I wish my grandmothers were alive.

Of course, I always do. I’m lucky to be the granddaughter of two women who raised me with unconditional and fierce love, and who modeled two very different ways to show that love. One was calm and endlessly patient. The other was… not. So I learned that we can endure without losing the loving and generous core of who we are. And that we damn the consequences and stand up for what’s right.

I am profoundly privileged to come from these two families. I miss those women every day. Given that it’s been years since they died, I’m pretty sure that’ll always be the case. That’s okay.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt their absence quite as much as I do these days.

You see: I don’t know how to handle the direction of the world right now. The swing to the hard-right. Normalisation of fascism. Incredible power in the hands of despicable people. Right now, Ireland feels like a strangely normal backwater in a world that’s falling in a direction that I don’t know I can bear. I’m lucky to live in a place that is currently relatively insulated from the worst of it. I feel helpless to do a single thing about it. I’m scared from my friends and for my world. I don’t know how to respond.

I used to love my Nan’s stories of her young adulthood. We’d sit drinking endless cups of tea (drowning in milk and sugar, of course) and she’d tell me all about her time in London. She left Ireland for a few years, you see, to work there as a nurse. She’d live with her friends and they’d work hard and have so much fun in between it all.

I loved her stories. She died a half-decade ago and I wish that I’d done something- anything!- to remember the details.

Because, of course, when she was working as a nurse and living with her friends and being a young woman in the big city, that city was under attack by the Nazis.

There are things I know that she never told me. She never talked about being afraid. Or about what horrors she must have seen, working in a hospital in a city under bombardment. She never told me how it was she saw those things, got up the next day and kept on doing what she needed to do. Or how it must have felt to never know if they would win or lose. What it was like to learn about a genocide just a few hundred miles away.

I want to ask her how it felt in the years before that war. I want to know what it was like to see hateful ideologies become normal- did people know what it would lead to? Were they afraid? What did it take for people to understand what was going on? When did they feel normality sliding away and what did it feel like for the world around them to tip over into chaos and killing? How did they continue? How did they sleep, and what did they do when they couldn’t?

What do I do?

I hope I don’t have to learn these things the way that she did. I’m afraid. I wish my grandmothers were still alive.


2 thoughts on “I wish my grandmothers were alive.

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    Hi Aoife, Just a note to comment on two of your statements in your (excellent) post:

    Right now, Ireland feels like a strangely normal backwater in a world that’s falling in a direction that I don’t know I can bear. I’m lucky to live in a place that is currently relatively insulated from the worst of it.

    I think you’re a little too complacent. First, considering Ireland’s long-standing close ties with the US, and our politicians’ embarrassing fawning over Trump on his last visit (and their rather alarming readiness to bow to some of his demands regarding easing of planning and environmental restrictions surrounding his golf course plans in Co. Clare), we should not expect Ireland to be insulated from Trump’s direct influence. We will see our politicians proudly hand over a bowl of shamrocks to him on St Patricks Day, gladly agreeing with him on various important issues where moral clarity will fall away in the interest of doing “a good deal for Ireland”. This has always been Ireland’s way, it will not change when we meet Trump. Second, we are not as insulated as we might seem. All you need do is take a look at the comments section under any opinion piece on the Irish Times website to see any conversation on almost any subject – litter, climate change, women’s rights, homelessness, traffic congestion – quickly turn to blaming immigrants, Muslims, or “lefties” for everything. Consider also how so many people in Ireland seem to clamour for a Trump-lite leader in the guise of some populist businessman, such as Michael O’Leary, and the fact that Trump enjoys significant support in Ireland, particularly in rural districts. Third, anti-EU and anti-establishment sentiment is rife in Ireland. For example, we have a populace with no interest in protecting its environment or securing a sustainable future for ourselves or anyone else; any requirement to protect peatlands or soils or water supplies or to act on climate change is met with widespread derision and hostility toward Europe. These areas have been and continue to be exploited by UKIP and Pegida, who continue to build a presence in Ireland.

    We have a lot to be on the lookout for in Ireland. Yes a majority seems to support a woman’s right to choose, yet we will not do enough to force a change to the constitution to ensure that right. Yes we voted for marriage equality, but much of the country thinks “them uppity LGBT people should pipe down now sure haven’t they got what they want”. Yes we are concerned about Brexit and wanted to see a different result, but only for our own appallingly narrow economic self-interest, and there are many who still want to see Ireland follow the UK out of Europe. Yes by now we have largely accepted our immigrants from Eastern Europe, but not so our immigrants with darker skin tones.

    What do I do?

    Organise, be heard, push for social justice, and demand Ireland plays its appropriate role in securing civil rights and a sustainable future around the world. Write / ask others to write to the Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs and demand that they hold Trump to account on civil rights, on global disarmament, on the Paris Climate Agreement and other global environmental accords, and not decline to do so out of any fear of not “getting a good deal”. Demand also that sincere efforts are made, and programmes put in place, to raise Ireland’s game in Europe in pulling its weight on climate change and immigration, and in protecting the role of sound science in decision making.

    I have worked in international affairs at UN and EU level for over a decade, and Ireland does not enjoy the reputation amongst its peers as we are often led to believe by our government. We are seen as a country of cajolers, conmen and closet racists, who will loudly declare our greatness and power and global influence “beyond our small size” out of one side of our mouths, whilst out of the other side we disclaim any ability take up our share of global responsibilities when expected “because sure we’re a poor small nation with no real impact aaaahh please leave us alone”. For all our seeming movement toward a more progressive, less Catholic society, we are still a deeply conservative, almost libertarian country – for many Irish people, as long as we have ours the rest of the world can get bent. That is not good enough, and something we should fight hard to change.

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    @MudPuddles Very true! I’d add that Irish people complained on phone-in radio shows about austerity, but did little when the most vulnerable were made to pay the price of bailing out the banks! There were protests over water charges, but because people did not want to have to pay for the cost of natural resources which is utterly bizzare. There is really a lot we should do to make our government stand up to Trump and maybe take Angela Merkels stance, and to resist those populist urges here at home!

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