Of Irish Luck, Charm and Resilience...

Earlier this week the president of the United States of America discovered his Irish roots. As Obama raised a pint of Guinness and mesmerised the thousands who had gathered to hear him speak, by breaking out into Gaelic, he also kept referring to the myriad ways in which the small island country had inspired and impacted upon the history of America and the rest of the world. Of course, his speech was rehearsed and he played to the gallery. Moreover, for Obama, Ireland was the first stop on a European tour where he would have to play a tightrope act, especially in terms of American political intervention around the world. One can imagine that the president will have a tough time dealing with European leaders, who are fighting recession and economic crises themselves, but while he was in Ireland, Obama was extravagant with his praise of Ireland and everything Irish.
For once, the object of praise from an American president was well deserved. Ireland has a population that is only slightly more than that of Nagaland within the country, but the Irish diasporas and struggles have their own story to tell. Throughout the 19th century, Irish women and men have had to leave their homes for Australia and America due to hunger and conflict. While European powers sent out armies and gunboats to colonise Asia and Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries, Ireland sent out poets, priests and nuns to ensure something entirely different: a world of ideas and service to humankind. Imagine a world without the poetry of William Butler Yeats and Seamus Heaney; without the powerful literary works of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett; or radical nationalist republican thought like Wolf Tone, Constance Markiewicz or James Connelly. It would be a world bereft of colour and passion.
For a country that continues to be colonised by its powerful neighbour, England, Ireland and the Irish have been remarkably resilient in coping with adversity. The Irish fought their powerful foes for more than six hundred years, with tragicomic results. Even as Ireland gained independence in 1922, it resulted in the partitioning of the island and the continued colonisation of six counties to the north. For a small country, Ireland suffered immense losses in the ensuing six decades of civil strife and conflict, where Catholic and Protestant Irish fought one another, even as the United Kingdom enacted extraordinary laws to quell dissent and free speech in the colonised north. However, on April 10, 1998 (Good Friday), the British and Irish governments signed upon an extraordinary treaty that was endorsed by armed groups as well. In keeping with the provisions of the treaty, republican and unionist Irish paramilitary organisations agreed to suspend violence in favour of devolution of powers, leading to all parties committing to use peaceful methods to deal with differences, as also to abide by consultation with opposing political communities in decisions that were likely to affect the larger society on the island.
Perhaps Obama’s effusive praise for the Irish had something to do with the millions of Irish-American voters back in the US. However, Ireland has more important messages to impart to a cynical world that often forgets the power of radical imagination that can transform intractable conflicts into negotiable processes of democratic change. For the Naga people and their neighbours, the luck, charm and resilience of the Irish can be a lesson in how to make the best of the adversities that comes their way. If, after six hundred years of war, the poets and peacemakers of Ireland can show us the language of justice and peace, we too can join Barack Obama in saying: “Is féidir linn” (Yes, we can…and pardon the cliché).

(Dr. Sanjay (Xonzoi) Barbora is an academician and activist working on issues of human rights, justice and peace. He is the former Regional Manager (Conflict and Media programme) for Panos Institute South Asia and is currently based in the United States of America)