I made my first round-trip from Dublin to Armagh yesterday to meet with the lovely group of students participating in this year’s Armagh Project. It never ceases to amaze me how each year we attract a group of people who are so open to new ideas and so willing to learn about new cultures; it’s such a pleasure to get the chance to work with them, and to get the chance to see the world through their eyes.
One of the really good things about the whole experience is the extent to which it forces me to re-examine my own preconceptions and assumptions about Ireland; we take so much as given here, so it’s both chastening and refreshing to be asked a direct question that makes me explore my instanteous reactions, my gut feelings. So yesterday, at the end of a rather whistle-stop and very subjective take on Irish history (how can one possibly fit it all in in 35 power point slides and 60 minutes), I stated that I wouldn’t support a united Ireland. When Doug asked me why, I had the ready answers to hand – as a citizen of the Republic, the North is not my culture, my problem, my aspiration – but beneath the glibness was an uncomfortable awareness that I was guilty of stereotyping; that my resistence to the very notion of a united Ireland was built on my resistence to get to know another culture, and to find ways to accommodate it.
Accommodation of the other point of view – not liking it, necessarily, but accepting it as as valid as one’s own – seems to be one of the hardest things for a human being to manage. And on this small part of planet, it seems to be a particular challenge. Things are changing in Northern Ireland, but perhaps we Southerners have failed to see the clues because we have a vested interest in claiming that all the dysfunction is located in one corner of the island. This allows us to ignore all the messed up, confused identities that we have in our neck of the woods.
Maybe I need a few more trips up North to get a clearer perspective on things.