On this terrible day, when Americans can now claim ownership of the worst mass shooting in our history, when 50 people are dead because of who they love, how do you search for hope, or joy? This tragedy stems from prejudice and hatred, and is given permission to unfold by the NRA and by the politicians who refuse to stand up to them.
The history of Ireland is not immune from violence, of course. The British Black and Tans were brutal actors in attempting to tame the Irish ‘rebellion;’ in just one of many unthinkable acts, they drove a tank into the midst of a packed sports stadium and opened fire. The IRA and other revolutionary groups’ use of violence is more difficult to discuss: How could a republic be won without the brutality of war? Echoes of these times—the Rising, the civil war, the Troubles—are seen in certain practices today. When an armored truck comes to collect money from the local bank, it is surrounded by men with assault weapons poised. This is a grim and frightening reminder that the young country has suffered profound distrust and the warring of neighbors.
But today in Ireland the gardai, the police, do not carry weapons. What seems so casual in the U.S., a blue-uniformed cop strolling into Burger King for lunch with a weapon around his waist and several more stashed in the car that is idling in the parking lot, is unthinkable in Ireland. The term garda comes from the phrase an garda siochána, protectors of the peace. For all the reputation of Ireland as the country of outlaws, the Irish recognize, as Americans do not, that peace begins with each person, most particularly those assigned to defend it.
In November 2015 the Republic of Ireland became the first nation in the world to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote. This happened despite the vehement campaigning of the Catholic Church. Catholicism claims some 85% of citizens in the Republic, which a visit to any town in the country on a Sunday morning will confirm. Whatever Ireland has been through, even just in the past hundred years, and that is quite a lot, the lessons of war and intolerance have left a legacy not of hatred but of inclusion and peace, lessons it does not seem possible, on a day like today, for America to grasp.
My daughter and her wife are on the road this week. As they move from campground to campground, will they need to practice extra vigilance about where they are settling for the night, who is next to them, who might be watching, whose truck has a gun rack? Stay safe, I text. Stay safe.