"Breaking the Geo-political 'Bubble'" by Brian McCann
Before this trip, I had been outside of the United States on one occasion. For a week I stayed in a hotel with my father and grandmother on the Canadian side of Niagara falls. Aside from that, the travel I have undertaken has been entirely within the United States. This trip was the first time I was traveling alone, and my first time leaving North America. This was my geo-political 'bubble.' I did not know how things worked on a fundamental level outside the context of living in the United States.
Once I was in Ireland, I spent a lot of time on history tours that no matter where they were, they focused on the same series of events. Whether you were at Dublin Castle, the General Post Office, or Kilmainham Gaol Jail, you heard the same series of events repeated. The repeated story stops being intriguing after about the first time. Names and details will be repeated over and over again, especially about the movement for home rule, the takeover of the GPO (General Post Office), the revolution. By the time it was over and done with, we could give a blow-by-blow of the assassination of the Cairo gang, and point to all of the typos in the proclamation with a blindfold on. The specific timeline of events is given with such importance as to make one believe the tour guides all have weekend meetings over Guinness to cross reference the history and ensure everyone is on the same page and no one on the tours misses anything.
I understood, however, after I visited Glasnevin Cemetery. For centuries Catholics in Ireland were not allowed to bury their dead in proper graves, as part of efforts to demoralize the Catholic majority on the island and covert them to Protestantism. In the 1800s, MP Daniel O'Connell helped rectify that with the construction of the non-denominational Glasnevin Cemetery. The cemetery quickly swelled and now contains over a million bodies laid to rest.
At the cemetery, a man with salt-and-pepper hair and in a Easter Rising Republican's uniform stood over the grave of Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, a prominent member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (d. 1915). This man was re-enacting a speech given by Easter Rising leader Patrick Pearse. As well as a pay of respects, it was a speech full of fire, a call to arms for the cause of Irish independence, insinuating such action was the way to honor the passing of one such as Rossa.
Something that clicked in me when the actor recited this speech about how close all of this history about the rising and independence was to these people. The Rising and Michael Collin's guerrilla war are the acts that made the country what it is, you can see it in the building chosen as the seat of government, which was chosen for to its proximity to escape routes the embattled Collins could use to escape in case of an attack by his friend-turned enemy de Valera. In the bullet holes that line the columns of the GPO, which is still the central post office for Dublin city. In the street signs, which under the English bear the same message in Irish, the language now flourishing after being suppressed by English rule for centuries.
This made me realize something about the United States as well. In the US we have a parallel to this story, that being the Revolutionary War started with the Declaration of Independence. We exalt this revolution the same way the Irish do theirs. You can't spit in the Old City neighborhood of Philadelphia without hitting some street corner where some founding father or another bit his thumb at a British officer or something, but it doesn't click the way it does in Ireland. The United States I currently live in was built more by intermediary actions than by the exploits of the founders, specifically infrastructure projects of the 1940s and 1950s, and the social reforms of the 1960s and 1970s. To exalt the revolution in America is to exalt something that was important and special, but is no longer relevant. It goes to show how things can change, and how important stepping out of one's self can be to self-reflection.