When I was a kid growing up in Birmingham this country, this Ireland, was always there.
It was there by virtue of our parents, our names, our surname, our school, our religion.
It was there by virtue of the fact that each and every summer was spent back here, was spent back ‘home.’
Our life was in England but it was an Irish life. Ireland was always with us, in our lives, in our names, in who we were.
But, above all of that, it was overwhelmingly there because of the generation who’d emigrated to those big British cities and whose lives shaped ours. It was there because of them. It was all because of them.
My memories of growing up are shaped completely by these people.
Even as I got older, as I fell in love with the bigger city around me and all the different people and music and ways a big city has to offer, I loved nothing better than being with these people.
I loved to sit and hear them talk. And how they talked.
They talked, there in those Irish houses on English streets, of their lives back in Ireland.
So many stories of so many lives. My love of Irishness starts and ends with them.
They are still to this day the Irish I most identify with, even though I’ve lived back in Ireland itself for over twenty years.
The emigrant Irish. The 1950s Irish. The ones who emigrated with nothing and built everything.
When I hear fools like Donald Trump boasting about his wealth, about how a rich boy gets to carry on being a rich boy, I can but laugh.
My God, how long would that man have lasted if he’d come from the bare beginnings they came from?
How long? Dear me, how long?
Not for them, you see, the option of not paying bills or declaring bankruptcy or being bailed out by daddy.
I recall my mother and father and my uncle talking about life in Ireland.
I would sit and listen as they ranged backwards and forwards over the years and the places and the people.
I learned so much from them and the older I get I realise just how much.
And I realise I cannot begin to contemplate the hardships they went through, how they had so little materially, and yet so much in other ways. How much they endured with such strength of spirit, with all those shining qualities of grace and humour.
A lot of those people I grew up with, who shaped my world are gone now.
The years caught up with them as they do us all. But when I think of my mother cocooning now in these days of Covid 19 I can’t help but feel we need to recognise the fundamental societal damage done by this pandemic as it robs us of so many of our older people.
Even as I wrote this Danny McCoy, the CEO of IBEC, was on the radio.
IBEC is the business lobby organisation and McCoy was espousing that organisation’s usual cold take on things.
Basically, for McCoy the welfare payments during the pandemic are too generous and we need to get back to making money.
Of course there is a case to be made around our need to get back to work.
Of course plans need to be made for life to resume and God only knows we have all had enough of this lockdown.
But a strictly and solely economic analysis, the kind of thing CEOs like McCoy specialise in, is utterly heartless. Especially in days like these.
The older citizens of our society have been disproportionately affected by this pandemic, both in terms of mortality and in terms of the curtailment on their lives.
But our older citizens are not a burden and we need them to know that.
We need them to know how much we value them. We need them to know that they are the treasure house we all learn from.
We need them to know that this society belongs as much to them as it does to anyone.
So in that way all of the restrictions we have to face to keep each other safe, and to keep them safe in particular, have to be accepted.
And economic considerations, business considerations, will have to come a distant second to keeping these people safe.
They’ve seen things, know things, been through things we need to remember.
We have to value them because we need them.
We need them so much. And we need them to know that.