21st March 2022

Growing up in Ireland: Ignorance vs beauty

Growing up black and Irish is an unspoken struggle at times – yet being Irish goes beyond race
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Growing up in Ireland: Ignorance vs beauty
Photo: Diogo Palhais @Unsplash

Words by Matthew Oladimeji

My parents moved from Nigeria to the Republic of Ireland with my brother when he was just two. It was during the Celtic Tiger when Ireland was revolutionising their economy. At the time, Nigeria was overrun with insurgency as a residue of colonialism, so my parents decided it wasn’t an adequate place to start a family, especially as my Mum was pregnant with me. Ireland seemed like the perfect destination, as the economy was booming and it’d be relatively easy to get a job there. 

I remember little to nothing about my first four years on earth, but I vividly remember the first ‘house’ we lived in as a family. I’d be left in the house alone for extended periods as both my parents worked and my brother attended school. I was hypnotized by the television so it never bothered me. Some of my favourite channels included, Jetix, Cartoon Network and Nick Toons which I’m pretty sure you have here.

At some point, before my younger brother was born, we moved into the house my family lives in today. It’s located in Celbridge which is famous throughout Ireland for being a ‘historic town’. This was obvious upon arriving, with the town’s architecture looking old and dilapidated. The town’s main bridge looks like it’d probably disintegrate given a good storm.

Initially, I hadn’t really given the area much recognition. Yet, as I grew older, I started to appreciate the town. Everywhere you look there are snapshots of how life used to be centuries ago. For example, just outside my bedroom window stands the remains of a catholic monastery that was the first to be targeted by the Vikings centuries ago. Each nook and cranny is idealistic and picturesque.

Photo: Henrique Craveiro @ Unsplash

Education in Ireland is split into three stages: primary, secondary and third-level education (which is like University) etc. I specifically hated primary school for one reason: Gaeilge, our native language. Looking back, I understand why it was so heavily enforced because quite honestly today the language is dying. But, my rebuttal is why do you think that is? I used to envy all the students who got some gobshite exemption just from partaking in Irish lessons. Like why learn a language that no one speaks? Honestly still baffles me to this day. 

Secondary school wasn’t much different, but around this time I started venturing outside of my town and seeing what Ireland was really like. I was 15 when I trekked to the other side of the country and on my journey, I just remember appreciating how charming the country was. The lush green fields to the damp peat bogs, the soggy remains of dried up glaciers, it was simply beautiful.

When I finally arrived at the coast, I noticed it was dotted with all these ancient castles and I couldn’t help but wonder about each one’s history. In case you haven’t noticed yet, I think Ireland’s a charming country, but I do think it has its ugly sides. 

I just want to clarify that I don’t speak for everyone and my experience is only mine. However, I do speak for some, especially the ones I consulted with before writing this. The native Irish people aren’t racist when it comes to race, but instead ignorant. I have too many stories to tell, but whenever I think of situations that make my blood boil, two situations come to mind.

In the first instance, I remember I was returning home with a friend at midnight. Just as I get to my front door I see a police car make a U-turn back down my cul-de-sac. At this point, I’m thinking “there’s no reason for these Gardai (Irish police) to be here for us,” assuming it was for one of the neighbours. As I’m saying my goodbyes, the Gardai get out of the car and are heading towards me. I’m beyond confused at this point.

Long story short, I get racially profiled and a full body search in full view of all my neighbours. Why? Because the Gardai “smelled weed”. God knows I’ve never smoked in my life. Our neighbourhood is quiet and this sort of stuff doesn’t really happen so not only was it personally humiliating, but it was embarrassing. 

A few years later the ignorance once again resurfaces. When walking home late one night, a group of supposedly drunk middle-aged men approach me. Collectively they shout the n-word at me. In hindsight, the story makes me laugh. However, I remember actually running home that night which is kind of messed up …

The Oladimejis

For a good portion of my life, when someone asked where I’m from, I instinctively replied Nigeria. I didn’t feel I really was Irish, and I didn’t feel I was welcome. But after meeting so many wonderful people throughout the years, I now proudly say I’m Irish.

I used to always ask myself why my parents chose Ireland out of the plethora of countries in good economic standing, I mean the UK was literally next door. Although now, I’m glad they did. I feel like the area I grew up in really shaped the person I am today and I wouldn’t have chosen a different county.

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