Three years ago I began writing down my memories and experiences in the American south as advised by my colleagues at Ch12 WDEF News in Chattanooga, as well as close friends.
I knew my time was ending; visa issues, a dividing America, protests and uprisings, the beginning of the Trump campaign for president all contributing, coupled with a sadness that, as an immigrant, I only got to come home once a year to Galway and see my parents. The US I came to live in back in 2012 changed rapidly until I bid farewell in October 2015. It both intrigued and concerned me as a journalist, an immigrant and an Irishman overseas.
On my return to Ireland, I met with Dr. Niall McElwee of Book Hub Publishing from Athenry and he explained that the memories alone could make an interesting publication but I was better to start at the beginning and include more reflections of being an immigrant from my time in Sheffield and New York, as well as being part of Celtic Tiger Ireland, that is now just a distant recollection.
Over the next six weeks, I will publish six excerpts from the book, it is called "Through Irish Eyes, a Personal and Journalistic Journey" and welcome your views, comments and input. Possibly it will resonate with you, wherever you may be. Thank you.
Childhood, Chapter 1.
There is this sentimental idea of Ireland abroad among people who have never been anywhere near the place. A nation full of saints, scholars and animal herding all sprinkled lightly with leprechaun gold dust and doused in Guinness. In reality, only half of this is true, because we sold all our leprechaun dust to the IMF to fund our last financial bailout.
In reality tanks, armed trucks and military checkpoints aren't alien to Irish kids who were brought up north in the '90s. Why? Because how else would you get to Woolworths or see a KFC for the first time! They didn't come south to us so we went to see the cheap toys and fried chicken of Northern Ireland.
That whole ominous guard tower stuff, the dogs barking and sniffing cars, it was like entering Mordor but with gravelly British accents. The clouds darkened and your world became festooned in grey and sadness and then boom, you emerged from the checkpoint, all done, dusted and oddly Northern Ireland looked like southern Ireland, how strange? Hmmmm. But we were told they were different to us, they are Protestants but wait no, they look like us, what are actually the differences? Why do we care? It's the same damn island.
Our generation gave up on that whole looking over the border nonsense and accepted that we are all Irish of some kind and should be friends. This was coupled with a demise in the role of religion in our lives and other influences that brought down borders of mindset as well as barbed wire.
That whole division issue did last for years though. I would sit with my legs crossed in our quiet Inchicore home, nestled beside the canal where ducks would lose their minds on stale bread. Feet from those calm controlled waters, I watched a small plastic box. Peering 10 inches from the screen on our little black and white TV, as explosions and shouting filtered through from less than 100 miles away, not having a clue what was going on.
For some weird reason you don't truly understand but you are aware of the gravity of the situation. Kind of like peddling your bike and when the chain comes off, falling over, knowing this is serious, yet not gathering why it happened or if it will happen again.
“The Troubles” were close to home in that everyone talked about the issues but we didn't have to experience the threats. However, Omagh's 1998 bomb changed the whole nation's perspective. Fear came to your doorstep. Innocent people murdered. It wasn't a movie, it was real and it was tragic and when you are eight years old, scary. I had been to Omagh and Tyrone and understood Ulster and Northern Ireland as well as any child could. Now I could see the town blew apart on TV, the suffering and hurt on show for the world. That strikes a chord.
Down south was charting its own course in the shadows of turmoil across the border. Dublin was alive back then, Ireland was full of being a “new country,” we had a female president who talked funny but was mega smart, stand up and bow Mrs. Robinson. And, no, I know what you are thinking but here's to you Mrs. Robinson, our first female president.
U2 were conquering the airwaves and our tiny nation of just 4.5ish million people were smashing it in soccer. When a country does well in sports, birthrates often reflect it. In 1990, Italia 90 for you soccer/football folks, the BEBO (a pre-Facebook social media site) Generation emerged. There are lots of us.
We knew jobs were important because there weren't a lot when we were small. We gathered education because it was vital and we understood that we were proud to be part of this “New Ireland.” Little did we know it would all come crashing down.
We had enough back then but not a lot. We saved our money and bought Pokemon cards. We made big decisions, like whether to use the home phone or the internet, as both could not work at the same time. Technology emerged that changed our lives and the western world.
However, we saw the time before. For those born in the late 90s, touch-screen, mobile and social media worlds are now the norm and have continued as such. We had pencils, not laptops in school. We hadLegoo bricks instead of lego robotics and we played games of hide and seek in the fields not on an X-Box as part of Call of Duty.
For more information on the author: www.jamespmahon.com
Through Irish Eyes is available in Kindle form on Amazon.
It is available for international order from Book Hub Publishing.
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