April 8, 2022
We are fluent in high-minded idealism,
making it real is another story.
Fintan O’Toole, The Irish Times
Ireland is poised to welcome 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. Some suggest as many as 200,000. At the lower number this would be the equivalent of adding a city the size of Limerick, at the higher number, this would be the size of Cork City. As O’Toole writes, there is a genuine desire to rise gracefully and with generosity to this historic challenge. And he goes on to challenge his fellow Irish citizens to closely examine the implications of that, especially the long range implications, noting that we’ve set ourselves up as an example for others to follow.
When I read Fintan’s recent column it hit a bit of a nerve. If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time you know that I write much about Irish ideals and idealism. Do they make it real? It seems they are now facing a significant test of that. While I’m only Irish by heritage and passion, I tend to be optimistic. From this side of the pond, it’s always been my experience and perspective that they do a better job than most.
It’s a small example. But I remember back to when we first purchased the cottage in rural Ireland. The place had been sitting cold and empty for several years and the neighbors were reportedly delighted that someone had finally purchased it with plans to restore it and not knock it, as they say. However their excitement was quickly tempered by learning who had purchased the cottage. It would certainly test their hospitable ideals.
OK. So there’s an American lady involved but she doesn’t plan to live there. And there’s a man involved who lives just down the road but he doesn’t plan to live there either. There was no small amount of speculation about our relationship and reports of my having a husband were met with skepticism until they actually met Dennis. There’s a young woman living there with the curious name of Cloud. She doesn’t seem to have any relationship with the man beyond being his jewelry apprentice…still, they did wonder about that. You can imagine what happened when they discovered she had a wife living in Belgium.
It was indeed a test of their hospitable ideals. Our dear neighbor Mick kept stopping by with many unspoken questions and unprompted assurances that the folks around here are very welcoming of all manner of people. It’s a matter of your character, not whether you are one, he would say. Sure, there’s plenty of characters around here, he would say.
As the talk was fresh and flying through the neighborhood, I decided to invite Mary and Theresa to tea. They could meet me, hear my story, and pose any questions they might feel inclined to ask. I did my research and had the proper tea, white sugar (never honey), milk (never cream), and the right cakes and pastries for the occasion. Apparently it went well. The next morning as I was headed to the airport to catch my flight back to the States, I encountered Theresa on the road at the foot of her lane. She was waiting for a lift to a medical appointment in Galway. I stopped and rolled down my window and told her how delighted I was to meet her. She came over to the car. Ah, the phone lines were burning up last night. We told everyone you are grand. Just grand.
It’s a matter of character.
That following winter the snow was deep, the roads were impassable, and the electricity was out. One of our neighbors walked over a mile to the cottage to check on Cloud and invite her back to their home until the conditions cleared. So, yes. I am confident that the Irish people will rise to the occasion. I am confident they will encounter the character of the Ukrainian people and respond with fluent idealism. They will make it real. It’s in their nature. It’s in their heritage. It’s in their character.