Europe

County Sligo

TRAVELS

Just another day in paradise? It would be, especially under this surreal pre-storm atmosphere, except… In Ireland, you can never entirely separate Yeats’ “terrible beauty” from the historical events that for centuries made it such a horror show of British misgovernment.

Small farms like this one in County Sligo would have suffered grievously in the repeated potato blights and needless famines that afflicted the Emerald Isle throughout the 19th century under Anglo rule. While Irish families died and emigrated by the millions, the British authorities were shipping food by the ton—nearly 4 million litres of butter alone in 1847—under armed guard to the ports for export to England. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the Anglo aristocracy took advantage of the mess to evict thousands of families with nowhere else to go. Aristocrats like the Earl of Lucan and the Marquis of Sligo enriched themselves by turfing out starving peasants, burning down their houses, and converting the land to grazing for their more profitable sheep and cattle.

If ever an oligarchy lost the Mandate of Heaven, this was it, even if the British managed with guns and cannon to hold on for another half-century. But outrage aside, the United Kingdom’s loss was clearly America’s gain. While the Irish population shrank by 25%, emigrants flooded the eastern shores of Canada and the United States and helped invent and build the modern American city. In the Civil War, the Irish Brigade volunteers earned their citizenship the hard way with more than 60% casualties at Antietam and Fredericksburg. And then there were the Presidents Kennedy, Reagan, and Clinton.

It is a wonder and a testament to character that even today the Irish are not angrier. Yet there is no friendlier and more tolerant and welcoming people for a visitor, especially from America. So yes, the island is a kind of paradise—at least until the next rain storm pours down on your vacation. But if that happens, there are plenty of warm pubs waiting to cheer you up.

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