Aye, Nay, and Devo-Max: Growing Pains and the Scottish Independence Referendum

I’ve not been able to update my blog since I landed in Edinburgh on Saturday, being too busy dancing Ceilidhs, downing pints, visiting Tom Riddle’s grave, and decorating my flat.  I have several backlogged posts from Germany to put up, so keep a vigilant eye on my RSS feed for posts on Dortmund pilsners and a day trip to Köln.  But in Edinburgh at least, everything seems eclipsed by the Scottish independence referendum.

Thursday, 18 Sept., Scots will vote on whether to split from the UK, a controversy that reaches down to the very mechanism of the referendum: Scots who live abroad will not be able to vote (like the vocally ‘No’ former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson), while 16 year old Scottish residents will be able to cast their ballot.

From the highlands to the lowlands, a stimulated sense of Anglo-Scottish history is colliding with the wave of nationalism currently sweeping across Europe; Thursday’s vote will be an emotional one, something Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, of the Scottish National Party, was likely relying upon in his push to lower the voting age.  In Edinburgh, from the Royal Mile to the airport’s arrival gate, you can’t escape the low murmurs: the polls have changed again; the ‘Yes’ votes leads for the first time, by a slim margin.

Walking around Scotland, locals and newcomers alike will notice the ‘Yes’ vote’s footprint first: you can find at least of their modest ‘Yes’ window signs on every block.  The ‘No’ vote is less vocal, which should come as little surprise – one can’t exactly wave a flag to the tune of “I’m-proud-of Scotland-but-given-the-uncertainties-of-an-independent-state-and-semi-divested-economy-as-well-as-a-dual-national-identity-I-can’t-in-good-conscience-vote-for-a-split” – which seems to be the tune most ‘No’ voters are singing, quietly, to themselves.  To put it more simply, I talked with a priest this afternoon who said, “I’d like to vote ‘Yes’, but I don’t think I can.”

As for the polls, savvy Scotts scoff: as my first Edinburgh cab driver said, “Have you ever actually met anyone who was polled?  Course they take polls: everyone in the office, hands up if you want to split: lookit that, ‘Yes’ gains three points.  There’s your news of the day.”

So, Scotland’s future won’t get any clearer until Thursday’s votes are counted – and no matter what way it all shakes out, there will be a great deal of uncertainty for some time to come.  To address some of those issues, the University of Edinburgh on Monday night hosted a referendum debate, as part of Fresher’s Week – a brief, two hour break from the dancing and the drinking.  The Teviot Row Debate Hall was packed – standing room only – as four partisans tapped their fingers at two tables on the stage.

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Going Home to County Clare

And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park or capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open

-Seamus Heaney, Postscript

I wrote two weeks ago that I’d have to delay blogging about my trip to Carrowduff, Co. Clare; that was because I was at work on a longer travel memoir, published today on CNN.  In it, I talk about my own journey, about County Clare in 2014, and about the challenges to the American sons and daughters of immigrant parents who left them with a few stories, a few pictures, and little else with which to shore up their vague cultural inheritances.

Like so many American descendants of 19th and early 20th century immigrants, I have no family albums tracing my lineage back to New England ships, to British houses or German hamlets echoing back my own surname; the portraits in my parents’ dining room — a long nose here, familiar deep-set eyes there — are to an unsettling degree nameless. …

Read more on CNN.com.  You can also see my photos from Ireland here.

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The Ryan house sits on about forty acres of sloping farmland in Carrowduff, overlooking the rest of Kilshanny parish, below.

 

John Maddigan, once a neighbor of the Ryans, placed this post in recent years in the old Kilshanny church graveyard to mark the probable burial site of my great-great-uncle, Willie Ryan, and others from the Ryan clan.

John Maddigan, once a neighbor of the Ryans, placed this post in recent years in the old Kilshanny church graveyard to mark the probable burial site of my great-great-uncle, Willie Ryan, and others from the Ryan clan.

One More Cup of Coffee

Guanxixue and Ian Shoff’s Library Lottery

Or Another Way to Win Friends and Influence People

 

[Originally published on “Backstory,” the website of the Canisius College journalism program.]
 
Ian Shoff graduated from college several years ago with a Mr. Canisius title under his belt and theworld seemingly his oyster. Now he’s  back at Canisius, and he’s unsure what he wants out of life —other than to make sure you have a nice cup of coffee. The tale of a librarian in search of his story.  BY AIDAN RYAN

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By 8 p.m. in Mid-March the view from the second floor of the Andrew L. Bouwhuis Library is limited.  The sun has set and Forest Lawn cemetery is an inkspill.  The houses on Hughes Ave. are dark, because most of their occupants are across the street, in the Canisius College underground clubrooms, lingering around the red and yellow coffeeglow of the campus Tim Hortons, or in the same library, not looking out the windows, because there is nothing to see…

Read more on “Backstory,” the website of the Canisius College journalism program.