Visiting Assistant Professor of Leadership Studies
Andrew Young Center of Global Leadership at Morehouse College
Famed British-Irish filmmaker Martin McDonagh’s recent masterpiece, The Banshees of Inisherin, takes place on the heels of the Irish Civil War in 1923. The central plot of the film is a metaphor for the war in which the friendship sours between a popular folk musician and his island drinking buddy. Much of the film’s context and whimsy, which is rooted in the Irish folklore, would have been lost on me had I not viewed this critically acclaimed film on my flight back from Ireland.
Although Ireland was not at the top of my proverbial travel list, the opportunity to join a recent study abroad program — ‘Imperfect Parallels: Civil Rights in Ireland and the USA' — at Morehouse was a truly life changing. I attended Morehouse as a student between 2009-2013. And while many of my fellow Men of Morehouse spoke highly of their experiences traveling to places like China and Spain, such high machinations were for fiscal reasons lost on me. Everything in life, though, has a reprieve: Within my first year as a visiting assistant professor of leadership studies in the Andrew Young Center for Global Leadership, I was invited by a beloved colleague to travel to Ireland as a faculty chaperone.
The cadre of young men who traveled along with us ranged from a freshman to seniors: our group of plucky young men quickly became a ragtag band of brothers traversing, hither and thither, from Dublin to Donegal and Derry, the European Island’s rich culture and history. The youngest member of our cohort, Mr. Amir Harris ’26, summed up the magnitude of the experience in his final paper when he wrote that “we were able to meet one of the 1972 survivors of ‘Bloody Sunday’ in Derry, Northern Ireland. British soldiers shot rounds at a crowd, killing fourteen unarmed civilians. The victims included teenagers and a priest. The video that was played at the museum told the story of how the government lied in order to cover the truth about what really happened. . . The government claimed that the protestors had nail bombs with intent to harm the soldiers. This is a parallel to the bloody Sunday which occurred when peaceful protestors were attacked while trying to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge during their march from Selma to the capital of Montgomery in 1965.” Mr. Harris, a freshman and a Georgia native, is attending Morehouse with all the power and history that comes along with that legacy.
The parallels to be drawn, imperfect or otherwise, between Ireland and the USA are not limited to the civil rights movement. The unique cultural heritage of the Irish people had swept us all up. The Irish Emigration Museum in Dublin’s Docklands, which is an interactive experience that tells the gripping tale of the global Irish diaspora, was the first stop of our visit to Ireland. The irony of the museum is that the feat of modern innovation represents a prosperous reality for present day Ireland. Our wonderful native born tour guides exclaimed that Ireland is now the European home for big tech. The tendrils of modernity have reached the rainy island that was once so maligned by the Roman Empire and ignored altogether by medieval Christendom. Highlights from the majesty of the emerald island included a trip to famed poet W. B. Yeats’ grave. The poetry of Yeats captures the spirit of an island. For most of its history, sadly, and since the “flight of the Earls” in 1607, Ireland has been known more for the vast number of citizens forced to emigrate out of Ireland than for those who remained there. But times are changing in Ireland.
Recent geopolitical movements in the Republic of Ireland, whose population is largely Catholic (78%), have allowed for less restrictive abortion laws and the legalization of gay marriage. This along with strides in the areas of race relations for the increasingly diverse nation have made Ireland the near ideal modern society. The Men of Morehouse met the leaders of Black and Irish, which celebrates black and mixed-race Irish identity, and they also received support from the African American Irish Diaspora Network. Ireland and its rich history filled with oppression, intrigue and plenty of pride makes it an interesting culture to explore. Ryan Gibbs ’23 also discovered parallels between Ireland and the United States: “In the heart of Dublin, there is a botanical garden and national graveyard for the country’s heroes. I got to hear the stories of many Irish leaders, who fought on the front lines for equality. One Irish civil rights leader I enjoyed learning about was Ireland’s liberator, Daniel O’Connell. His precise vision and determination with what he envisioned for Ireland reminded me of the ‘Dream’ that Dr. Martin Luther King ’48 had for U.S. Americans.” This year, amidst the lingering difficulties imposed by Brexit, the citizens of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
Dr. Justin McClinton ’13 is presently a visiting assistant professor of leadership studies in the Andrew Young Center of Global Leadership.