On Saturday, the Prime Minister (Taoiseach) of Ireland, Enda Kenny, and the American Ambassador to Ireland, Kevin O'Malley, traveled to Ballymote, County Sligo to unveil a statue to commemorate the Irish who took part in the American Civil War. It would have made for a nice occasion and a bit of publicity for those people all but forgotten in their homeland.
It would have been a nice occasion if not for those who thought that it was the time to protest about the recent imposition of water charges.
Look, I get it. They don't think they should have to pay for water. They believe water should be free, that it's part of their birthright as citizens of Ireland. They might even believe that it's a charge too far, too great an imposition on the less well-off, that our EU-imposed austerity measures are too onerous on the average Irish citizen.
I understand all that. I can't say I agree entirely with their cause, but I was opposed to water charges, too. As I said last year, metering for water use in a land where very few people are actually wasting water in large volumes and where nobody could argue there is any real shortage of supply is a gross waste of money.
So sure, they're frustrated and they're angry and they saw an opportunity to let the Taoiseach know. Fair enough, but they could have done that without (a) shaming themselves and worse (b) disrespecting those people who were supposed to be the focus of attention on Saturday.
They were too selfish to realize that. The Irish men who died in the American Civil War and their dependents that they left behind knew hardships that nobody in Ireland knows today. Thank God.
Sure many people have it hard now, but the Irish immigrants of that era were driven from their homes half-starved. They were forced onto “coffin ships” probably having already buried one or more family members and about to possibly lose another family member or two on the journey. They found nothing but dire poverty and a hard life in New York or Boston or Philadelphia or Chicago or Baltimore or wherever they ended up in the United States.
They suffered and suffered again. And then, they found themselves in a war, or having to send their sons to a war, that they probably only barely understood. Many of those Irishmen never came home and never came back to earn the money needed to feed their families. Many came home injured or damaged and unable to work and were just an additional burden on their families at a time when government relief and social programs were all but unheard of.
More than 200,000 Irish men fought in the American Civil War and, when you take account of their families, you realize that the total number of Irish people affected by the war was probably close to a million.
Those are the people the protesters disrespected on Saturday – the poorest of the poor. I hope they're proud of themselves.