Loneliness and loathing at Christmas

ALONE Ireland provide fantastic support for elderly people living alone throughout the year.

This week I was commissioned by Irish Central to write an article about the loneliness and mental health problems faced by parents whose adult children have emigrated from Ireland.

You can read the article here.

A 2014 report found that women, in particular, experienced loneliness and depression after their children moved overseas.

The loneliness was compounded when the adult children put down new roots and grandchildren did not come ‘home’ to Ireland at this emotional time of year.

Skype calls and Facebook messages don’t make up for not being able to spend time in each other’s company.

I spoke to one of the co-authors of the report, Alan Barrett, who said that emigration no longer seemed to be a big issue now that the Irish economy seems to be in recovery.

I also spoke to three elderly people who have children overseas and came to hugely admire the work of ALONE Ireland, who send out teams of enthusiastic volunteers to visit elderly people in their own homes.

ALONE Ireland recently produced a fantastic video to celebrate the tireless work of their small army of volunteers. They brought an entire cinema to tears when it was screened in a Dublin cinema.

The article was published online yesterday.

What surprised me most following the publication was the sheer vitriol it attracted from readers of Irish Central after the troubles of ‘illegal’ Irish immigrants in the United States were referenced at the start of the article.

Instead of reading about the loneliness of three elderly Irish people – none of whose children are ‘illegals’ – and the care ALONE provides, about 90% of social media comments called on the illegals to be sent home.

To judge by the comments, some Irish Americans seem to know little or nothing of their own troubled history and how their ancestors came to live in America.

There was no compassion, no tolerance, no empathy for the elderly Irish people who never get to see their American grandchildren at Christmas.

Here in Ireland, we have had stories in the media about Irish people in the US who can never return home for family funerals or weddings, because of their ‘illegal’ status.

The irony of course is that all these white English speakers who proclaim their loathing of Irish immigrants are the descendants of immigrants themselves, living on stolen land.

They have a festival called ‘Thanksgiving’ which celebrates the theft of a nation and the slaughter of indigenous tribes.

The ‘illegals’ constituted just a small part of the article, but attracted virtually all of the – 90% negative – commentary on Irish Central.

There was no sense of empathy with the elderly Irish people who might not even have wanted their children to move, illegally, to the US.

Of course, we should not judge an entire nation by a few dozen social media comments, especially a nation as big and diverse as the United States.

But the comments gave me an insight into the kind of mentality which allowed a racist, sexist, Islamophobe to be elected President of the United States.

Fear and loathing of those who are different seems to have replaced the positivity and optimism we used to associate with the ‘American Dream’.

If people have so much hatred and intolerance in their hearts at this time of year, what hope is there for multiculturalism in Trump’s America?

If Irish-Americans have no affinity with the new Irish, how would they have felt if Americans had treated their ancestors in the same way when they arrived on the ‘coffin’ ships from Ireland?

2016 has been a troubling year.

At least in Ireland we still have a sense of community, of caring for the underdog or those who flee poverty and persecution.

Those values seem to be evaporating in the US if one is to judge by the reaction to my article this week.


Memories of a trip to Cuba

Standing in O’Reilly Street with a Mayo man, Declan Tarpey, who I met for the first time in Havana in 1999.

The recent death of Fidel Castro has sparked off an intense debate about his legacy in Cuba – was he a hero or a tyrant?

It’s amazing how polarised opinions have been.

In my personal blog this week, I recalled a trip to Cuba in 1999 in which the restrictions on personal freedom and lack of hope among ordinary people were profoundly depressing.

Fidel was no hero, not with the way in which his secret police harassed people for hanging out with foreigners or the way in which Communist Party members would spy on their neighbours.

I loved Cuba, but I was also deeply saddened by my three weeks on the island.

The truth was that Fidel was neither a complete tyrant nor the national hero many people on the left have made him out to be.

You can read my blog post here