Sunday 25 September 2016

Fiona Cassim: A centenary that includes everyone ... just imagine that

Fiona Cassim

Published 24/03/2016 | 02:30

Fiona Cassim
Fiona Cassim

Come away, O human child!

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To the waters and the wild,

With a faery, hand in hand,

For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.

- WB Yeats, 'The Stolen Child'.

Imagination is a powerful thing. It has the ability to transport us, to let us touch the untouchable dreams we hold in our hearts.

'Imagine If' was the theme for this year's St Patrick's Day parade - a vision of the Ireland that awaits us in the next 100 years.

It is a theme of hope, of anticipation, conjured from the minds of our children, the voices of the future.

In the year of the 1916 centenary, this Easter weekend we try to walk in the footsteps of our forefathers. We look to the ghosts of the past to guide us into our future. The coverage of the 1916 commemoration has been exhaustive these past few months, and so I will not delve into repetition. But I will say this - Ireland's former warriors fought for freedom and equality 100 years ago. They imagined a better Ireland for generations to come.

Weeks after we voted as a democratic people, we are still without a government to lead us.

Last week, as I watched coverage of the St Patrick's Day parade, I wondered about the dream of equality and freedom our ancestors had, won in the midst of chaos and death.

Brightly coloured floats and painted faces marched along O'Connell Street, yet behind them all I saw were the ads on the billboards, bleak and hopeless in contrast as they asked people to donate money to help the Irish homeless. A homeless man was violently kicked while beer was thrown over him on St Patrick's night in Dublin.

I couldn't help but think - what is there to celebrate? Now reflecting one week after our national day, all I felt was shame. How many homeless people did you see on the streets of Dublin during the parade, or were they all moved on in an attempt to convince the people that the crisis is getting better?

As a child, I would always bring home a Trocaire box around Lent. We were told that the money collected helped starving, homeless children in Africa. In my innocence, I couldn't comprehend how people could be starving or without some kind of a home.

Now they are making headlines every day in every corner of our small nation. Now I understand. Will the children of Africa soon be bringing home money boxes to save the poor Irish?

My memories of national pride lie in my childhood. I am proud of my working-class background, of the resilience that my mother instilled in me, and the resilience I witnessed in her. Perhaps it is the rose-tinted fog of nostalgia, but I remember an Ireland that was poor but happy.

People then took pride in helping their neighbours and building communities. People did not cast looks of disgust at rough sleepers, stepping over them in expensive business suits. Or maybe they did, maybe as a child I just could not see it.

Today, we are a nation that is crying out for help. We have become a nation built on inequality, where the rich get richer and everybody else seems to work hard to earn the pittance which will eventually send them into poverty. Those unable to help themselves are cast aside.

There are babies sleeping on our streets. There are families being evicted from their homes. Our older generations, the ones who helped to build the gateway to our freedom, have had most of their income stripped away. The Irish people live in fear and despair, as they wait to see what will happen next.

The former government built their legacy on broken promises and forced its people into impossible positions. Today, it is not the government who is paying the price; it is the people who queue in soup kitchens to quiet their children's cries of hunger. It is the people who fight to get from one day to the next, armed with humiliation and no running water. This is the silent show of pride, usually unnoticed, that shines in our country every day.

In the midst of the centenary celebrations, I can only hope that people will remember those who watch from the sidelines, the forgotten people living in the shadows.

We look to an invisible government to help us imagine a better horizon, but we forget that we have the power do it for ourselves.

We did it once before, that's what we are celebrating, a free Ireland for all. One that includes everybody.

Imagine that.

Irish Independent

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