Irish America was hugely important in Ireland’s long struggle for independence.
I also believe that it can now prove crucial in assisting the Irish community in Scotland in their long walk to respect.
When I was in Philly I spoke with an outstanding young man called Kevin Boyle. He is the State Representative for the city.
He had attended that pre-match presser which was also the announcement of a soccer academy in Philly which will involve Celtic.
When I was introduced to him it took us less than sixty seconds to work out that I knew his first cousin very well and had worked with him in an Irish language project twenty years ago. Kevin’s Jewish chief of staff looked on agog at the instant familiarity that Irish people are capable of wherever we meet in the world.
Later that day Kevin had given a firebrand speech at the Famine memorial ceremony. I thought that the basic truth he had spoken would still be verboten in the Scotland of many cultures.
We agreed to have sit down later that week end.
PM: As an Irish American is it fair to say you didn’t have too far to look back for your roots?
KB: My father is from Glencolmcille in Donegal and my mother’s parents are from Easky, County Sligo. I have many relatives still residing in Glen, Mount Charles, and Inver in my father’s county.
PM: You spoke at the memorial on Friday about your awareness of anti-Irish racism in Scotland and how that played out in soccer.
KB: I think McGeady and McCarthy are probably pretty representative of the Irish in Scotland. They don’t have the freedoms that I have as an American to celebrate my heritage.
There isn’t an anti-Irish bias in America where people feel marginalised.
I think when FIFA and UEFA talk about ‘anti-racism’ in soccer and you still hear the ‘Famine song’ being sung and it is not being eradicated from Scottish football there’s obviously a clear problem and there is a double standard.
PM: You as a State Rep here in Pennsylvania do you see a role for the global Irish community?
KB: Oh yeah. I see it as my role as an Irish American. I am not restricted by any of the barriers I see in Scotland. That isn’t my day to day reality. I can call it as I see it and I commented on this in my speech at the memorial. When you see the abuse that Neil Lennon has had throughout his career in Scotland, if that happened in the United States to a racial minority or if it happened in Britain to any other racial minority except the Irish.
Well, the action would have been very different.
When I spoke to Neil Lennon after the event on Friday I told him of the huge respect I have for him for all that he has had to put up with. That’s coming from an American perspective and an Irish perspective.
PM: Because your father didn’t go to Glasgow from Gleann Colm Chille. You caught a break there.
KB: Obviously there is a long legacy of tension in Scotland going back to the 1800s.
It is somewhat connected to the Troubles in Northern Ireland and that contributes to that mind-set.
PM: The term you used at the memorial “anti-Irish racism”. That term, in political discourse, in Scotland is largely verboten. Instead when the “Famine song” is mentioned the term “sectarianism” is used. Yet the clear motivating force is a hatred of Irish people.
KB: Yeah, I think that takes the ethnic out of it. It diminishes the offence and the hurt caused to people. I think this issue, like the conflict in Northern Ireland, would be better understood if we stopped using the terms “Catholic” and “Protestant” and instead of focusing on the ethnic, because that is what it is really about.
PM: I have become convinced over the last few years when writing about this issue that we cannot have any faith on the body politic in Scotland to tackle the issue of anti-Irish racism honestly for what it tis. That is why I am so grateful for your interest and your energy and for that I thank you. It is good to know that the Irish community in Scotland has such a friend.
KB: Thank you, my pleasure.
As we sat outside the Fadó Irish bar on 15th and Locust I had to do a double take when I thought that had this confident young man’s father decided, like many in this county, to go to Glasgow instead of the USA then how different and how much less enriched his life would be as someone of Irish ethnicity. As an American he is free to express his Irishness. As a Glaswegian he would not have had that freedom and he understands that.
The Irish in Scotland have a real friend in this young man and I think we will be hearing more from him in the future.