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I often feel guilty for having left my Northern Ireland. I often wonder if perhaps the better thing or the best thing would have been to stay, to stay and strive to see far beyond the images that flickered on our television screen at six o’clock every night. But I didn’t stay. I fled. I became an immigrant in an America I no longer recognize, and turned my back on the vulnerable, tiny country that shaped and scared me – my lovely tragic Northern Ireland.

Not much older than my 18 year old American daughter, I spent most of the 1980s planning my escape. It was a turbulent and traumatic time in Northern Ireland. We lived and worked and played and prayed within a national crucible of doubt and suspicion, a half-empty glass. I suppose I always anticipated the worst; as such, I was rarely disappointed.

In such a small place, it makes sense that so many of us would know somebody directly affected by The Troubles. According to the Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN) from 1969 – 1999, “3,568 people died. There were over 35,000 shootings, 150,000 bombings, and over 40,000 people wounded. Surveys say half of the population knows somebody killed or injured.” And, what did I do? Nothing. I left.

Weary of the bombings and killings; weary of the hatred and the sense of hopelessness that seeped into our ordinary lives, I came to America. Ardent and young, I believed the likes of Tom Wolfe who said that

America is a fabulous country, the only fabulous country; it is the only place where miracles not only happen, but where they happen all the time.

But this quiet Sunday morning, following a week of murder in these United States – the fatal shootings of two more African American men, Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota, and a sniper attack on 12 police officers  at a peaceful protest in Dallas by a military veteran who had served in Afghanistan and who authorities say “wanted to kill white people” –  I don’t recognize this picture of America. I find myself catapulted back to our living room in the housing estate on the Dublin Road. I am watching the news and wondering what will happen next and if it could possibly be worse than the last time. I am 18 years old again. The Republican Hunger Strikes in the Maze prison are coming to a head, and ordinary people are afraid. What will happen next?

What of America? What will happen next?  From where I sit this morning, it is a place where murder happens all the time, where innocent black men are slaughtered all the time, where schools or colleges or churches or movie theaters or grocery store parking lots or peaceful protests become killing fields, where hate – and complacency about it  – appears to be winning – all the time

America is now the place where my 18 year old daughter has learned what to do in the event of a school shooting


This is not the America of my dreams, nor is it the America President Obama aspires to:

There is sorrow, there is anger, there is confusion about next steps. But there’s unity in recognizing that this is not how we want our communities to operate. This is not who we want to be as Americans.

No. It is not who we want to be. Or is it? Our cultural and policy decisions have made guns far more accessible in America than anywhere else on the planet. If we want something different, we must do something different. So what are we going to do?

The Cure at Troy” by Seamus Heaney

Human beings suffer,
They torture one another,
They get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted and endured.

The innocent in gaols
Beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker’s father
Stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
Faints at the funeral home.

History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracle
And cures and healing wells.

Call miracle self-healing:
The utter, self-revealing
Double-take of feeling.
If there’s fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth-cry
Of new life at its term.