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Invisible Lines; A Story of Independence on the British Isles

Invisible Lines; A Story of Independence on the British Isles

This year marks 100 years since the Easter Rising – the event that would eventually kick Ireland’s fight for independence from Great Britain into full gear. But at first the uprising was extremely unpopular. You see, when Patrick Pearse first stood on the steps of the General Post Office in Dublin’s city center on April 24, 1916 and read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic to the people gathered outside, he did so with the conviction that it was time for the Irish to stand free of the British oppression. He was right, but the struggle had only just begun, and they would brutally lose this fight.

The British response was fierce. They sent for reinforcements and thousands of British soldiers landed in Ireland, bombarding the city center occupied by the Irish Republicans with heavy artillery. The resulting carnage and wreckage where people’s lives and homes had been ruined did little to win the public over to the Republicans’ side. However, that was soon about to change.

What swayed the public was the incredibly inhumane treatment the British gave the insurrectionists as a response. They must’ve felt that a harsh punishment would act as a deterrent to any future uprising. There are many better places to read about the uprising and the treatment the prisoners were given, so I will not go into detail. On my recent visit to Dublin I took a tour of the Dublin gaol (jail) and our guide was incredibly knowledgeable and obviously moved by the history of the place. He told us of the atrocities with a great passion and at times stifled, inflamed, anger. He was so good he made us feel the pain, physical but mostly the psychological pain of the prisoners and the Irish people in general. We stood outside the cells looking in at the rooms that had been occupied by the ring leaders of the uprising feeling the hopelessness the men must’ve felt in their last moments, waiting to be dragged out of their cells to face the firing squad.

Prison cell in Dublin Gaol

One of the cells in Dublin Gaol

The fury of the Irish had been awakened, and soon the terribly oppressed people would gain their independence, but only after years of struggle and a bloody civil war. Even then, the 6 counties of Northern Ireland remained in the UK. To “protect the protestant population”, mainly heirs to the protestant Scottish and English landowners that had been “planted” there as a way to stifle the Irish spirit and will to gain independence (a recurring theme it seems in the entire history of British occupation of the island). This division of a people lead to even more bloody atrocities and for a long time, terror in Europe was synonymous with the Irish (and the Basque) among simple minded people that can’t live by anything other than generalizations – just as today those same people draw the very same parallel with Muslims. The pattern we see today of fear, distrust, a feeling of righteousness and building of walls has happened before as this story proves.

Today, the fighting seems to have stopped. The walls are still there, even though they are being torn down, but it’s not only physical barriers maintaining the separation. I crossed the border from the Republic into the 6 counties by road, in a rental car with kilometers per hour on the speedometer. While there were no soldiers or customs agents checking my credentials, and I needn’t even slow down to cross from one part of the same island to the next; I knew I was in the UK as the road signs greeted me with the information that all speed limits would now be given in miles per hour. I wasn’t surprised, I’d prepared a mental conversion sheet beforehand but it made a stark contrast and a first sign that another will was imposed on this part of the land – even though I had not crossed any physical, visible line.

Soon, as I rolled through the first town, I became aware of something I had not seen before, not in England, not in Scotland and certainly not in the Republic of Ireland; the Union Jack lined the streets of most towns and would only here and there be replaced by the flag of the county I was in, or the Northern Irish flag. But the greatest reminder of all that this was not a free country was the presence of one thing in particular: the Queen’s portrait 3 or 4 meters above ground in almost every town, the royal head of oppression reminding her subjects of their bondage to an undeserving individual who has done nothing other than being born into the right house.

I could go on about the taste of the air being different, the mood of the people even their friendliness being less, but it is no longer needed to tell my point of view – I think it is clear already. I know this is a much more complex matter and a lot of spilled, bad blood stands in the way of a reunification. But that might be about to change.

You see, the Irish stood for something when they sprang into action back in 1916 and proclaimed the republic with independence from the Union. They had been mistreated for generations, exploited and left to starve in their own land. Now, 100 years later, the English and the Welsh also feel like they need to stand up against oppression by a larger union. The atrocities and insults committed on the British people – and the shade of their former glory as world invaders – by the citizens of various European Union member states has gone too far.

As a person who strongly believes in unity I can’t say I stand with the English. But then, how can I say that I stand with the Irish? The answer lies in the union. Of course a union that leads to suffering and pain can’t go on. So fair enough, if the English and Welsh really feel like the “massive wave” of European migrants that come in and “steal their jobs”, or beg in the streets, is too much to handle for a country that has invaded the majority of the planet throughout it’s glorious history; then so be it. Good bye, adieu England and Wales.

But this is where it becomes interesting. You see, they don’t share the same notion in Scotland – a nation that just recently declined the chance to gain independence peacefully – nor are they so sure in the 6 counties of Northern Ireland. In fact, this very act of defiance by the British, this wish to stand on their own and once again be as glorious as the turn of the century (the previous one of course), might be the undoing of the United Kingdom and final nail in the coffin of England’s claim to greatness. This in turn would have to mean the end to the Union Jack – a flag my Irish friend termed as “illegal” due to it’s use of the cross of St Patrick (the diagonal red cross of the famous flag) which represents the entire island of Ireland – something they do not have claims on.

All this aside, it is interesting how we like to draw lines in the sand. Invisible for the eye to see, and ban people from entering or leaving without proper documentation. Although we are all the same species, originating from the same, exploited continent we cannot be allowed to move about freely, be it for love, money or freedom. Instead, we need to build walls and protect what is ours.

Beppe has been a nomad for over 8 years by now, he admits it gets tiresome but finds no use in fighting it.

“Sometimes life wants you to move, so you move.”

Old Man | Nepal

Old Man | Nepal

Nepal is a poor country, really poor. It’s never been the seat of high power, always a country on the margins. But it’s a country rich in character, culture and humility. Nowhere else have I ever been met with such dignity and kindness as I did in Nepal.

A part of the charm with Nepal is the traditional life a lot of people still lead – a side effect of the poverty no doubt. However in this case it’s not a downside, rather it helps make Nepal one of the friendliest countries on earth, where you feel welcomed and belonging, even though everything is completely alien to you and all the street signs are intelligible – don’t even bother with a map, navigate by landmarks and the sun.

This old man was one of many, many other men, women and children I’d see during my stay in Kathmandu. This image was actually taken in nearby Patan on a day trip to the other two Durbar (palace) squares in the Kathmandu valley, the other being Bakhtapur; the place that moved me the most on my short one week trip in the country, but that’s a story for a different time.

Beppe has been a nomad for over 8 years by now, he admits it gets tiresome but finds no use in fighting it.

“Sometimes life wants you to move, so you move.”

Swayambunath | Nepal

Swayambunath | Nepal

The top of the long staircase leading to the Swayambunath temple complex, aka Monkey Temple.

Honestly, the main reason why I stopped to take this photo was that I was out of breath – and I was in pretty good shape when I went to Nepal. But the dust and pollution in the air made it hard for me to breathe at times and by the end of the week my nose and throat were sore with a burning sensation. I can only imagine what it’d be like to live a whole life breathing that air.

Nuisances like polluted and dusty air are far from big enough deals to ruin a perfect trip. I would love for Kathmandu to get cleaner air, but a part of the problem is that Kathmandu sits right in a valley with the world’s highest mountains on one side. The pollutants have nowhere to go, but stay in the valley and form a thick smog that obscures the nearby mountains from view as you will see in some of the photos I’m going to upload later on.

Aside from getting exhausted climbing the steep stairs the Swayambunath temple is one of the most worth while visits in Kathmandu. I spent hours at the top of the hill, looking out at what I saw of the urban sprawl and surrounding hills and mountains. I watched the monkeys running around, there were hundreds, if not thousands of the little creatures jumping, playing and scrambling for crumbs and peanuts left by other temple visitors.

I remember sitting on a bench in the sun, enjoying the quiet far above the crazy traffic of Kathmandu, and feeling accomplished. Like I had actually done something with my life. I was there to see something so completely different to what I was used to, and yet I didn’t feel alien.

That is the essence of travel: to find oneself to be the same as everyone else, just a little bit different.

 

Beppe has been a nomad for over 8 years by now, he admits it gets tiresome but finds no use in fighting it.

“Sometimes life wants you to move, so you move.”

Monkeys | Remember Nepal

Monkeys | Remember Nepal

I found this mother and child at the very top of the temple complex Swayambunath in the nort-western parts of Kathmandu. The climb up was steep, but all the monkeys I saw everywhere made me stop every few steps just to watch them and try to snatch a photo before they ran away. I found that to be easier said than done as it seemed like most of the little monkeys were camera shy.

However, the sheer amount of monkeys at Swayambunath means you get plenty of chances for excellent photos, and while this is not the strongest of my shots I think it’s a nice and warm image that shows the mother-child bond is strong in animals too.

Beppe has been a nomad for over 8 years by now, he admits it gets tiresome but finds no use in fighting it.

“Sometimes life wants you to move, so you move.”