In a Word... America
I still love America. Though it has become so much harder to do so.
Even on this American Independence Day.
Like those other great institutions that have also shaped my life – the Catholic Church and Fianna Fáil – I would argue (humbly!) that it too has drifted away from what it stood for. Not me.
I have remained, in the words of a hard-left colleague at university in Galway, “a liberal gobshite”. And even if, as is said, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”, I would insist the consistency in this case is not foolish.
Rather it is rooted in learned commitment to an inclusive society such as I was taught by civil rights America, a compassionate Catholic Church, a social democratic Fianna Fáil.
America taught me there could be a society where equal rights were possible for women, for people of colour, for gays. Or, at the very least, that a society could exist where such rights might be achieved.
I will take to my grave the feeling of exhilaration on arriving in New York that first student summer as forked lightning lit up enormous sky scrapers in the dusk and the streets ran torrents in an apparently calamitous thunderstorm as we arrived by bus from Kennedy airport.
“Only in America…”, I thought then, savouring the pun and the sentiment. Such diversity of people, free Tchaikovsky (with real cannon) and other concerts in Central Park, the Village Voice weekly, all that international cinema in Manhattan. It helped too that my accent, the very thing which caused people in London to freeze around me the previous summer, meant I was celebrated in New York.
Then America is also family. My grandmother spent her youth in New York. I met a grand-uncle there during those student summers and stayed with wonderful second cousins. My uncle, back in Ireland those years, is now there again as are my cousins, his five children and their children.
Since the 1980s two of my brothers have lived in the US, with their combined eight children and 21 grand children, It means there are now more McGarrys of that latter generation in America than there are in Ireland. So, I still love America. But I grieve for her too.
America, after navigator Amerigo Vespucci (1454-1512) who claimed to have discovered it.
I will take to my grave the feeling of exhilaration on arriving in New York that first student summer