A few years ago I was returning from an international seminar and was pleased to break my trip home to California with a stop in Dublin, near to where Intel Corporation, the world’s largest silicon chip maker, was locating its primary European manufacturing facility.
It was mid-afternoon when I drove into the lush green countryside of Kildare. Ahead was tongue-twisting Leixlip, where assembled media and government officials were waiting for what was billed as the economic announcement of the decade.
My mind was clearly focused on the future when I was sucked into one of the sinkholes that occasionally appear out of nowhere in Irish bogs. Its warning sign was a tiny, rusted signpost: “Lucan, 7 km.” Patrick Sarsfield, Earl of Lucan, fabled commander of the Irish Brigade, appeared in my mind’s eye, a man and his legion without a country, dying a useless death on a foreign field. I remembered a refrain of Yeats: “Was it for this the wild geese spread / The grey wing upon every”
My thoughts were of coffin ships loaded with emaciated wraiths, refugees from the troubles, survivors of debilitating economic wars, long queues at the American embassy waiting for elusive visas. The very best the country had to offer, pouring out in a continuation of what Conor Cruise O’Brien called the Irish Holocaust.
In the front hallway of my home in San Jose, I have a trunk about 4ft by 5ft. Although it is empty it carries the history of my family. In 1898, a young woman in her early 20s packed all her worldly possessions into that trunk and took a solitary, one-way voyage to another land of myth.
Succeeding generations of her family would find many opportunities. Yet the journeys of so many, from the flight of the earls to today’s Aer Lingus Boston run, would never have begun if things were a bit different.
My car approached Leixlip and the future. I thought of the sustaining American effort to offer the Irish visas. That is a popular approach. but the effort is misplaced; the real opportunities should be provided in Ireland.
For too long the myth of the wild geese has influenced the course of the modern nation. Now it is time for a renewed effort to dispel the mists of history.
Those of goodwill on both sides of the Atlantic and both sides of the border must now combine in a cohesive attempt to create that better future. The enemies are intolerance, economic stagnation and any force that propels the best and brightest away.
With these enemies, we must be ruthless. A battle of epic proportions is being waged for the future, from the classrooms of Japan to the research and development labs of universities from Berkeley to Berlin. The competition is no longer between monarchs of dubious lineage, but between teachers and businesspeople and purveyors of ideas.
America wants to help fight that battle, reflecting Ireland’s growing importance as a member of the European Community and a trading partner of great value. Our ties with Ireland are poised for a historic advance beyond sentimental St. Patrick’s day links, to a new stage of economic and social alliance.
Here in Silicon Valley, we have recognized the increasing significance of Ireland as a gateway to the new Europe. San Jose became Dublin’s first Sister City, contributing to profitable new economic ties between Ireland and California and joint ventures on education and community projects. Just this year, we have been working on “Bytes for Belfast,” a program linking Silicon Valley expertise with Northern Ireland community efforts, using new technologies to expand social and economic opportunities for the youth of the Belfast inner-city.
Americans should view the island through more than a single lens, whether that lens is emigration or the problems of the North. A more thoughtful approach is required.
Professor Joseph Lee reminds us in a recent work how the Irish became inured to emigration and mediocrity and saw these as the normal course of affairs. That time is gone. In the bars of Boston, the streets of Templebar and Falls Road and the halls of power in Washington and London. all must turn to a new vision.
This dream must feature not cavaliers but a new brand of leaders: a young woman with a computer on her lap, not a man with a gun in his hand.
America, so enriched by young men and women arriving with their trunks full of hope, now offers a different kind of help. There must be American internships for those who will learn and bring that knowledge home to Ireland, and continued investments in manufacturing, research and development centers. There must be an Irish-American partnership to target massive new resources of the international community.
Those trunks will be unpacked forever. The youth of Lucan and Leixlip now have the option to stay. They need no elusive “lost leader”. and no weapons except those of technology. Invention can reach all 32 counties. A leader of the past once said that “a prosperous Ireland would be a free Ireland.” Michael Collins knew his people well.
In the poet’s words. it is not enough to know that they dreamed and are gone. It is necessary to call them, “in all their loneliness and pain”, home again to a dream that beckons from an Irish horizon. You can travel to it on a road that no longer has a need for trunks or for cavaliers.