We realized how unusual Ireland is after traveling 10,000km through 17 other countries – The Irish Times


After nine months of traveling through 17 countries, mostly in Latin America, I have seen and heard countless things you would hardly believe. I also learned a lot about Ireland and how unusual we are. Sometimes you have to step away to get perspective on your home.

It quickly became apparent that Ireland is an unusual European country, as not only did we never have an empire, but we were also a colony ourselves. The struggles faced by many of the communities that we – meaning Fiadh Ní Dhonnchadha, my partner and I – encountered on our travels were eerily familiar from Irish history. The poverty, political oppression, violence, emigration, and linguistic and cultural repression that have all severely affected Ireland persist in Latin America.

We are a first world country with a third world memory, as Mary McAleese once said. May we remember this for a long time, be compassionate and try to be an example for other former colonies

We are a first world country with a third world memory, as Mary McAleese, our former president, so aptly put it. Let us remember this for a long time, be compassionate and try to be an example for other former colonies.

Ireland is also, thankfully, very safe and stable by global standards. I don’t want to overstate the danger of some of the places we’ve been, as almost everyone we’ve met has been decent, friendly and very helpful, but it hit us in Honduras when we heard gunshots near of our accommodation several days in a row.

We also had to stay away from the man-made humanitarian disaster that is Venezuela, which we were completely forbidden to do. We have seen thousands of starving and homeless Venezuelan refugees on the streets across South America. While it’s safe to visit now if you’re careful, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Peru, and Colombia have all experienced horrific civil wars within living memory. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed.

The scale of the bloodshed engulfing Mexico is hard to believe, with 30,000 homicides a year, 10 women murdered every day and the number of missing people surpassing 100,000 last May. Tourist areas are generally quite safe, but there are sections of Mexico and Colombia that their governments don’t control. They were also forbidden for us.

Even in areas where it was safe, in several countries, we could not travel between cities after dark for security reasons. All of this is unthinkable in Ireland. Nor do we have to worry about tropical diseases, earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis or hurricanes.

It is cocaine use in the United States and Europe that funds really bad men to commit extreme violence in Latin America. There was one surprising exception to this. On 127 bus journeys, not once did we experience the anti-social behavior that is common on public transport and elsewhere in Ireland – perhaps because the consequences of meeting the wrong person are much higher, or perhaps be because of a cultural difference.

Having covered more than 10,000 km by bus, I can say that almost all the countries we visited, even Colombia, have transport systems that offer more frequent services and are better connected than ours – even if the drivers Irish buses are much safer

It is obvious to me now that such behavior will be common in Ireland until the consequences are greater and/or steps are taken to change the culture and the underlying environmental and social factors that foster it.

Even by developing country standards, Ireland’s public transport system is poor. Having traveled more than 10,000 km by bus, I can say that almost all the countries we visited have transport systems that offer more frequent services and are better connected than ours – even if Irish bus drivers are much safer. We have done many long bus journeys that would be impossible in Ireland. Even the city of Medellín, Colombia has a public transportation system light years away from anything we have.

Ireland’s biodiversity is also poor. Ireland may have plenty of green grass for livestock, but it is not a “green” country. Compared to the national parks we have visited in countries like Costa Rica and Ecuador, our national parks barely deserve the name.

I’ve been hiking around Co Wicklow for 25 years, but I’ve seen fewer wildlife in all those years combined than in a single day in Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica.

We have almost no native forests left, but we have the nerve to lecture poorer countries about deforestation. Costa Rica now earns a lot of money from ecotourism thanks to its conservation work. The Irish government and the tourism sector could learn from his example.

But Ireland’s global cultural impact is staggering. When people found out we were Irish they so often greeted us with smiles, excitement and expectation that we would bring the craic with us. The positive feeling of the people of the world towards Ireland is immense.

It was surreal to arrive in Ushuaia, Argentina – the southernmost city on Earth and gateway to Antarctica – and walk into a crowded bar named Dublin, covered in tricolors but with no one around. other from Ireland. We take for granted the existence of such pubs and our wider cultural influence around the world, but this is hardly ordinary.

May we long retain our unique culture and our friendliness, our humor and our sense of decency – and not lose it by embracing the materialistic aspects of American culture too enthusiastically.

Cónán Ó Broin, from Clondalkin, Dublin, was political director of the Labor Party and, before that, spokesman for the Central Bank of Ireland. Fiadh Ní Dhonnchadha, from Maynooth, County Kildare, is a cartographer for Jacobs Engineering, making maps for new infrastructure projects in Ireland and overseas

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