‘Brutal reality’ of forced migration key to legacy of St Patrick

Ireland’s patron saint was kidnapped and travelled to Ireland at the age of about 16

St Patrick’s experience centuries ago is uncomfortably analogous to the modern world, said Dr Piaras Mac Éinrí, an expert in migration at University College Cork.

St Patrick’s experience centuries ago is uncomfortably analogous to the modern world, said Dr Piaras Mac Éinrí, an expert in migration at University College Cork.

 

A serious reflection on the “brutal reality” of forced migration and human trafficking would be a fitting way to embrace the legacy of St Patrick this weekend, an academic at the Institute of Social Science has said.

While there are gaps around the knowledge of Ireland’s patron saint, what is known is that he was kidnapped and travelled to Ireland at the age of about 16.

“I was taken into captivity in Ireland, along with thousands of others,” he wrote in his autobiographical account, Confessio.

“The Lord brought his strong anger upon us and scattered us among many nations even to the ends of the earth.”

As Ireland prepares for a calendar of national events to mark March 17th, Dr Piaras Mac Éinrí, an expert in migration at University College Cork (UCC), said St Patrick’s experience centuries ago is uncomfortably analogous to the modern world.

Ultimately, [the Irish] were seen as downtrodden people who hauled themselves out of hardship and made something out of themselves wherever they went

“Indeed, it would be fair to describe migration as one of the existential challenges of the age,” he said.

Racism and xenophobia

“Barriers are going up everywhere and people are even being denied their legal right to seek refuge. Racism and xenophobia are stronger now than at any time since the 1930s. The Irish record in the diaspora is not always the best either.”

Ireland’s history with migration, from the forced exodus of the famine to the pirate trafficking of 100 people in Baltimore, West Cork in the 17th century, is an important context within which to consider similar modern issues, Mr Mac Éinrí said.

“Ultimately, [the Irish] were seen as downtrodden people who hauled themselves out of hardship and made something out of themselves wherever they went, without losing a sense of their own culture, history and identity.

Present-day responsibilities

“That is something we can celebrate but we should also recognise our present-day responsibilities in a wider world where we are no longer at the bottom of the ladder.”

Europe’s experience with migrants in the Mediterranean has been a controversial political issue for the last number of years and has been linked to the rise of conservative populist movements.

Mr Mac Éinrí said that, aside from seeing migration as a constant in the Irish experience, there should be deeper consideration of the realities of forced movement and trafficking generally.

“In so doing, we could more fully embrace Patrick’s legacy and our own place and responsibilities in today’s world,” he said.