Cathy Reilly Mug

Cathy Reilly, Assistant to the Publisher

In Ireland, everyone I met who found out I was from the United States asked the same thing: “What the hell is up with America?” Even hearing that question felt like a vindication of all our fears — after years of hearing, from too many quarters, that the repercussions of the 2016 election wouldn’t be so bad. In those moments I can honestly say that I didn’t want to come back to the country of my birth. If I were younger, I might have begun to seriously investigate immigration to another country — but I just turned 61 the day I flew back to the U.S. Moreover, my people (with the exception of one sibling in Europe) are here. And finally, this is my country, too, dammit. So home I came.

In more ways than one, it’s useful to juxtapose Ireland’s recent history with our own. Ireland has experienced civil war much more recently than we have; the Irish Republican Army’s guerilla war only ended near the turn of the century. Meanwhile, many pundits predict that our own country is heading toward open conflict — American against American. And some might say there is a rather tenuous peace In Ireland. Still, there are concerns about how both the finality of BREXIT and Bo Jo’s supposed departure will play out. And I did see “IRA ’22” spray-painted in black in four different places in Dublin. In the closing days of our visit, we were in County Cavan. That area is near the border with Northern Ireland, and a driver we had hired told us that about 10 days before, a road very near the one we were on had been closed due to a suspected bomb.

I was this old when I learned the history that inspired the U2 song “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” from their album War. In the winter and spring of 1984, I listened to that on my ersatz Walkman (my age is showing!) over and over and over again. I was aware of the ongoing violent and often fatal conflicts between those who wanted “home rule” and those who wanted to be part of the United Kingdom. The infamous slaughter that U2 sings about erupted in the city of Derry on Jan. 30, 1972. If you aren’t familiar with the incident, British troops opened fire on 26 unarmed civilians in what is known as “the Bogside.” This kicked off the decades-long strife that became colloquially known as “The Troubles.” Fatal conflicts between the two factions continued for decades, until the “Good Friday Agreement” of 1998.

I had studied the conflict as part of a freshman college course in 1979. Every few weeks I would go to the Norlin Library at CU Boulder and request the newspaper then known as The Manchester Guardian, now simply The Guardian. (An aside: If you aren’t familiar with this

journalistic treasure, check it out. They have no paywall and rely on reader support.) What I didn’t grasp back then was this: The conflict wasn’t just a difference of opinion over home rule vs. rule by the United Kingdom — it was also about religious conflicts between the Catholics and the Protestants. (Henry VIII’s break with the Catholic church cast a long shadow in that arena!) With 43 years of hindsight, this part of the conflict is so blindingly obvious. Another reality: We’ve been at a similar flashpoint in our country for several years. For us, the central question is: Will Christian Nationalism prevail or will we be a country that values religious freedom?

Standing atop the 500-year-old Derry Walls last month, I looked down at the Bogside below. It’s a beautiful grassy sloped area with residential areas below it; the thriving city of Derry surrounds it. As I stood there, I grasped that what happened on that Bloody Sunday in ’72 could easily happen here in the United States. Forty years ago, U2 sang two lines that seem eerily prescient:

“...And it's true we are immune

When fact is fiction and TV reality…”

But there is still time for cooler heads to prevail in this country — and to avoid the tragedy of fighting in the streets. As U2 sang:

“...And mothers, children, brothers, sisters torn apart…”

I believe that the majority of the world wants peace, including the citizens of the United States. And if we do, we must remember: Elections have consequences. The midterms are in less than 100 days; we must make our voices heard. This next election will decide whether we lurch closer to authoritarianism or hew closer to our constitution — the bedrock of our country’s founding which, over the past few years, has been attacked as never before.

Going to Ireland felt like a homecoming of sorts. It’s the land of my father’s family. While we don’t know exactly when his ancestors left the country, we do know they came from County Cavan, so by the end of my four days there, I decided it was like being around family. Those beautiful people are my kin — just like in this country. We’re all related to some extent. It’s time to do the hard work, and vow never to tear apart this country that is our family. There is NOTHING civil about war. It’s high time for our country to act as if we really believe that’s true.

— Staff notes originally run in our daily email newsletter, Indy Now, along with news updates, photos of the day, a weekly poll and more. Sign up below.