Nation of Saints and Scholars: A Portrait of Ireland

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Toheed Ahmad[1]


(Ireland is the only country in the world to have completely leapfrogged from the Agricultural Age to the Information Age. Within a generation this “last island of Europe” has progressed from being a poor, backward agrarian society to a prosperous high-tech economy. Today it is the world leader in computer software and pharmaceuticals. This “Irish miracle” is  the subject of study at many universities and think tanks to draw lessons for a fast tracked growth in modern times. Its Celtic civilization, counted among the oldest in Europe, is sometimes traced back to the orient, even specifically to the banks of River Indus. Britain ruled over both peoples for centuries. This has led to some commonalities being noted between the people of the two countries, which makes Ireland the natural partner of Pakistan in the EU. Author).

Of my nation! What ish my nation! Which ish my nation! Who talks of my nation ish a villain, and a bastard, and a knave, and a rascal. (A drunken Irish soldier in Shakespeare’s Henry V (3.1))

No people have undergone greater persecution nor did that persecution altogether cease up to our own day. No people hate as we do in whom the past is always live, there are moments when hatred poisons my life and I accuse myself of effeminacy because I have not given it adequate expression…Then I remind myself that I owe my soul to Shakespeare, to Spenser and to Blake and to the English language in which I think, speak and write, that everything I love has come to me through English; my hatred tortures me with love, my love with my hate. I am like the Tibetan monk who dreams at his initiation that he is eaten by a wild beast and learns on waking that he himself is eater and eaten. This is Irish hatred and solitude, the hatred of human life that made Swift write Gulliver. W.B. Yeats, A General Introduction for My Work (1937).

The Pakistanis are as superstitious as the Irish. The two nations share a phobia of spirits and witches as well as a love and reverence of hermits and healers and holy men. William Dalrymple, The Age of Kali (1998).

Ireland is a graceful country which has recently declared final peace in Northern Ireland, a portion heaved off the mainland in 1922 – mainly on sectarian grounds – when Britain ended its nearly 800 years of colonial occupation of this Emerald Island. With a population roughly half that of Lahore, Ireland has become the world’s largest exporter of computer software and pharmaceuticals. The per capita income in this Celtic Tiger is some $40,000. In July 1985, it was the most highly indebted country per capita in the world; the same year at the Band Aid concert led by Sir Bob Geldof and U2 (both Irish), Ireland was the highest donor per capita. In this exploration of the ‘Irish miracle,’ I will search for parallels and lessons for us. The point to note is that in the EU, English-speaking Ireland is our natural partner, not the UK (because of the burden of history and the large obstructive presence of our community) nor Germany nor France or Spain because of language difficulties. With the Irish outreach in Europe and North America, our companies with a presence in Ireland can hope to break into these rich markets.

W.B Yeats’s claim about the Irish being haters par excellence is worth a reflection. You will see that today this intriguing observation closely fits us Pakistanis. Many a writer and analyst in our media have noted the rising level of hatred among our people. We have ideologies of hate, private militias inflicting death and destruction to promote their hate-filled causes, regional extremists purveying hatred to win followers and even national hatreds which have kept us bound in a chain of poverty. Ireland focalised its hatred on its former colonial master, it refused to join the Commonwealth and had deadly people’s militias such as the Irish Republican Army, Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Ulster Voluntary Force. India baiting has never become a national sport while our relations with London have been at best ambivalent. Perhaps that is why William Dalrymple chose to ignore this common quality between the two peoples. And not just the all-pervading sentiment of hate but also that the past is always alive with us too. Think of all the references in our religious discourse which point to a golden era in a foreign land several centuries ago. While Yeats accuses himself of not giving this adequate expression in his poetry, I can quote verse upon verse of Munir Niazi which articulate hatred, nostalgia, and solitude in equal measure. Though we don’t have a Swift in our tradition, given the malaise and morbidity that gripped our writers in the last three decades, in a climate of deepening economic and social injustice, we are ready for masterworks of irony and satire in our languages.

The Irish miracle is the story of the rise of this Celtic Tiger. In less than two decades, Ireland went from being a third world country with a Stone Age culture to the top three richest EU economies. Today Ireland is cited as the only country to have leap-frogged from the Agricultural Age to the Information Age. It all started in the second half the sixties when a maverick Education Minister of Ireland, Donough O’Malley, battled his way to getting   secondary education in the Republic made free of cost. This set up a wind that raised all the boats in the Irish waters – soon the country not only rid itself of illiteracy but also enabled a big chunk of its student population to enrol in the universities and colleges. Massive reform and upgrade of the universities soon followed. The state set up a chain of 14 Institutes of Technology all over the country to produce manpower for the high-tech industry sprouting all over Ireland. There is a great potential for institutional linkages of our universities with their Irish counterparts for win-win partnerships.

With an educated youthful English-speaking population and a tax rate of mere 10 percent, later raised in the face of stiff  EU opposition to 12.5 (compared with 35 percent in UK and elsewhere in Europe), Ireland set itself up as the preferred destination for US software companies to outsource their routine jobs. Microsoft established its European headquarters from where they produced localised versions of their computer applications in major European languages. Soon Oracle, Sun Microsystems, IBM, Motorola, Intel, Dell, America Online etc., followed and by 2004 Ireland’s total IT exports numbered three times that of India. Similarly the major US and European pharmaceutical companies based their manufacturing units in the southern port city of Cork, making it the pharma-capital of the world. Ireland now exports more pharmaceuticals than any other country in the world. All the world’s legitimate Viagra tablets are manufactured in Cork.

Ireland was no more a poor agricultural backyard of Europe, it now had a thriving knowledge industry, full employment and a rollicking prosperity that not only reversed its brain drain but also offered employment to many a new migrant from Europe. With the government’s declaration of art and music and book writing as tax free industries, a creativity storm was unleashed in the Republic. Van Morrisson, U2 and Westlife emerged as the leading music bands in the world, Irish movies like Ryan’s Daughter and My Left Foot won many an Oscar award and a book culture blossomed with annual Blooms Day being all over the world to honour the hero of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses, itself rated as the best novel of the twentieth century.

The country’s transformation into a high-tech centre and a portal to Europe for foreign investors has more than once been called a miracle. Luckily, it’s not a literal miracle, but the result of insightful political ambition. The road that Ireland took is open to any other country that faces similar problems. While 1987 marked the bottom of a long recession, it was also the year Charles Haughey took over as prime minister and decided that the economic system should be rebuilt from scratch. He even managed to sell his idea to the opposition and to the most important interest groups, including the unions.

Unlike Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain, who confronted the powerful interest groups, Haughey chose to sit down with them. What would later be called a miracle started with a social contract between the government, the employers, and the unions. The contract included tax cuts and some financial support for those worst off. The public sector was quickly slimmed, and so the private sector had more room to grow. The economy accelerated. The government cut taxes for corporations and working citizens, while the jungle of regulations was cleaned up. Publicly owned banks were prepared for privatization

It might seem strange that the unions would support a political agenda with tax cuts and a smaller public sector. In retrospect, however, we can conclude that the Irish employees did the right thing. Nobody was happy with the previous situation. The labour market was anything but flexible, and there was no growth to distribute.

The country’s openness to foreign investment was handled as one-window operation by the Industrial Development Authority. With one percent of the total euro zone market, Ireland drew as much as a third of all US investment into Europe. The IDA built industrial parks all over the country and provided training subsidies to companies which greatly helped with up-gradation and employability of its manpower. This Irish miracle spawned a host of case studies, and no less envy, especially in the US and UK as they struggled to contain the slide of their economies. The world raced to study how the Celtic Tiger was outperforming the Tiger economies of the Far East. Ireland had become more a brand than a country, a miracle indeed.

Ireland claims a place among the most ancient people of Europe. Like Pakistan’s, the history of the Irish people began with the first known human settlement around 8000 BC. That was when hunter-gatherers arrived from Britain and continental Europe probably via a land bridge. Few archaeological traces remain of this group, but the later arrivals, the proto Celts, were traced back to Asian shores, more precisely, the Indus Valley. I heard this first from the mayor of the Irish city of Limerick, Counsellor Diarmuid Scully, in whose office I was receiving the documents of the two container loads of relief goods donated by Limerickans for the victims of the 2005 earthquake. In his speech Counsellor Diarmuid said that the origins of the Irish people lay along the banks of the river Indus. Everyone in the audience, me included, were stunned. On top of that the mayor proudly declared that he had a Pakistani family, his maternal aunt had married a Mr. Siddiqui in London and the couple had returned to Ireland to enjoy their retirement along with their four (proto Celt) children.

Following the arrival of Saint Patrick and other Christian missionaries from the UK in the early to mid-5th century A.D., Christianity became the indigenous religion by the year 600.From around 800 A.D. more than a century of Viking invasions brought havoc upon the monastic culture and on the island’s various regional dynasties, yet both of these institutions proved strong enough to survive and assimilate the invaders. The strong monastic orders retreated to monasteries built on hill tops and on islands to escape destruction. Ireland, which was never a part of the Roman Empire, was spared the invasion of the Germanic hordes that ravaged the Empire. The Christian monks then alighted from their perches and travelled on the smouldering pathways of Europe to relight the candle of their faith. They studied in Arab schools in Sicily, Toledo and Cordoba, and retrieved Greek knowledge for Europe by translating Aristotle from Arabic into Latin besides several other works on alchemy and astrology. They thus became the forerunners of the first renaissance of Europe. This fascinating story is told in a gripping book, ‘How the Irish saved Civilization: the Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe,’ written by Tom Cahill in 1995. Below we take a closer look at this burgeoning Irish orientalism.

The Ireland of the early fifth century was a brooding, dank island whose inhabitants, while carefree and warlike on the outside, lived in “quaking fear” within, their terror of shape-changing monsters, of sudden death and the insubstantiality of their world so acute that they drank themselves into an insensate stupor in order to sleep. Patrick, however, provided “a living alternative.” He was a serene man who slept well without drink, a man “in whom the sharp fear of death has been smoothed away.” The Christianity he proposed to the Irish succeeded because it took away the dread from the magical world that was Ireland. And once they were Christianized, the Irish founded the monastic movement, copying the books being destroyed elsewhere by Germanic invaders, eventually bringing them back to the places from which the books had come. “And that,” Mr. Cahill concludes with typically wry unabashedness, “is how the Irish saved civilization.”

Just over a hundred years after the Battle of Hastings (1066), the English moved into Ireland beginning their 800 year rule over the island. Thousands of English and Protestant settlers were sent here under the English policy of Plantation. As military and political defeat of Gaelic Ireland became clearer, especially with the decisive Battle of Boyne (1690) when Prince William of Orange defeated his Catholic father-in-law, James II, the role of religion as a new division in Ireland became more pronounced. From this period Catholic-Protestant conflict became a recurrent theme in Irish history. By the end of the seventeenth century all Catholics, representing some 85 percent of Ireland’s population then, were banned from the Irish parliament. Political power rested entirely in the hands of a British settler-colony and more specifically the Anglican minority while the Catholic population suffered severe political and economic privations. In 1801, this colonial parliament was abolished and Ireland became an integral part of a new United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Speaking Irish was declared an offence, Catholics were not to be admitted to schools, and saying mass was outlawed. The Westminster philosophy as encoded in these laws was that the Catholics are born to be punished.

It is ironic that while the Irish were being brutalised and oppressed at home, they readily agreed to serve in the British East India Company army. My Irish friends unconvincingly claim that their ancestors merely accepted the jobs because employment opportunities were extremely scarce at home. The Irish economy and society were devastated by the famine of 1840-45 which killed a million people. Starvation and disease forced another million to emigrate. The famine was a watershed in Irish history and its effects permanently changed the island’s demographic, political and cultural landscape. It is intriguing that in 1845 when the Ottoman Caliph, Abdulmajid, offered to send 10,000 Sterling for Irish farmers, he was requested by Queen Victory to slash the amount to 1000 Sterling as she had sent only 2000 Sterling. The Caliph agreed but secretly also dispatched three shiploads of food which the British tried unsuccessfully to intercept and the Ottoman sailors off-loaded the cargo just north of Dublin. The famine, locally called the Great Hunger, generated lasting bitterness towards the British government, whom many blamed – then and now – for the starvation of so many people.

It is said of the British Empire that the Irish fought for it, the Welsh and the Scottish ran it, while the English profited from it. Till the 1857 War of Independence, as many as 48 percent of the British soldiery in India was Irish. Their cruelty and barbarities are legion. The commanders who ordered the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre were Irish, the butchers of the last Mughul Emperor’s family were Irish. The Irish fought for both sides in the American Civil War. They were enlisted in several armies of European kings and dukes giving fight to whomever their masters chose to fight. Revolutionaries at home and mercenaries abroad is how best these ‘wild geese’ can be best described. In a memorable dialogue of a 1991 Irish movie, The Commitments (Director Alan Parker), a young Dublin musician reminds his fellow band player that the Irish were the niggers of Europe, Catholics the niggers of Ireland, and northsiders (the poorer but hard core Irish district of the capital city)  the niggers of Dublin.

Ignoring his people’s crimes against humanity in colonial India, Irish President Éamon de Valera, while addressing a joint session of the US Congress in 1964, recited the following stanza from a poem called Irish National Hymn, which was composed at about the same time as Brigadier Dwyer was ordering his troops to open fire on unarmed civilians in Amritsar:

Oh, Ireland be it thy high duty

To teach the world the might of moral beauty,

And stamp God’s image truly on the struggling soul.

Is this a case of national hypocrisy? Do the Irish of the ‘miracle’ age remember these dark episodes of their past? Such is the stuff of history, which in Ireland’s case, makes for an instructive reading. Although we don’t have a lived past that stretches as far back as that of Ireland, by comparison, our national narrative is an innocent story.

The Irish Parliamentary Party strove from the 1880s to attain Home rule through a parliamentary constitutional movement eventually winning the Home Rule Act which London chose to suspend at the outbreak of the First World War. This postponement led to the Easter Rising of 1916 in which a motley group of revolutionaries led an insurrection and proclaimed a Republic of Ireland. The Declaration is a sacred document of the Republic which began: “In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strike for her freedom.”

The Proclamation went on to say: “We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people. In every generation the Irish people have asserted their right to national freedom and sovereignty: six times during the past three hundred years they have asserted it in arms. Standing on that fundamental right and again asserting it in arms in the face of the world, we hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State, and we pledge our lives and the lives of our comrades-in-arms to the cause of its freedom, of its welfare, and its exaltation among the nations.”

It ended thus, “We place the cause of the Irish Republic under the protection of the Most High God, Whose blessing we invoke upon our arms, and we pray that no one who serves that cause will dishonour it by cowardice, inhumanity, or rapine. In this supreme hour the Irish nation must, by its valour and discipline and by the readiness of its children to sacrifice themselves for the common good, prove itself worthy of the august destiny to which it is called.” Ringing words indeed! British bullets and bayonets put down the Rising in six days, martial law was clamped and ‘rebel’ leaders were court martialled and executed. The British Army reported casualties of 116 dead, 368 wounded, Irish casualties were 318 dead and 2,217 wounded. While in Ireland 3430 men and 79 women were thrown into prison, 1480 Irishmen were detained in England under the Defence of the Realm Act. “A terrible beauty is born” sang out W.B. Yeats as the Irish nation was rudely woken up to its shackles. Today’s ‘miracle’ Ireland is getting ready to celebrate the centenary of the Rising in 2016.

Within two years of the Rising, a Parliament of free Ireland, comprising of Irish MPs elected to Westminster in the 1918 British general election, met in Dublin and issued a Declaration of Independence. “We solemnly declare foreign government in Ireland to be an invasion of our national right which we will never tolerate, and we demand the evacuation of our country by the English Garrison” the Declaration demanded, adding that, “ for seven hundred years the Irish people has never ceased to repudiate and has repeatedly protested in arms against foreign usurpation.” The Parliament went on to seek “the recognition and support of every free nation in the world for Irish independence, and we proclaim that independence to be a condition precedent to international peace.” Only the USSR responded by extending its recognition to the independent Ireland.

London refused to recognise these Irish rebels. The Royal Irish Constabulary, the British paramilitary, had 9700 men stationed in 1500 barracks across Ireland. Soon they came under guerrilla attacks by the Irish Republican volunteers and mounted their own retaliation. The Irish public, which was initially cool to the Declaration of Independence, was increasingly won over by the British reign of terror unleashed upon them. Some 400 British barracks were burnt down by angry Irish people and the IRA volunteers. The British administration collapsed when the people refused to pay taxes and boycotted the courts which had to be closed down. Michael Collins, a leader of the pro-Treaty faction, was the main leader of this independence movement.

An interesting aside to this War of Independence is provided by the mutiny of some Irish soldiers in India in 1920. On hearing of the outbreak of hostilities against the British, on 28 June, five men of the Connaught Rangers, stationed in Jullundhur, refused to take orders from their officers declaring their intent not to serve the King until the British forces left Ireland. The Union Jack at Jullundhur was replaced by the flag of the Irish Republic. Led by Private James Daly, 70 Rangers joined the mutiny and stormed the armoury. The loyal guards successfully defended it. In all about 400 men mutinied of which 88 were court-martialled, 14 were sentenced to death and the rest given up to 15 years in prison. In 1970 the remains of Private Daly and two others were taken back to Ireland and given a military funeral with full honours.

The Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 ended the war with Britain with the establishment of what was called the Irish Free State. About 1400 people died in the war between the Republicans and the Crown forces and another 557 people died in the political violence in Northern Ireland. But the victorious were divided between the opponents and proponents of the Treaty that saw the war of independence morph into a bloody civil war. The Treaty allowed Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK. Ireland was thus partitioned, a bitter legacy of the colonial rule which the Irish Republicans have ever since sought to undo. In the late 1960s Northern Ireland again erupted in a civil war that was largely of sectarian inspiration. The Irish-American community generously funded the Provisional IRA in its militant response to the Protestant violence and the British troops’ search and destroy operations. The Loyalist majority refused to acknowledge the rights of the Catholic minority who were suspected of acting as Dublin’s agents. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998, followed by St.Andrew’s Agreement(2006)  has finally been implemented with the withdrawal of British troops, deweaponization of militias under international supervision, definitive cease-fire by Provisional IRA and elections to a new regional government of power sharing between the main parties. Addressing a joint sitting of the US Congress in Washington on 30 April 2008, the outgoing Prime Minister (‘Taoiseach’) of Ireland Bertie Ahern proudly declared: “After so many decades of conflict, I am so proud, Madam Speaker, to be the first Irish leader to inform the United States Congress: Ireland is at peace.” In the thirty years of troubles nearly 3600 were killed and 47000 injured.

The Irish Peace Process offers a useful model for other conflict areas like Kashmir, the Middle East and Sri Lanka. The following main elements of a peaceful settlement of the issue were agreed upon by the Prime Ministers of Britain and Ireland in December 1993:

1. The British government had no selfish, strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland.

2. The British government would uphold the right of the people of Northern Ireland to decide between Union with Great Britain and a united Ireland.

3. The British and Irish governments would work for an agreement among all the people of Ireland, embracing “the totality of relationships.”

4. The Irish government recognized that “Irish self-determination” (meaning, in this context, a United Ireland) required the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland. Also, for the first time, consent of the majority of the people of the Republic of Ireland would be necessary for reunification, giving the South a say in the reunification process.

5. The Irish government would try to address Unionists fears of a united Ireland.

6. A united Ireland could only be brought about by persuasion.

7. Peace must involve a permanent end to the use of, or support for, paramilitary violence.

Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation located in picturesque surroundings outside Dublin runs a series of workshops and seminars for former enemy combatants of Ireland. It is patronised by the President of the Republic of Ireland and is funded by the Irish Foreign Office. At my request in 2005, they agreed to look at the possibility of sharing their knowledge and experience for the Kashmir conflict and sent a two member team to Islamabad and Muzaffarbad in December 2006 where they met with many government and civil society personalities. A similar trip was planned for New Delhi and Srinagar. True to their psychology of denial on Kashmir, the Indian government refused their visa request. In private conversations, Glencree people confided to me that Dublin faced similar stonewalling by London to any outside help claiming that Northern Ireland was an internal issue of Britain. They pointed to the first undertaking given by Whitehall in the 1993 Agreement that “The British government had no selfish, strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland” that paved the way for President Bill Clinton to appoint Senator George Mitchell as a neutral Peace Co-ordinator to push the peace process forward. A similar change of heart and openness to outside mediation is required of New Delhi if the Kashmir peace process is to get anywhere.

Reflecting on the relevance of the Irish peace process to the world, Peter Hain, former British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and current Chair of the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body, wrote in the Guardian daily of 5 June 2008: “Observing Northern Ireland today, it’s hard to recognise what was, just a decade or so ago, the theatre for such horror, barbarity, hate and bigotry. For 14 months now, old enemies have worked together – and even smiled at each other – when they had never exchanged a courtesy before.

“Last year’s historic agreement has so far stuck, and I believe will stick through ups and downs, precisely because it was brokered between the two most politically polarised positions – Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party and Gerry Adams’ Sinn Féin. But what are the lessons for international policy in other areas still locked in similarly bitter conflict and crippled by terrorism?

“First, a need to create space and time, free from violence, in which political capacity can develop; second, identifying key individuals and constructive forces; third, the importance of inclusive dialogue at every level, wherever there is a negotiable objective; fourth, the taking of risks to sustain political progress, including by talking with enemies; fifth, the need to align national and international forces; sixth, avoiding or resolving preconditions to dialogue; seventh, gripping and micro-managing conflict resolution at a high political level, not intermittently but continuously, whatever breakdowns, crises and hostilities get in the way.

“The west urgently needs to match its commitment to global security with a commitment to global justice and global conflict resolution. The Northern Ireland experience, horrendous as it was, points to a rebalancing of foreign policy that can overcome horror with hope.”

“Textual links between Celtic and Oriental cultures existed independently in native Irish and Gaelic culture as far back as Irish writing extends. Throughout the course of Irish cultural history, this unacknowledged discourse of Orientalism has served as an important imaginative and allegorical realm for Irish writers and intellectuals,” states Joseph Lennon in his monumental work ‘Irish Orientalism: A Literary and Intellectual History’ (Syracuse University Press, 2004). He goes on to say that the stories of Ireland’s ancient past and legendary Asian origins occupied a prominent place in Irish culture from the ninth through the eighteenth centuries, offering political commentary since its first recording.”The political imperative of the narrative (legitimating the Irish nation) had become bare and clearly evident to cultural nationalist writers of (Ireland).” The semiotic connection between the Celt and the Oriental came to signify the dynamics of Ireland within the British Empire – perhaps best understood in gradations of resistance and complicity. The origin legends became foundational to Irish cultural nationalism in the eighteenth century and developed into a literary and mystical connection during the Celtic Revival in the early twentieth” – of which we will speak more in later paragraphs.

During my stay in Ireland, I made friends with Dr. Dennis O’Sullivan, an Emeritus Professor of Space Physics at the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies. He had had some introduction to Allama Iqbal through Pakistani friends and wanted to know more. In the mail one day I received a packet sent by Dr. O’Sullivan containing a photocopy of a 1944 booklet titled “The Story of Irish Orientalism” by Dr. M. Mansoor described in the book as “Examiner for the London Chamber of Commerce.” Dr. Mansoor had studied at Trinity College Dublin and is described in the Introduction written by his former Trinity teacher as “A native speaker of Arabic and an excellent Hebrew scholar, well versed in Aramaic and a keen student of other Semitic languages.” My space physicist friend could not have given me a better gift.

Dr. Mansoor notes Ireland could boast of a University early in the fourteenth century, established in Dublin’s St. Patrick Cathedral and that after Oxford, Dublin was not far behind as a centre of European Orientalism. Love of travel and an affinity with the East had long been part of the Irish temperament, he observes. “The customs of the Celtic race, its tribal organisation, its tales and its traditions all embody Oriental ideas brought by Irish travellers from the most distant East.” He finds evidence of this in that many of the popular tales and traditions in the folklore of Ireland are identical with those of India and Egypt. Irish writers, he claims, wrote the earliest grammars of Malayan, Aramaic, Hebrew, Arabic and Ethiopic besides those of Pashtu and Kashmiri languages. When in 1855 appointments to the Indian Civil Service and to the British Indian Army were thrown open to public competition, Trinity College Dublin (founded 1592 by Queen Elizabeth the First who in 1601 signed the charter for the East India Company) was chosen as a centre and the range of its academic curriculum was widened. Chairs of Arabic, Persian, Hindustani, and soon after of Sanskrit were founded. Mir Aulad Ali of Lucknow was one of the professors hired to man these chairs. I have the text of a fascinating two-part lecture on the mores and manners of Englishmen and life in Dublin he gave in Urdu at his native school when he was on a year’s home leave in Lucknow in 1861.

By the end of the century over 200 graduates of Trinity College had passed into the Indian Civil Service and the Army and held important administrative and military posts. William Crooke (1848-1923) of the ICS was editor of a journal North Indian Notes and Queries, meant essentially for the use of the British residents of India, which informed its readers about various aspects of India and Indian life, ranging from archaeology to ethnography. Crooke also collected hundreds of folk tales and recorded them with the help of natives, which were recently issued as “Folk Tales from Northern India” (2002). However Mansoor showers his praise and admiration on Sir George Grierson (1851-1941) another Trinity graduate who served in India, as “the greatest scholar of India and its languages.” Among other books he wrote The Modern Vernacular Literature of Hindustani with a catalogue of 952 authors writing in the dialects used from Rajputana to the borders of Bengal. His chef d’oeuvre however was the 40 volume Linguistic Survey of India which took Grierson 30 years to compile. Published in 1928, the same year when Grierson issued his New English Dictionary, the Survey, hailed as one of the most remarkable feats of recent scholarship, classifies and describes 179 Indian languages and 544 dialects. He was 82 years old when his last book Dictionary of the Kashmiri was published.

“Nations are born in the hearts of the poets,” wrote Allama Iqbal in his 1910 diary published 51 years later as Stray Reflections. This is best illustrated in the Irish literary renaissance that prepared the way for the country’s political independence in 1922 after some 800 years of punitive British colonial rule. Ireland’s national poet, W.B.Yeats insisted that he wrote for the ‘coming time’ as did Iqbal, and went on to explain that ‘the arts lie dreaming of what is to come’ and thus provide a kind of anticipatory illumination. No wonder both saw poetry as being nearer to prophecy.

Political leaders of the Irish independence struggle drew greatly on the ideas of poets and playwrights. What makes the Irish Literary Renaissance such a fascinating case is the knowledge that the cultural revival preceded, and in many ways enabled, the political revolution that followed. Pakistan’s own freedom movement which began essentially as a struggle for cultural revival is traced back to the tracts of Sir Syed, the stirring verse of Hali and Iqbal and the aesthetic achievement of Chughtai. (This is said to be quite the opposite of the American experience in which the attainment of cultural autonomy by Whitman and Emerson followed the political Declaration of Independence by full 75 years). The Gaelic League (which advocated widespread use of the Irish language) and the Irish National Theatre were the other main channels of this Revival movement which imagined a Republic for the politicians to fight for and create. Richard Ellmann writing in his “Yeats: The Man and the Masks,” makes a startling claim that, “Every poem (of Yeats) is a battleground and the sounds of gunfire are heard throughout.” One could say the same for many poems of Iqbal.

A comparative study of Iqbal and Yeats (born 12 years before the Allama and outliving him by nine months) yields a wealth of insights for the understanding of these two cultural republics of the post-colonial era – Pakistan and Ireland. Both poets lived in the times darkened by creeping scientism and dehumanizing capitalism (both private and public) and receding faith. Both saw the earthshaking Russian Revolution (though surprisingly, Yeats was far too involved in his loves and life to comment on it) and Europe’s largest civil war of 1914-1918. Both were sceptical of democracy and had a clear penchant for authoritarian rule for wholesome cultural, spiritual and economic development of societies.

Having a common occupying power, the freedom struggles of Ireland and India had many parallels. Rabindranath Tagore spent some years in Dublin where he got a lot of support from Yeats in the campaign to get the Nobel Prize for Literature. At that time Tagore was little known in India and had no political role in his country’s emancipation movement. There were contacts between some fringe groups like the Indian National Army and the Ghadar Party with Irish activists but the Irish independence movement had played itself out by the time the Indian Muslims were politically mobilized. The period of Easter Rising and the Irish War of Independence, in India, was that of joint Hindu-Muslim political action for whatever it was worth. Mr. Jinnah was member both of the Indian National Congress and the All-India Muslim League. The Irish, dubbed as ‘the white niggers’ by the British imperialists could appreciate (that is if the Indians allow them) Mr. Jinnah’s remark that the British were the ‘white bania.’ Again in a 1939 interview to Manchester Guardian newspaper, Mr. Jinnah while replying to a question on democracy in India, remarked: “Even Ireland, after decades of Union, did not submit to the British Parliament in spite of close affinity with English and the Scot. I may refer to Lord Morley’s dictum that the ‘fur coat of Canada would not do for the extremely tropical climate of India!’

Then came the Khilafat Movement which aroused Pan-Islamic feelings among the Muslims of India. This, in turn, may have been detected by Mahatma Gandhi and his cohorts who decided to abruptly end the Congress support for the Movement. The All-India Muslim League, when looking abroad, never seemed to have looked beyond the Muslim world – Afghanistan, Palestine, Turkey, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, and Sudan. There was great interest in Asia but that too was restricted to Japan and the USSR. China for them was a non-entity and the Malay world was politically too far removed. Given the strong anti-imperialist leanings of Maulana Mohammed Ali Johar, I suspect that in the pages of his English language magazine, Comrade, he would have taken note of the British barbarities in Ireland. I scanned a selection of Comrade articles published in Lahore in the 1960s; its scope too was restricted to the Muslim world. Alas, even after independence, we continue to think in a minority mode and refuse to open our eyes to the wider world. This is not helpful for our younger generation who, with their wide exposure to the new media, are able to see though our ‘minority’ blinkers.

Unlike the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League, which supported the British war effort, Ireland was opposed to sending troops in aid of the allies during the Second World War. Dublin has been following a policy of neutrality ever since independence from Britain. The Irish government vehemently protested to the Germans when Luftwaffe carried out bombing raids over Belfast, which were immediately suspended by Hitler. However Ireland wanted to maintain a public stance of neutrality and refused to close the German and Japanese embassies during the war years. Prime Minister Éamon de Valera even signed the book of condolence on Adolf Hitler on 2 May 1945 which greatly displeased the British and the Americans. Unlike many other non-combatant countries, Ireland did not declare war on the near-defeated Germany in order to seize German assets. Other neutral countries like Sweden and Switzerland expelled German embassy staff at the end of the war, as they no longer represented a state, but the German legation in Dublin was allowed to remain open. Ireland has kept away from NATO and all other Western European defence arrangements. During the Cold War, Dublin refused to officially ally either with NATO or the Warsaw Pact. It is inaccurate to describe Ireland as a neutral state in the same way as Sweden or Switzerland, it would be more accurate to describe it as a non-aligned state which takes conflict participation on a case by case basis. However, Ireland takes its participation in UN Peacekeeping operations seriously and is one of the largest troop contributors to peacekeeping in Lebanon, Liberia, but, interestingly maintains a tiny presence in the ISAF contingent in Afghanistan in keeping with its UN obligations.

On 31 July 2006, I was witness to a demonstration of Ireland’s neutral mindset while listening in to a debate in the Joint Foreign Affairs Committee of the Irish Parliament (called The Dail) on the Israeli attack on Lebanon. It was a charged atmosphere as all members of the Committee roundly condemned Tony Blair and George Bush for refusing to call for an immediate cease-fire. The EU statement too was rubbished as deeply disappointing for not calling for an urgent halt to hostilities. Everybody came down hard on Israel and urged an economic boycott and demanded that the Jewish state respect the Geneva conventions on war and related international laws. The Socialist Party representative termed Western claim of superiority of its values as “negative, militaristic, and dangerous,” thus provoking a clash of civilizations. One Deputy charged that the Irish people’s abhorrence at what was happening to Lebanon was not being reflected in the foreign policy of the Republic. “Our neutral views are being subsumed in the European debate by the big EU members,” charged another. “Destruction of civilian life and property is a war crime for which there is no statute of limitation and that once a cease-fire was in place, Israelis should be so charged,” a Deputy shouted. If I closed my eyes, I thought, I might as well have been sitting in a gallery of the Parliament of Pakistan. President George Bush is at least as unpopular in Dublin as anywhere in Pakistan. The Irish have been opposing the US led wars against Iraq and Afghanistan. My Irish friends told me that they would not allow George Bush inside Dublin; the few times that the American President has had to come to Ireland in his two terms of office, he was restricted to far away country homes.

On a bright and clear morning of 27 August 1979, Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India and the Republic’s first Governor General, put out his boat Shadow V to sea to go fishing off the coast of Sligo in the northeast of Ireland. The tiny coastal village of Mullaghmore, only a few miles from the battle torn Northern Ireland, held the ancestral holiday home of his late wife Lady Edwina which was Dickie’s favourite fishing spot. Suddenly there was a massive bang. A column of water, fragments of boat, and shattered bodies blasted into the air. People looked up in surprise as windows shook when the shock waves hit buildings located miles away. Those in the vicinity looked toward the sound in time to see the splintered remains of Shadow V fall back into the sea in a tumultuous fury of water. Louis Mountbatten’s body was shredded to bits together with those of his grandson and a local deckhand. An era came to end. The Provisional IRA had planted 50 kilograms of explosives under the boat engine which were remotely detonated. Three persons were charged and given varying jail terms. More than one taxi driver in Ireland told me that “We did it for you.”

Craic is a typically Irish word (more a quality of the Irish race) whose dictionary meanings are, “fun, enjoyment, abandonment, or light hearted mischief often in the context of drinking or music.” An older, related, more widespread sense of craic is ‘joke’ as in ‘crack a joke’ or wise-crack. A person who is ‘good craic’ is fun to be with. That is a typical Irishman for you. During the centuries of colonial oppression and rampant misery, only the Irishman’s tongue was never chained. Hence they produced lot of holy men and witty writers like G.B. Shaw and Oscar Wilde and came to be called a ‘Nation of Saints and Scholars.’ Dublin has the unique distinction of being home to four Nobel laureates of Literature – Shaw, Yeats, Beckett and Seamus Heaney. I have heard stories of how a Pakistani somewhere in the UK is surprised when a white man walks up to him, say in a pub or a supermarket, and asks about him. This is common in Ireland today where there may be as many as 10,000 Pakistanis, principally medical doctors and their families, who have great relationships of good neighbourliness and some even share great craic with their colleagues at work. In England, for centuries Irish have been the butt of jokes, often racial and pejorative, a little like the sardarjee jokes in our Punjab. Irish funerals traditionally included a party called A Wake, when the dead body was kept in the home parlour all dressed up for burial for up to three days guarded by female relatives who keened (wailed), while the men folk stayed in the kitchen or outdoors if the weather was fine, with loads of drink and food and music. A famous Wake joke runs like this: What’s the difference between an Irish wedding and an Irish Wake? Answer: At the Wake there is one drunk less. Talking of music, Irish musicologists have found motifs in their folk music that are traced back through North Africa to the banks of Indus, especially for the flute and violin music.

Pakistan-Ireland relations have always been cordial and friendly. For the first few decades of the Kashmir conflict, Dublin was firmly supportive of a plebiscite to determine the wishes of the Kashmiri people as to the final disposition of the state. As member of the Security Council, it favoured the Pakistani resolutions, so much as to earn the visit of President Ayub Khan to Ireland in July 1964. I saw clippings of the newspaper coverage of the visit at the Irish Foreign Affairs Department, mostly taken from Dawn where President de Valera, Prime Minister Sean Lemass and the Foreign Minister all assured their Pakistani guests of their continued support to our stand which was based on the principle of self-determination which Ireland too championed. President John F. Kennedy, whose great grandfather had escaped with his family to the US in one of what were called the ‘famine boats’ paid an emotional visit to Ireland in June 1963. In his address to a joint session of the Irish Parliament, he noted that on the world scene Ireland had been punching far above its weight, expressed admiration for it and mentioned as examples Ireland’s participation in UN peacekeeping operations and their support to a peaceful settlement in Kashmir.

Late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto went to Ireland in 1994 where she announced the establishment of a resident Pakistan Embassy in Dublin, which was eventually opened in 2001.Unfortunately no Irish leader has visited Pakistan, except for a brief transit of Conor Lenihan, Minister for Development Cooperation through Islamabad in 2006 to review Irish assistance for relief and rehabilitation of the victims of the earthquake. Ireland has no presence in Pakistan except for an Honorary Consulate in Karachi. Current Prime Minister Brian Cowen came to Islamabad in 2004, when he was the Foreign Minister, at the head of an EU Troika mission to Pakistan. Ireland’s great upset in beating the Pakistan cricket team by three wickets at the World Cup in Jamaica on 17 March (its national day called the St. Patrick’s Day) was a shock that Pakistanis will long remember. Ironically, after this victory, the Irish national team, comprising mainly of amateurs, disintegrated as its best players were lapped up by eager English Cricket League teams. While commiserating with me, my Irish friends never tired of reminding me of how in 1969  they beat the great Clive Loyd’s West Indies side by bowling them out for a mere 25 runs. They can be as unpredictable as us Pakistanis.

Pakistan’s exports to Ireland, mainly textile based items, are slowly rising with the gradual addition of sports and surgical equipment and food and leather items.  In 2006 these were worth some $ 35 million. With a population of less than five million, Ireland, itself a small though rich market, offers a whole variety of strategic options for our companies wishing to look at the long term in the EU and North American markets. This portrait reveals some of the commonalities between our people that can serve as a strong foundation for friendships and partnerships of immense scope and mutual benefit.

[1] Toheed Ahmad is a former ambassador of Pakistan.