Thursday, October 15, 2009
Ireland - Part One
The "Kosie II" pub, a place for a pint, a pub meal, and conversation
Camp Connell, CA -- My Lamont ancestors were settlers who came to Ireland from Scotland in the 1640s, part of the migration spurred by the creation of the Ulster Plantation.
The Clan Lamont had its original roots in Ireland, as did many Scots in the western regions. You can see Ireland across the North Channel from the Scottish coast, and people went back and forth frequently.
The English used Protestant Scots to try and drive out the Catholic Irish natives, but within a hundred years the Lamont family I eventually came from got fed up and left for America, disenchanted with English policies and the real possibility of starvation.
Four family members came to New York in the 1740s: the mother -- described only as "an Irish woman" -- and her three sons Archibald, John and Robert. A daughter named Mary was left behind, and the father's fate is unknown. Even after 100 years in Ireland, they were still known as Scots. In the United States, our historians renamed them Scots-Irish, a name the folks in Northern Ireland do not appreciate. They are Ulster Scots, as stubborn today as they were 400 years ago.
So we went to Ireland in September to see what the place looked like, and how it felt.
It looked as beautiful as advertised.
Ponies graze in a rich green field along the County Antrim coast
Sheep dominate the pastoral scenes across Northern Ireland
Beauty was most obvious when we took a trip from Belfast along the northern coast, a scenic journey popular with tourists today and the area where the Lamonts settled for a while. The land is brilliant green, with glens reaching back from the ocean cliffs and harbors, and has a feel of gentleness. Old castles dot the coast, and the winding road reminds us of California's Big Sur region. It even has a geologic wonder called the Giant's Causeway, an ocean-front reminder of the Devil's Postpile in California's mountains -- except much grander.
Local fishermen built a rope bridge to connect the coast to the rocks, a place where there used to be a lot of salmon
But looking at the history, we had to deal with tragedy.
History is everywhere, in the names of towns and counties, and in the protective metal cages still surrounding police stations and even some pubs in Northern Ireland. Today's Irish are full of pride for their country, and a unique view of the history some have lived through.
Even though the Irish civil war ended in the 1920s, the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland officially ended in a truce only in the 1990s, there are still some long memories.
In case you have forgotten, and it is easy to forget for an American living so far away, the Emerald Isle is still split into two parts: The larger Republic of Ireland, freed less than 100 years ago from the colonial masters in England, and the smaller Northern Ireland, still part of Great Britain and still suffering from generations of animosity.
It is a very complex situation, as a tour guide in Belfast was quick to point out. Everyone is glad the killing has stopped, even if only tentatively, but he also mentioned that he and his Protestant friends do not go into Catholic neighborhoods if they can avoid it, and Catholics do not frequent Protestant pubs bedecked with Union Jacks and the color orange.
And a Catholic family living in the Republic of Ireland acknowledged that she had been uncomfortable when visiting in the north.
Memorials to the dead heroes of the "Troubles" are now featured on tours of Belfast
The situation reminded me of some of my older relatives' attitudes when I was a child, talking about how "the Yankees" treated Southerners badly, and the resentments on both sides. The stereotypes still exist today almost 145 years after that war ended.
Ireland still needs some time for the old wounds to heal. The younger generations usually are more willing to forgive the past they haven't lived through.
But tourists are exempt from the sectarian disagreements, and we were welcomed everywhere. We certainly felt safer on the streets of Belfast at night than we would in any American city of the same size. And Dublin was full of energy, and interesting people and sites.
On our first night in the Republic of Ireland, after grueling flights from San Francisco to Dublin by way of Germany, we were made to feel welcome in a very traditional way.
At the suggestion of the host at the Ferry House B&B in Dun Loaghaire, pronounced Dun Leery, we wandered over to the Kosie II Pub, just around the corner. The barman, Michael, introduced himself, shook our hands and welcomed us to Ireland with a smile and friendly conversation. The other customers, mostly older men, asked about our well being, wanted to know where we were from, and were interested in our impressions of their homeland. That was the sort of reception we had everywhere we went, north and south.
We had a pint of Guinness, a pub meal of soup and soda bread, and went off to see the sights the next morning.
Civil wars, British brutality, colonialism and the "Troubles" seemed ancient history when you are sharing a pint and stories with new friends.
Next: Ireland going though changes, accepting diversity and joining Europe.