About this Referendum


This post is about the Marriage Referendum taking place in Ireland on May 22nd. If you’ve read enough about this already, or you could do with any more views being forced down your throat, I advise you to click away now. For more on the referendum I will diplomatically direct you to the Referendum Commision’s website here.

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Few things get Ireland’s political juices boiling than a good old referendum. The eternal battle persists; on one side we have revelation inspired change and on the other we have dogma sprouting refusal. Yes versus No. In the grand scheme of things, it is Ireland’s forte in the political world.

Ireland is fortunate to have it written into our constitution that to change the constitution you must decide by plebiscite. This makes any changes anything but a small matter. In some cases little to no effort is paid to the procedure, while in other cases it is all that can be discussed. This May’s referendum has garnered so much attention it has even managed to quell the voracious Irish Water conflict, where we now see the likes of People Before Profit taking the same side as the government. But enough about that.

There has been an awful lot said so far about the decision that the country will have to make on May 22nd. Can people of the same sex marry each other? That is the question we are being asked. A simple tick in the box marked Yes or No will be all most people will be asked to make. There is little else that can be done from this point on, regardless of how much shouting for or against the motion one can make, it all comes down to each registered voters decision, which is what is most worrying for both sides.

A lot about this referendum has bothered me. Not the actually amendment, no, I am just concerned with the dialogue surrounding the canvasing, and the suggestions by both Yes and No camps as to the integrity of people’s ability to make their own decisions.

Let me just run through a few thoughts on this whole rigmarole.

  • The referendum is on allowing same sex couples the right to marry. That’s the only stipulation on the voting cards. Whether there are consequences following marriages is something that will have to be dealt with separately (as I believe to be the case already)
  • Ireland’s new found call for equality is an interesting phenomenon. I wonder what the Travelling community, as well as immigrants, those in direct provision, and even single mothers (to name a few categories) feel about this.
  • People do genuinely feel that they are being forced to vote Yes, and that by not voting Yes they are a bad person. I don’t think that this is fair.
  • If Ireland votes Yes it will only change the Ireland that homosexual people live in, and will have no bearing on my life, at least at this moment in time.
  • Civil partnership is not marriage, and married people have stronger protections under the law of this country than those under civil partnership. And even then if civil partnership is conceivably the same as marriage then what’s the problem with not allowing people to marry?
  • There’s been a lot of talk about ‘money from America’. I for one would hope that in the future it might be illegal for outside bodies i.e. non Irish (what was that about equality earlier?) to fund election campaigns, and that all those involved in canvassing should present their receipts, including political parties, private bodies, and *ahem* charities.
  • I good friend told me over a few pints a while back that he didn’t see the point in voting as he had voted No on two previous referendums but the (previous) government turned around and held the referendum again just to get the result they wanted. To be honest, I can see exactly where he’s coming from on this and would imagine that he is not alone in this feeling.

  • More than ever, this is a vote for the future of Ireland’s people. We just can’t tell who in our family in the future might be gay, and if that is the case I would hope that if this person is fortunate enough to find someone they dearly love enough to spend the rest of their life with them, this country would be a safe and secure place to do so. This is my own feeling for my own family, and for everyone’s family.
  • Marriage or getting married has nothing to do with procreation. When you say your vows there is no stipulation that you will or want to have children. It is about two people who love each other so much that they would like to spend the rest of their lives together securely and safely with the full benefits which the law provides for such situations. Also, plenty will tell you that you don’t need to be married to have kids.
  • I don’t go to Mass – the Catholic variety – but I would not like to be a fly on the wall to hear the vitriol coming from the pulpit of a Sunday.
  • There are two stigmas being exploited in this referendum; gay people and their antics regarding sex, and god fearing Catholics and their beliefs about marriage and sex. Apparently to vote in Ireland you have to be an adult…
  • It’s easier to be convinced this will be a Yes victory, but let us not forget that there is a population of people far from the viral reaches of social media who may be less convinced of the necessity of this amendment.
  • While branded by as a battle for Love and Equality, it seems to me to be clash between New and Old Ireland.
  • If Ireland says No, then what?
  • There’s actually a second referendum on the same day which seems to be getting absolutely zero attention.

It struck me as I compiled this list, is Ireland the only country that will allow its people to make this decision, rather than their elected officials?

I would like to say more about the new culture of misinformation which has been stoked in this referendum campaign, but I will admit that I am not in a strong enough position to discuss them here. But it bothers me, to say the least.


Photo © Wally Cassidy 2015 wallycassidy.com

What I see most of all in this debate however is the chance for Ireland to finally stand up and shake itself free from the grip of the Catholic Church’s authority. For a long time there has been no grip, and this grip has been severly loosened further after various heinous revelations about the way people in their responsibility where treated. This vote, if it is a Yes, and I do hope that it is because it is the right thing to do, will finally in a semi-official kind of way show that this country can make its own decisions and that we are ready to take ownership of our future for those of us who follow.

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Be sure to check out the #MarRef hashtag on the twitter for a wide range of opinions, experiences, and hatred – although good luck finding someone tweeting for a No vote…

Dandelion Land


The green that creeps from beneath is a steady process. Warming the eyes along with the flawless blue of the sky with its cotton wool clouds. Blue and green, that is spring for me. It is without saying a relief to welcome the colourisation of the country after the death of everything in winter.

I can’t say that I would like spring as much as I did if I didn’t dislike winter. When I was in Korea it was the dry and arid air, the biting cold winds, and the white bright sunlight pitching rays constantly. Winter in Korea is a time when snow storms were a relief from the constant squinting.

For my first winter in Ireland I expected the long days of wind and rain, a grey and lifeless landscape, and the damp that seems to find everywhere. But it was the darkness which caught me off guard. The sun setting at four o’clock in the afternoon swallowed the evening in absolute night, and leaving myself, Herself, and +1 staring at each other at home, expecting something to happen.

Much like Korea, Ireland’s winter swallows up all the visible life. But for the crows hovering overhead, perfectly silhouetted in any weather but more so in the overcast of December and January, little signs of life persist. Waiting for the world to awaken after winter follows a similar pattern in Ireland and Korea. Snowdrops show first, white exaggerated in the damp mud of flowerbeds. Then the shoots of daffodils break through the earth.

In Korea at this time of year you can’t take a step left or right without seeing a cherry blossom tree blooming. Even in the most sun deprived thoroughfare hectic with traffic, a much desiccated looking tree will be blooming as resplendently as its excessively pruned bows will allow. I’ve always thought it to be a bit over the top.

Yet a few weeks ago I was driving into Dublin’s city centre and at Cabra Cross, just by the McDonalds and Tesco the traffic stopped. This is one of Dublin’s less dynamic traffic spots, and it certainly is not an attractive part of the city – but let’s not be too harsh as there are worse place to be stuck in traffic. I looked out the window, and much like those very deprived looking cherry blossoms, at the base of a tree were some frail and gutter mud splattered daffodils, attempting to be as resplendent as their situation allowed.

 

Now the daffodils are slowly dying off, but the trees have gradually been warming our eyes as first the hedges and now the trees start to green with spring. It’s not long after this that the dandelions come out, yellowing in a peppered splay across any grassy patch. A sure sign the warm weather has returned is dandelion seeds tumbling carelessly in the breeze of a sun splashed afternoon.

We call these piss-in-the-beds because if you pick one you will wet the bed, or so we were told as children. But I wonder would the dandelion be as common if it weren’t for children blowing their seeds at every opportunity.

I wake up early most mornings to the new sound of spring, as thousands of different noises come through to my room. Birds singing, mostly, but the leaves rustling in an April gust comes frequently enough. There’s also the silence of morning, something I can’t remember from Korea. Where no noise from the street permeates the walls, and looking out the window all I can do is really imagine the sound.

More so than before I appreciate my new domain in Ireland. The garden, green, and all the other colours it presents, and the breeze and the birds, it’s a long way from my old position watching for glimpses of life on the twentieth floor in Suwon. They are two different places, and nowhere can either be compared. Ask me if I prefer one, I’d probably prefer to not answer that but I would say that I’m happy where I am for now. All I need now is for someone to cut the grass for me…

Time Decides for Ireland


Punctuality has never been a strong Irish trait. In historical terms Ireland is particularly late to appreciate things. But a bit like many of the buses I spent what seemed like my entire youth waiting for, eventuality it turns up and life continues on amicably and prosperously.

Yesterday saw the unprecedented recognition of Irish soldiers who fought for Britain and died, along with so many other young men from many other countries, at Gallipoli in the First World War. A ceremony to celebrate the centenary of the battle’s commencement took place and saw members of Britain’s royal family, the Turkish president, and significantly the president of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins. This form of recognition is a vital step in appreciating a significant link which has existed for centuries between Britain and Ireland, and this is the service of Irish men as soldiers of Crown.

Commonwealth soldiers’ graves overlooking the blue of the Adriatic Sea at Gallipoli (image: wikipedia)

For more there is a worthwhile account here: Gallipoli “Shrapnel burst as frequently as the tick of clock”

Since independence in 1922 a blanket has been thrown over this aspect of Irish history, but is now gradually been drawn back. For many years the contribution of Irish soldiers to the British military has been ignored in official circles, and in many corners considered an embarrassment for people who fought for their rulers.

During British rule of Ireland, military service has featured as an important component in the relationship between the two countries. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Irish troopers were recruited regularly and made up a significant human resource for the then expanding British Empire. They were mostly soldiers, and in that respect cannon fodder. At the same time, service in the Royal Navy was considered a worthwhile punishment for miscreants, be they political or social, before the idea of dispatching them to Australia hatched.

Despite the obvious threat that military service presented, it was considered a worthwhile service right up until the end of the World War One. Namely because it paid a salary and also a widows pension, a luxury farmers and labouring jobs were never entertained with. Job security was an attractive perk, as was being away from one’s spouse for large periods of time while the soldier was deployed in places foreign. My own great grandfather on my mother’s side was one of these people, and saw action in Sudan, and the Boer War among other conflicts. I think that he may have been too old to fight during the Great War, but he was certainly enlisted at the time.

The First World War saw an unprecedented number of Irish recruits signing up to fight. It was perceived that with good behaviour Ireland would eventually earn the Home Rule it had so desperately strove for. In total almost 50,000 Irish soldiers perished during the war. The effects of the 1916 rising saw this effort may have been a waste of time.

The National War Memorial, Islandbridge, Dublin 8 (Image: Wikipedia)

While Irish recognition of its contribution to World War One has been slow, the service of its people as soldiers has never been in doubt, it’s role in the second World War is something much more in doubt. The state officially took a position of neutrality, but had no qualms about introducing conscription, rationing, and preparations in the event of an invasion. Meanwhile thousands of Irish people took the short journey to British territory and signed up to take the real fight to tyranny in Europe’s battlefields. While nowhere near as many people died as did between 1914 and 1918, the number is close to 10,000 and it is a figure which exceeds many other political causes of death, including the Troubles and War of Independence.

This process of recognition is probably easy for most people, especially when given an opportunity to consider life as it was. A better understanding of history, as well as a stronger understanding of humanity are key to this. Irish people are more comfortable in their relationship with their closest neighbour than they have ever been, and they are also more confident in their own understanding of their own national identity that we can appreciate who we are and what really makes us so. As a more globablised condition exists in Ireland so does a stronger belief in the necessity to understand Ireland’s role in the future, and to do this right, understanding the past is an important component.

A rain soaked Memorial for the Irish who fell in the Korean War

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It is with a slight sense of bragging that I should be reminded that it was on this day two years ago that I took part in one of these processes of recognition. On a wet morning in Yongsan-gu outside the Korean War Memorial I was very fortunate to be offered the opportunity to lay a wreath at the newly laid memorial honouring the Irish who during the Korean War. The Irish contribution, while quite small, was an unofficial contribution as those who fell did so wearing mostly British uniforms. The significance of this was twofold, in that it recognised that while Ireland had not officially supported the war, its people had rallied in defence of Korea’s freedom, and this is something that the people and veterans of that time appreciate.

Also, with respect to yesterday’s ceremony in Turkey, it is another step by Ireland towards understanding our contribution to the history of the twentieth century. Previously it was buried away as a past which spoiled Ireland’s image as a nation which fought for its freedom from Britain.

In Ireland we now look at our past and realise that our connection is stronger than the rules inscribed with the mere signing of a piece of paper. We look to ourselves now for our answers, and we look to the way we can make our country better and stronger. This is always a learning process, but knowing that is a process makes the journey a lot easier.

 

Moments I Forgot to Mention


For every second that passes I cannot chart the exact action followed through. There are a lot of seconds, and there are at least as many actions. Granted there are plenty of hesitations and thoughts about action. None of this amounts to much more than whatever it was that came about. Over the last few months its true that this has been the case as much as ever. Allow these images to be a sample of what might have happened in the past few months since my last confession.

(Did I mention I thought I lost my camera but then I found it, not in the last place I looked)

Howth Harbour evening

Tied and dried

City lines

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corkwindow

ADHDoor cork

gaeityfeb15

graftonstreetfeb15 II

Put your foot down

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City of Signs

I remember

Moore Street ar maidin

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Electric Entrance

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Gateway to the sky

Last evening stroll

*fin*

St Patrick’s Day Ten Years On


I was in Ireland for Saint Patrick’s Day for the first time in 11 years. That I was not excited about this lends a lot to my own feelings about Saint Patrick’s Day as a day of Irish celebration, which probably isn’t helped by the whole institution of Saint Patrick’s Day around the world. But having been away from Ireland for such a length of time, I think my understanding of my own Irish identity and Irish identity in general have changed.

When I first went to Korea I was 23. I arrived on March 16, 2005, the last time I was in Ireland for Saint Patrick’s Day I was 22. I suppose I just missed the day, and at the time I knew that this was probably for the best. I was no fan of Saint Patrick’s Day back then.

While before I had never really considered its relevance or its connection to me or my Irish identity, something of a sucker punch came when I went into an alehouse I used to frequent. Shrouded in a darkness, the sunlight streamed through the permanent smokiness and silhouetted the pirouettes of stumbling celebrants enthused by A Nation Once Again shaking the very fibres of much strained PA system. It was two o’clock in the afternoon. It was a dubious WTF moment, and one I always remember and attest to an urgent desire to leave the country, and Korea is where I ended up.

My own story in Korea is one littered with its own confusion, in terms of Irish identity. I stumbled upon an Irish party on the days surrounding March 17, and wasn’t too enthusiastic about celebrating my identity then. I settled in to living and found a group of friends who saw a novelty in my Irishness which I tried not to embellish but soon got it into my head that I was the only Irishman in South Korea.

I used to spend a lot of time in Seoul expressing my distaste at my nationality, its failings, and why I was a better person not to be living there any longer. I knew several friends shared similar feelings back in Ireland, so it wasn’t something I was attempting to appear aloof about, at least not on my own anyway.

I wonder though that the longer you spend away, the longer you feel that you to try to find yourself, as opposed to the idea that you’re missing out on something. Mixing with people from around the world from many different backgrounds who proudly exclaim their nationality while you shyly question what is it that makes you stand out from others would have this effect.

Ireland was a very unfamiliar place in Korea, so there was very little to talk up. As much as I would try to offers faint words of praise towards Ireland, I’d spend an equal amount of time explaining where in fact Ireland was and that, despite its proximity to the United Kingdom it was not in fact a territory of the Queen, or attempting to talk down the hype of Irish drinking habits and love of Riverdancing to the tune of IRA marching songs. It was hard to find a middle ground.

I don’t imagine that this image of Irishness has disappeared, and while there are plenty who shun the whole idea of the image of an Irishman, they will feel the necessity to indulge in the inebriating elements of the celebration. Not that I have a problem with this, I suppose. It’s often a mid-week day off, and what better way to beat the hump than to have few drinks. For your sins, like.

There is a strong trend in Ireland which now sees over-drinking on St Patrick’s Day as something the national image could do without. Doing so robed in green and bedecked in shmarockery in the name of a saint in a increasingly secular society just doesn’t rock the boat seven days of the week. I’d fall into this category of Irish person, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to celebrate the day any longer.

Like it or not, Ireland’s national day is St Patrick’s Day. I often felt that we needed some kind of an independence day or a day that at least allows us to recognise the achievements of those who saw about Ireland’s independence from England. Ireland being Ireland though, some would never see us truly independent seeing as we still have the six counties in the north as part of the UK, while there are plenty of elements who could never stand for approving of the actions of De Valera or Collins camp.

I think that Paddy’s Day has allowed us, more and more in recent years, to celebrate ourselves a little more than any other kind of national celebration would allow. While the parades and bedecking in green seem to be embellished habits from abroad, they certainly have allowed for the new identity of St Patrick’s Day to shine through. The parade in Dublin and the hundreds of thousands of revellers are far removed from the local parades which town after town celebrates in as much fashion as the community can muster.

When I helped out with the St Patrick’s Day festival in Seoul, we saw about doing the same thing, but in a slightly different way. You would always do your best with what you had, and we would regularly muster together as much Irish cultural talent as possible. This would include Irish dancers, US army bands playing Irish ballads and songs, a Korean U2 tribute band, some class of an Irish-Canadian folk rock six piece, and a guitar wielding human juke box from Bray performing across the afternoon, while in the background all forces of paddywhackery were out in force encouraging and inviting new participants into the madness that is Irishness in Korea.

Community was the essential element, even if it meant participating in a field of plastic Paddy inspired mayhem. The more bodies the better was the philosophy of choice, because let’s not forget this was a party we having. It was so much fun and such a success that we didn’t mind the moans from locals and the endless tidy-up come six o’clock.

In Blanchardstown in Dublin where I now live, and in Dunboyne were I spent my formative years there are now community parades. They don’t appear to have much resembling the hype of our Seoul shenanigans, and they pale in comparison to the big one in Dublin. Regardless, the faces throughout are smiling as big as any other parade, and they are faces you could recognise, maybe not now but in a couple of weeks when you’re in the local Supervalu or Spar.

As a parent though, I found it encouraging to see so many kids at the centre of the parade, marching, kicking, dancing, whistling, and chanting. These little things, small as they are and as insignificant as they seem mean a lot to these families who get to see each other having their own little moment as the centre of attention.

This far from a bad thing, because regardless of who we are we always need to feel a little bit important, and to have a sense of place in our community. This community can be a small village in the west of Ireland, a suburb or Dublin, or a shower of foreigners clattered together in one of the largest cities on the planet a mere 8,000 kilometres away from home.