From the Boston tapes on Jean McConville's murder to Trump's wall and the GOP's Beto O'Rourke tweet on St. Patrick's Day Irish Americans must remember their Irish roots and their ancestor's journeys
Patrick Radden Keefe’s new book "Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland" is number seven on The New York Times best-seller list this week.
The book is an exhaustive exploration of Jean McConville’s murder. The Belfast woman, a mother of 10, was dragged from her home in 1972 and vanished. Her remains were only discovered in 2003, which kicked off yet another gruesome chapter not only in this murder mystery, but the history of The Troubles in the North. And not just the North.
As Keefe writes, “One summer day in 2013, two detectives strode into [Boston College’s] Burns Library. They were not Boston detectives. In fact, they had just flown into the country from Belfast, where they worked for the Serious Crime Branch of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.”
There are a whole bunch of issues with Northern Irish detectives trying to access what were supposed to be confidential materials. But, first and foremost, it says something that such material would end up located in Boston.
It reflects the dedication of certain Irish Americans, and their determination to maintain the historic ties between Ireland and the U.S.
This is all the more important at a time when there seems to be a patriotic contest afoot in the U.S., where any thoughts of any foreign nation has come to seem un-American and traitorous. Surely, that’s partly why the Trump administration has so very little to say about how Brexit may undermine the fragile peace in Northern Ireland.
Trump has long been a fan of Brexit, as he’s been a fan of most rage-based movements throughout the world. If a wall can solve all the problems at America’s southern border, why not a new wall in Northern Ireland?
And so you end up with the odd spectacle of certain Irish American Republicans opposing a so-called hard border in the North, while right here in the U.S. their party advocates an even harder border between the U.S. and Mexico. But it’s not just conservatives whose Irishness is causing a bit of an identity crisis.
Consider presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke and former vice president (and also a potential 2020 candidate) Joe Biden. A few weeks back, the Republican National Committee got itself into some trouble by reminding voters that “noted Irishman Robert Francis O’Rourke” was once arrested for drunken driving. They did this on St. Patrick’s Day. Not very smart. But guess what? Thus far, the RNC has had more to say about O’Rourke’s heritage than Beto himself.
He has publicly mused about his “white privilege,” and apologized for cracking a joke about how his wife took care of the O’Rourke kids more than he did. But he might want to find a little time to talk about how his Irishness influenced him.
Now, it’s possible it really didn’t. Which does not preclude him from learning about the Irish O’Rourkes of Texas -- where they came from, how they got there, how they prospered. If the only emotion O’Rourke feels about his background is shame, well, it’s going to be a grim campaign. One fellow who has never had any problem talking about anything is Biden.
As far as being a candidate in 2020, Biden’s blessings are also curses -- age and experience. A knock against Biden, in an increasingly liberal Democratic Party, is that he criticized racial integration initiatives in the 1970s, including busing, which became a lightning rod in heavily Irish South Boston. This has led some to essentially brand Biden a segregationist.
But even if you think busing had good intentions, it was never a particularly good idea, and generally, pit blue collar folks against each other while the wealthy floated above the fray. I don’t have much hope that such complicated matters will be discussed on the campaign trail. But at the very least, Irish American candidates have a duty to remind voters of their ties to Ireland, and their families’ unique journeys in the U.S.