St. Patrick's Story Should Make Us Consider How Ireland Treats RefugeesRoundup
tags: Ireland, refugees, St. Patrick
Elizabeth Boyle was born in Dublin, grew up in Suffolk and returned to live in Dublin in 2013. She is a medieval historian specialising in the intellectual, literary and religious culture of Ireland and Britain. A former Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of Cambridge, she now works in the Department of Early Irish at Maynooth University. She recently published Fierce Appetites, her debut collection of personal essays.
THE WRITING OF Irish history begins with St Patrick’s first words to us: My name is Patrick, a simple country person and the least of all believers. I am looked down upon by many. In many respects, it has become a familiar story: Patrick was kidnapped ‘along with thousands of others’ by Irish slave-raiders at the age of 16.
He escaped his enslavement in Ireland and returned to Britain, where a religious experience led him to return to Ireland as a missionary, attempting to convert people to Christianity.
Tomorrow we celebrate his feast day in a way that would have horrified him. The copious amounts of Guinness and the general hedonism that is now integral to St Patrick’s Day festivities show us just how much some aspects of society have changed since Patrick wrote his earnest, indignant and often self-righteous testimony.
If we return to his own words, we see that he describes himself in his old age as profugus – someone who has fled their homeland, someone who is exiled. In the classic English translation of Patrick’s words, Ludwig Bieler rendered it ‘refugee’.
The writing of Irish history begins with a refugee. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has thrown refugees back into the spotlight of Irish society, and it has been heartening to see evidence of a warm reception for those fleeing violence and oppression.
But what of the thousands of refugees who are in Direct Provision centres at this very moment? Those who have fled violence and oppression in Syria or Afghanistan or other conflict zones around the world. It is long past time to end the inhumane Direct Provision system and work towards making a more humanitarian society.