The Green Flag In America


For most of its first three decades of independence, the Republic of Ireland remained part of the British system. Almost half her exports came from Britain, and two-thirds of her exports went there. One historian described her as a “small nominally independent satellite with Great Britain as its major planet.” The situation has changed since Ireland entered the Common Market in 1973. In 1977 alone, one billion dollars in foreign investments, half from America, poured into the country, giving the once stagnant economy a 5.5 per cent growth rate, the highest in Europe. On January 1, 1979, Ireland entered the European Monetary System, which meant its currency was no longer pegged at parity to the British pound, a highly symbolic relationship that had persisted for 152 years, since the days of Daniel O’Connell. Not even de Valera had dared to change it.

A 10 per cent unemployment rate and the highest birth rate in Europe imperil this economic independence. At least as dangerous is the IRA’s war in Ulster. This last despairing gesture of the violent men ignores the bitter fact that the cost of supporting Ulster’s unemployed would bankrupt the Republic. Nor are they impressed by the IRA’s failure to muster more than 3 per cent of the vote, south or north. They live on the memory of what the 1916 Easter martyrs supposedly achieved with their blood sacrifices, forgetting that without Irish-America’s openhanded support the famous rising would have ended as disastrously as previous Irish attempts at revolt.

It is probably for the best that Irish-Americans are no longer passionately involved with Ireland. They spent enough years trying to resolve the contradictions between supporting a foreign country and their own country, trying to live in two diverging worlds. There is no need for them to apologize. The green flag’s career in America is a great human drama, the story of a defeated people who found new strength and pride in a free society and gave generously of themselves to restore some measure of that strength and pride to the land of their fathers.