Although many Irish people came to America in the nineteenth century, my family did not arrive until the late 1970s. From the 1960s through the 1990s, there was continuous conflict between North Irish Catholics and Protestants. During “The Troubles” there were over 10,000 bombings, most of which occurred in North Ireland. My family ultimately decided to leave Ireland, not feeling safe with the constant conflict, and immigrated to the US. Although many of the items they brought with them were of cultural significance, the one which most caught my attention was an old Irish cross on my grandmother’s wall. When I was growing up, I would always stare at it. It looked very different from the crosses I was used to seeing. I never really questioned it when I was younger, but as I got a bit older I thought it was strange. My grandmother was not at all religious; in fact, she was very much the opposite. “It reminds me of Ireland,” she said wistfully after I asked her one day, “of what it should be.” She had always supported the idea of Irish unity. To her, the cross was not even religiously significant. It was a cultural symbol, neither Catholic nor Protestant, just “Irish.” Yet, at the same time, my family left because of how that cross was worshipped. The bombings were done for political gain, but the nature of the conflict was inherently religious. That cross, then, tells both the story of my family’s history and cultural ties to Ireland as well as their ultimate departure.
– Mary McAuley