Multicultural can only help Ireland

Lucan, Ireland:  Multiculturalism is alive and well in Ireland and indeed, thriving.

That is bad news for many. As Father Bobby Gilmore, a fierce immigrant rights advocate noted in an article on there is some resentment and hatred as a result.

“Immigrants are the new ‘weak’, the new ‘enemy’. So many citizens are ignorant of that fact. They resent the presence of other nationals working in their neighborhoods yet see no contradiction in their own sons and daughters emigrating to seek work abroad.”

While many view the prospect of outside cultures integrating into Ireland with fear, I think it can be the making of the country.

I also think Ireland has done a remarkable job, despite some naysaying, in integrating other nationalities into the Irish way of life. There have been no race riots, no blatant xenophobia. The country is getting it right.

In fact I am reminded of America’s shining moment, the melting pot of the 19th and 20th centuries which allowed millions to emigrate to America and become part of a national tapestry where race and every background found a way to fit in.

Was that an easy process? Of course not, but the Irish experience will prove an overwhelmingly positive one in years to come I predict.

I say so after getting a tantalizing peek into that future.

Come with me to St. Thomas National School in Lucan, a Dublin suburb where I spent Thursday afternoon as part of an American Ireland Fund delegation.

Amazingly, the school has 44 different national identities represented among its 1,000-pupil population split between it and another school for older kids on the same premises.

From Nigeria to Pakistan to India, to a slew of Eastern European countries as well as Asia and even North America, the country of origin of many of the kids I saw was not Ireland.

I was there to see the remarkable success of an Ireland Fund project, the creation of the Esker Amateur Boxing Club for youngsters in the area which has massive unemployment and deep social problems.

The boxing club had arranged a ‘Friday Night Fights’ scenario where we saw the youngsters square off against each other in the makeshift ring in the school gymnasium.

Thanks to a dedicated core group of locals led by Ed Griffin, the boxing club, starved of funds, has become a local success story taking kids off the street and giving them a chance.

The 2nd grade school kids had turned out for the boxing tournament and lent an ear splitting and giddy presence to a remarkable afternoon.

What struck me immediately was how many colors of the rainbow were represented among the kids. Asian, Black Eastern European, Irish, all mingled happily chanting ‘Ireland, Ireland’ as the young boxers competed.

When I was in grade school in Ireland the definition of a stranger was one who came from another town or a country area. Now the far-flung regions of the globe have come to Ireland and the country is the better for it.

Sure there are problems, but St. Thomas school principal Michael Maher explained how the foreign born children or children of immigrant parents are taken under the wing of the school when they arrive.

That is evident from a huge map of the world pinned up on the bulletin board where the countries from which the kids come from are proudly identified. The map says treasure this extraordinary diversity.

He explained that while the school has a Catholic ethos the religious needs and expression of many of those who arrive are catered for and allowed expression.

The focus is on inclusivity but he says the balance must be right, encouraging the children to understand and appreciate their new country too.

He finds parents of whatever background are interested in one thing primarily, a good education for their children.

That goal remains his clear mission, one not made any easier in recent years as the Irish economy tanked and education was one of the government programs hardest hit.

Judging from the easy mingling and camaraderie I witnessed among the kids, spectacular progress is being achieved at St. Thomas’.

I hope it is a good barometer for the rest of Ireland. The country needs to look outward to avoid the mistakes of a Germany or France or other European countries where immigrants are never given a place at the same table and are relentlessly informed of their differences to the host country. That has led to riots and the fear of the ‘other’ we are all familiar with.

In the modern world where global shifts in population happen much faster, that is a dangerous policy. Ireland to its credit has avoided that pitfall and as witnessed in Lucan, has pursued an inclusiveness that is immediately familiar to Americans.

Long may it last.