Akron Irish: Don’t Feck with the Irish
By Lisa O’Rourke
There is a tricky wind moving over Europe. We didn’t see it coming even though we did. Like a long forecast storm, we had to watch the clouds condense and darken and feel the cold steely drops before we believed it was here. This seems to be another chapter in our Chinese curse of a new century.
My plea to the universe is enough of interesting times, bring back boring. The people of one nation certainly sensed trouble and were not shy to act on it. Those people have known hard times and they know how quickly those hard times can appear. The Irish have seen both famine and war and they are sensitive to the signs.
Forces were circling Ireland last August. A Russian naval vessel was spotted just outside Irish territorial waters around Donegal. The Irish Times, pulling no punches, led with the headline calling it a “Russian spy ship,” a claim which the Russians were quick to deny. Russia countered that their ship was an oceanographic research vessel.
Ireland wasn’t buying it. The Times reported that the ship was host to several small, unmanned submersibles. The submersibles are small submarines which are capable of cutting or tapping the undersea internet cables which carry global communication, some of which is sensitive NATO information. The Irish naval forces had been monitoring the ship’s activity.
Perhaps the Russians thought that Ireland was neutral or oblivious. While Ireland as a country has been politically neutral, that has never stopped its citizens from acting on their beliefs. The spy ship story faded without further incident since the Russians were not caught doing anything wrong.
But it is experience that has made the Irish sensitive to the moves of colonizing bullies. A few months passed and the Russian Navy wanted to come back, this time further down the coast.
The Russians announced that they wanted to conduct drills off the Irish coast, close to Castletownbere, in Cork. The proposed drills were to be done during the first week of February of this year. Now things got personal.
If the Irish government were miffed by the Russian proposition, the local fishermen were furious. The Cork fishermen felt that the planned activity would interfere with fishing and furthermore, the intended site was too close their European designated economic zone.
The fishermen planned a protest, with the tagline, “Our protest is our presence.” They decided to take to the water, using up to sixty trawlers at any one time, “fishing” in the area and interfering with the drills.
While economic factors were significant in their decision, the Russians and their shifty conduct were already on the Irish radar. Their feints and masked escalations did not go unnoticed in Ireland. The highly reported standoff between the fishermen and the Navy ended with the Russian Minister to Ireland announcing that the military drill site would be relocated.
That same Russian Minister to Ireland who made the announcement about the cessation of the military drills, featured in another story in no time flat. The Minister, Yuriy Filatov, sat down for a news interview with RTE, the Irish national broadcast network.
If Mr. Filatov was expecting a softball interview, he got hardballs and quite a few of them. During the interview, Mr. Filatov’s dismissive responses were aggressively challenged by RTE presenter David McCullagh. Mr. McCullagh accused Filatov of being either stupid or a liar, and “an apologist for slaughter.”
McCullagh concluded the interview by asking Filatov why the Irish government should allow him to stay in the country, to which Mr. Filatov responded, “It’s a good question.” David McCullagh wasn’t there to look like a good guy, but to act like one. This was the second recent story of the Irish David standing up to the Russia Goliath that went viral.
It is personal. Every day listening to the Irish news or reading their papers, there is evidence of the personal in this conflict. The Irish are responding to direct requests for aid. In Galway, there is a group asking for wooden pallets in order to stock and ship supplies to Ukraine. While wooden pallets are not common household items here, they are in rural Ireland.
Glamorous Ballybrit racetrack in Galway has been converted to an impromptu warehouse for donations. Northern Irish actress Catriona Balfe has been on Instagram highlighting charities and other ways to help the people of Ukraine.
There are the typical disaster pleas for food and clothing donations. Drivers and translators are needed to help transport refugees, mainly across the Polish border. There are also requests for host families who would be willing to house Ukrainian refugees in their homes. I saw a Ukrainian family smiling from an Irish home on Instagram yesterday.
There is a disconnected, surreal quality to these events for us. Part of it is simple geography. We are not on the same continent. We look at these events from the aerial perspective of our news. We are birds, flying over and watching. The Irish have their feet on the ground.
Ireland is an island, but they are committed to being part of Europe. More importantly to restate, they do not like colonizing bullies, and they are not shy about that. They feel the ill wind.
While in the U.S., we know that a percentage our tax dollars lays in wait to respond to global disaster. This is a good thing, but it also removes an element of personal responsibility. The Irish government does not have much of a navy or disaster war chest. But they do have people who are engaged and eager to act.
What the government lacks, the fishermen and everyday people are happy to fill in. They will be the Navy, government officials and Red Cross themselves. If you wonder what part you would have played at the beginning of an event like the Second World War, you are doing it now.
*Lisa O’Rourke is an educator from Akron. She has a BA in English and a Master’s in Reading/Elementary Education. Lisa is a student of everything Irish, primarily Gaeilge. She runs a Gaeilge study group at the AOH/Mark Heffernan Division. She is married to Dónal and has two sons, Danny and Liam. Lisa enjoys art, reading, music, and travel. She likes spending time with her dog, cats and fish. Lisa can be contacted at [email protected].
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