Tag Archives: Ireland

For my father, ancestry and politics forever intertwined

The Long Room in Dublin

I couldn’t help but think about my father this week as Joe Biden was inaugurated. Biden is an Irish-American Catholic who proudly recognizes his Irish ancestry, frequently quoting Irish poets and writers in speeches. I think my father would approve.

My father’s interest in politics began early. He was born into a devout Irish Catholic family in Belfast. Nazi air raids sent him and his family fleeing into bomb shelters in the middle of the night. His initial love of America was due in part to the U.S. military’s role during WWII. He closely followed the violent, deadly developments that took place between nationalists and unionists in his beloved Belfast and surrounding areas during the Troubles. By this time, he had already immigrated to America, which was a good thing, because he alluded on more than one occasion that he may have become directly involved in the unrest if he had remained in Northern Ireland.

As a child, what I remember most about my father’s political beliefs was his adoration of all things Kennedy. He loved to tell the story of how he met a young JFK in New York City. My father was a bellhop at the hotel Kennedy was staying at and he got to shake his hand. He also followed Robert F. Kennedy’s political rise closely and I believed he attended at least one rally in Los Angeles. My father lamented the Kennedy curse that cut short the political aspirations of the two brothers.

My father’s heritage directly influenced his political perspective. He had great disdain for Britain’s control and interference in Northern Ireland, and closely followed other countries who battled for independence from crown rule. His many letters to newspapers reflected a deep political interest in conflicts around the globe. In spite of political turmoil, my father remained devoted to all things Irish, beaming with pride when those of Irish descent were recognized for their talents. As my mother wrote in my father’s obituary, he loved his adopted country and homeland equally. He recognized that the good parts outweighed the challenges. It’s a poignant reminder for me right now, as America struggles through its own cultural and political strife.

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Teens develop, win prize for dementia app

There has been so much bad news lately that I wanted to spotlight a story about what the younger generation is doing to support dementia research. A group of teen girls in Ireland used the pandemic lockdown for a worthwhile cause.

The mentor’s mother had dementia, which helped inspire the team to create the Memory Haven app. Designed for use by both people with dementia and their caregivers, it has features designed to address three main issues: memory loss, difficulty with recognition and speech impairment. I loved how thoughtful the app is, using tools like facial recognition and music to help lift the moods of those who are feeling down.

While the teens are a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) success story, they unfortunately faced sexism and racism along the way. I hope their inspirational story will encourage youth around the world to support dementia research.

You can learn more about the app and see it in action in this BBC report.

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A trip of a lifetime

 

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In Belfast, Northern Ireland

What an amazing trip. Ireland was everything I imagined it to be and more. The people were wonderful, the weather was surprisingly good (mainly dry with plenty of sun!) and the sights were breathtaking.

If you want to see all of my Ireland trip photos, I created a public Google Photos album.

I started in the southern part of the country in Blarney and Cork. Blarney Castle was fascinating to tour. I air kissed the stone (couldn’t quite lean back far enough due to my vertigo) but also enjoyed walking the beautiful grounds. Spent the next day in Cork, a charming city. Then I made my way to Westport, where I took a break from being a tourist and enjoyed a stay at a writer’s cabin at a retreat. There were country roads that offered picturesque, serene walks and I loved how the owner’s pets came to visit me during my stay.

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Blarney Castle

writer cabin montage

It was in Westport while I was at the grocery store that I happened to see the Alzheimer’s fundraiser. It truly is a global movement and I was happy to support it.

Dublin was a lively, bustling city full of history. Seeing The Long Room at Trinity College was one of the highlights of the trip for me.

I saved my father’s hometown of Belfast for my last stop. I had so much anticipation as the train neared town. Of course Dad would not recognize modern-day Belfast, but there were markers of the past everywhere.

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I’m not a big fan of group tours but I did take a walking tour on The Troubles in Belfast. The guide provided an excellent historic overview of the origins of division and unrest, how The Troubles unfolded in the 1970s and what the future may hold in store for Belfast. From taxi drivers to shop owners, everyone I talked to in Northern Ireland and the republic were concerned about the upcoming Brexit actions that could trigger increased violence along the border.

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The above mural was taken in the working class neighborhood near where my father’s family members lived. I was able to locate the street that was on my father’s birth certificate and the street where my grandparents lived until their deaths.

While Belfast is known for its politically-charged murals, a new crop of murals have also emerged, offering a fresh perspective and are quite artistic.

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I visited my aunt’s grave at a sprawling ceremony just outside of Belfast. She lived to age 95, and while she was plagued by physical ailments in her later years, her mind remained sharp as far as I know, while three of her siblings (including my father) ended up with dementia.  She was a resilient woman, raising three children on her own after her husband died while working overseas.

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Giant’s Causeway was one of my favorite destinations. What a breathtaking site.

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I ate really well while maintaining my gluten-free diet. The awareness of celiac disease and the gluten-free diet is quite high in Ireland, and I ate as well and in some ways even better there than I do here in the U.S. The highlight food-wise was gluten-free fish and chips in Dublin.

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The modified Irish breakfast that was gluten-free came a close second. (I had a few variations of it during my travels.)

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I am grateful I was finally able to complete this trip of a lifetime, and I can’t wait to return.

 

 

 

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