Irish in Myanmar: ‘If people went on to the street I would worry’

Despite queues and more security, people are calm as this has happened before, Marie Starr says

The first inkling Irishwoman Marie Starr had about the coup in Myanmar was the loss of broadband at her home, outside the largest city and former capital of Yangon.

Fearing something was wrong, Ms Starr went to a friend’s house where they had intermittent internet access and there learned about the overnight coup.

Ms Starr from Nenagh, Co Tipperary, lives in the large urban area of Thingangyun.

Later she posted a photograph outside her local supermarket of long queues, increased security staff, shutters half down and rice stocks almost exhausted from the shelves.


She says people are not surprised that the military staged a coup on the day that Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy was due to resume power, after winning the general election in November last year.

Ms Starr, who has lived in Myanmar (formerly Burma) since 2012, said the military had signalled as late on Friday that it was not ruling out taking charge, claiming that there had been election fraud.

She said despite international condemnation of Suu Kyi's government's treatment of Myanmar's Rohingya Muslim minority in Rakhine State, she remains popular in the country.

“Throughout the events of recent history, people by and large support her strongly and very few people would question things she says and does which makes me speculate with her arrest that people will be very angry,” she explained.

No stranger

Ms Starr noted that Myanmar is no stranger to political upheaval and had spent long periods under military rule since independence from the British in 1948.

“I would say the older generation would be taking this quite calmly and know what to do by stocking up on oils and rice,” she said.

“They are not hugely alarmed or worried. It is not too big a deal for a lot of people because they have been through these things.

“I am not worried. I’m in a safe place. We have supplies, but if things become violent, if people went on to the street, I would worry.”

Ms Starr suggested said the military had picked a good time to stage a coup, as the country remains in effective lockdown because of Covid-19 and there is an overnight curfew from 9pm to 4am.

Additionally, foreign media will not be able to travel to the country because of the global pandemic.

Myanmar has had 140,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19, fewer cases than in Ireland despite having 10 times the population. It has also had 3,131 deaths to date.

Nevertheless, a stay at home order has been in place in September and bars and restaurants are only now reopening.

Before Covid-19, Myanmar was a “very positive place”, though, she pointed out, 30 per cent of people remained below the poverty line.

Since Covid, the country has taken “a couple of steps backward”, she believes and the poor are struggling the most.

“I would hope the military will not do something stupid because international sanctions will devastate the economy. It is the poor that really suffer.”

Ms Starr said the Irish expatriate population in Myanmar is small, about 30 people and has the Myanmar Irish Society and the Myanmar Celts GAA team.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times