I watched and listened to a special classical music concert on September 2nd live streamed from Kylemore Abbey. It was streamed globally by the Ireland China Business Association in conjunction with Dublin International Piano Competition. It was sponsored by global businesses operating in Ireland partnered with Tourism Ireland.
The beautiful music from Beethoven, Liszt, Gershwin and Chopin was performed by Irish Pianists John O’Connor and Joe O’Grady, a 15 year old showing amazing pianistic wizardry whose mother came here from Northern China. His father is Irish. Joe, I think, looks more like his mother but he is tall.
It got me thinking about all the Irish people today whose appearance is different from me. Before roads and modes of transport people found their mate within a one-mile radius of their home. When bicycles were invented the radius widened to 30 miles. Now people couple with another of a different nationality, from a different continent, a person who speaks a different language, has a different religion or none, may be of a different race.
My mother travelled 3 miles when she married my father. My brothers’ and sisters’ spouses are from different counties and Mary’s late husband was Lithuanian American. The next generation brought into the family a wife from Barcelona, another from Melbourne, a husband from France and two nieces have American husbands. Their children are citizens of the country they were born in. Irish families are now global and may have children born in Ireland and another country. Perhaps that’s a definition of a nuclear family. There are another 6 descriptions of family units.
The Fugates, a family that lived in isolated Appalacia, Kentucky were tinged with blue and known as the ‘Blue People of Kentucky’ due to a metabolic condition affecting haemoglobin. In 1820 the French Martin Fugates with a particular recessive gene married Elizabeth Smith who was a carrier of the same rare disease. Four of their seven children were blue and after extensive inbreeding for 6 generations in the isolated community a large pedigree of blue people of both sexes arose. Once the young people left the isolated area the incidence there plummeted.
Consanguinity and Affinity laws are intended to prohibit marriage, inbreeding or production of offspring between blood relatives to various degrees and also relationships by marriage. Inbreeding is more likely to show health defects and abnormalities in offspring.
The social aspects of the culture, heritage, healthcare, economic development, education and employment opportunities where they’re born and live will affect people’s psychological development throughout their lifespan. Studies are available under open access and in the public domain that describe 9 stages of development from prenatal development all the way through to death and dying. We learn to trust, hope, love, be loyal, care, work, plan, dream, mature, become realistic, acquire basic virtues, wisdom and integrity. Unfortunately for some, circumstances may teach them the opposite and they could end up bitter and despairing.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an international document adopted by the United Nations General Assembly that enshrines the rights and freedoms of all human beings. Most societies recognize the personhood of human beings. Christians, Jews and Muslims teach that all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, that we have a body and soul (Genesis 1:26). (I must research other belief systems.)
But human rights are violated because of government behaviour and structure, armed conflict, economic factors, psychological factors. So, people often have to migrate to a safer part of the world where they can make a life and a living.
The Pilgrims on the Mayflower in 1620 were seeking religious freedom from the Church of England. Other passengers were seeking a new life. Irish people went to America to escape eviction and death from famine and to make a better life. Records cite the presence of Irish-born people in New England, USA in 1630. That would place an Irish ancestor back 390 years, twelve or more generations.
A while ago I bumped into a fellow I was in primary school with and the old days were mentioned. He said people were savages back then (1940s-1950s). He remarked that I didn’t hang out with the gangs of teens and that he came to my house once to ask if I would go with him to a dance. He was told no by my parents but I don’t remember any of it. He was one of a family of nine lads and there were a few families of lads in that village. Word on the grapevine described them as wild, feral. One of their pastimes was to scare girls and rough them up, especially if a girl ignored them. I would never go near that village on my own. As well as the wild lads there were a couple of men who were in and out of mental hospital. The lad’s fathers went to England for seasonal work and the lads went there too as soon as they were old enough. We knew some people were savage in their treatment of others and animals too.
In the absence of a local Secondary School to provide education the best chance for a girl was to marry a man who could support her. A girl had to protect her reputation. That and her looks were pretty much what was valued then. There was a proverb oft repeated: ‘when hunger comes in the door, love goes out the window’. Another was: ‘its better to be an old man’s darling than a young man’s slave’. I don’t recall any talk of love and romance even though my parents married for love and they had touches and winks between them that adults would understand. There was a horrible idiom: ‘you have made your bed and must lie in it’ meaning if you made a mistake you had to live with it without deliverance or forgiveness.
Getting past that phase it was wonderful to discover the freedom to work and support myself, think for myself and in time have love and romance with a man my own age. President Kennedy, borrowing the words of a wise man said in a speech: ‘an error is not a mistake until you refuse to correct it’. What relief that was.
There were no barriers in America for an Irish person to being anything you wanted to be. One still heard remarks about drunks and fighters. Irish Festivals everywhere draw big crowds and there’s always a shop that sells books. Friends loved to tease me about one ‘Brace Yourself Bridget, The Official Irish Sex Manual’. I didn’t want to be seen to be interested so I don’t know if there is anything on the pages, or not. It may be less Kama Sutra and more No Sex Please, we’re British.
Ireland, now a developed country has become a desirable place for asylum seekers and migrants to settle. We are a member of the European Migration Network and UNHCR and so have obligations. The latest nationality in need of safety and shelter are Afghans.
The only person from Afghanistan I have met was a taxi driver about 25 years ago, say 1995. I flew to Atlanta, Georgia to attend an American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting to chat with them about a new drug that was about to get FDA approval. I got a taxi from the airport to the convention centre and the driver was from Afghanistan. Making conversation the driver mentioned that Britain’s past occupation of both our countries was something we had in common. The civil wars and armed conflicts in that country’s recent history are being covered by the media now.
A relatively recent census in Afghanistan reveals a young population: 62% are under age 24, another 31% are age 25-54. People over the age of 15 who can read and write are 43%. Fourteen ethnic groups are listed in their constitution. Many languages are spoken in different provinces and 6% speak English. Muslim is the religion of 99% of the people. They live in a tribal society, follow Islamic traditions, dress the same, listen to the same music and eat the same food. They have a long history of art; their proverbs convey the same wisdom as our own and are used in daily conversation and in public speaking. One translated into English reads: ‘whatever you sow, you reap’ meaning a person gets their just deserts.
My friend Joan expressed concern about the declining birth rate in Ireland that could in time see parts of the country depopulated. I said there is overpopulation in parts of the world and some of those people might come here. Asylum seekers and migrants who relocated to Leitrim go to school, play our sports and contribute to the community. After I said it I realized that was not a satisfactory answer for Joan. Her concern was about the Irish race declining.
When I went to America (1960) Irish people were easily identifiable by their looks. First generation Irish Americans married Italian Americans or other people of European heritage who practised the same Catholic religion. Second generation were more diverse and by the third generation they had assimilated as Americans. Jewish people mostly married within their own religion and culture. Interracial marriage became legalized in all US states in 1967.
Globalization and mobility may bring about the homogenization of the human race averaging out people’s traits. Research in the US shows that blue eyes, a recessive trait that depends on two copies of the same gene pairing up, have become less common. A hundred years ago more than half the US white population had blue eyes. The decline is probably due to the tendency of people to mate with others outside their own ancestry group. Census statistics show an increase in people listing more that one ancestry. Scientists say that blue eyes won’t die out completely; they’ll stabilize at a low level reflecting chance mating between two people having recessive blue-eye genes.
Predicting how blending of genes affects physical appearance is not straightforward. America could be seen as an example of what may happen worldwide over the next 100 or 200 years. When traits of Northern Europeans are blended with newer immigrants from Asia, Africa and Latin America red and blond hair, blue eyes and freckles will be less common. The distinguishing traits of different groups will be blended to make people look more similar over time.