; I am so aware of the ways we strive to make ourselves valid and human in the midst of oppression and hate.
“Armagh is the best place to be. Ireland is full of Irish people, but they all come from here. We’re the best at being Irish.”
I am happy to see people who can dig into the their land and find themselves. I am happy to see people sing and cling to a time before the conquers came. A few of us have noticed the difference in the Irish people, the joy and confidence they have. I believe that comes form the land, from knowing who you are and where you’ve come from. I believe it comes from knowing what you’ve survived. It comes from standing on your ancestral land and pulling from the identity of your ancestors. As a Black American woman, as a woman descended from enslaved Africans this is a security I struggle to cultivate. Being in Ireland I am not filled with envy, but joy. I believe there is no over reaction or celebration too great in response to the moments you’ve survived. In Armagh, I am here to learn to celebrate. I am here to join the survivor’s dance and tell the stories of us all.
Originally posted on Armagh Project Blog July 5, 2015