Editor’s Note: On Wed, July 5, 2023, IrishCentral's sister publication the Irish Voice newspaper, in New York, went to print for the last time. Founded 36 years ago by Niall O’Dowd and edited by Debbie McGoldrick, the community’s beloved source for Irish news will be sadly missed. Their writers reflect back on what the paper has meant to them.

As I conclude my time with the Irish Voice, I am grateful for the opportunity to have been part of discussions that shape our society. While there is a sense of farewell, there is also a glimmer of hope for the future as we strive to address the challenges that lie ahead and shape our society and country.

But the world keeps turning and life moves forward, encompassing the past, present, and future. The last seven days being no exception.

This week, I had the opportunity to explore the past during my trip to Scotland. Scotland holds deep connections with Northern Ireland, making it an ideal setting to gain insights into the events of 1690, particularly with the approaching 12th of July and bonfire preparations in loyalist areas commemorating King Billy's victory at the Battle of the Boyne

Being there, surrounded by a small group, offered valuable perspectives on the "Irish problem." Scotland's historical ties to the province provide a unique lens through which to understand the complex and longstanding animosity between the communities in the North.

Unraveling Scotland's past helps unravel the layers of history that continue to impact Ireland today. Let's begin with James VI of Scotland, who became James I of the United Kingdom upon Queen Elizabeth's death. 

When uniting the kingdoms, James faced a significant challenge from a group of lawless outlaws known as the Border Reivers who wreaked havoc along the England-Scotland border. These individuals were infamous for cattle rustling, pillaging, arson, and murder.

During our visit to their hunting grounds south of Edinburgh, we heard tales of their swift and brutal attacks on both English and Scottish communities. They operated outside the boundaries of law and order, stealing livestock, looting settlements, and spreading fear and chaos. 

To address this problem, James I offered land and work in Northern Ireland, leading to the initial wave of planters who displaced native Irish in the 17th century. These planters were members of the violent and lawless Border Reivers, loyal only to their clans. Many settled in mid-Ulster, particularly in and around Co. Fermanagh.

These individuals excelled at intensifying long-standing feuds and rivalries that persisted for generations, skills that would later find use in the six counties. However, the real political turmoil emerged when James II converted to Catholicism and declared his son would be raised in the same faith. 

This posed a threat to the privileged lives of the nobility, resulting in a distinctly British coup where James' daughter and son-in-law opposed him—a vastly different scenario from the present-day machinations involving Prince Harry and Meghan plotting against their extended family.

The subsequent Jacobean rebellion, as James attempted to regain power from King William of Orange, culminated in the pivotal Battle of the Boyne. After the campaign, Penal Laws were introduced in Ireland. 

Yet it's important to note that similar laws, known as the Clarendon Code, had already been implemented in Scotland and England around 30 years earlier. These laws aimed to suppress non-conformists and promote Anglicanism.

In many ways, the brutal treatment of the Highland clans mirrored that of the native Irish. Both countries witnessed harsh clearances, forcibly displacing those who farmed the land and causing immense suffering and upheaval. The scars of these clearances linger, reminding us of the shared experiences and struggles faced by both communities.

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As I concluded my trip in Glasgow, news broke that the Scottish Orange Order, which holds a major rally every year in the city, voluntarily rerouted one of their marches away from a Catholic church at the request of locals – a glimmer of hope after over 450 years. Clearly, they are not descendants of the Border Reivers.

The legacy of anti-Catholicism unleashed by the Jacobite years still persists in the UK. From 1701 until today, no Catholic can become king or queen. Technically, the Act of Settlement deems someone who is Catholic "dead" in terms of the succession, a sectarian provision that undermines the moral authority of that institution.

Turning to the present, two prominent issues have dominated the headlines. Last weekend, over 10,000 people marched in Dublin appalled at the increasing number of abortions taking place in the country and speaking out against the proposed liberalization of abortion laws that were put in place following the 2018 referendum.

Just five years later, there is a campaign to further liberalize these laws, including abolishing the three-day waiting period and making it illegal to have a silent prayer vigil outside clinics. These issues will be fiercely contested over the next 12 months, with the pro-life movement undoubtedly encouraged by the Roe v. Wade reversal in the United States.

The other persistent and intractable problem is homelessness, which reached a new record this week, with over 12,400 people recorded as homeless including a significant number of working individuals. This issue will continue to dominate the headlines for years to come, as the government struggles to find a definitive solution. 

It will be a defining issue for the government and will undoubtedly shape the government's reputation, with the prospect of winning over the electorate seemingly an impossible task at this stage. Life moves forward, encompassing the past, present, and future. The future is not bright for them.

As I reflect on my final column for the Irish Voice, a mix of emotions overwhelms me. Saying goodbye brings sadness, but there's also a profound sense of pride in having contributed to a publication that delved into the stories shaping our country and engaged in important debates. 

It was a privilege to have a platform that ensured all voices and perspectives were heard. Thank you to Niall, Debbie, and to you the reader.

Slán tamall.

*This column first appeared in the July 5 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral. Michael O'Dowd is brothers with Niall O'Dowd, founder of the Irish Voice and IrishCentral.