As I See It: Catherine Drea’s fortnightly column for the Waterford News & Star
I CAN remember getting that first passport into my hands. It was dark green with a golden harp on the front. I took it to bed and examined every inch; the beautifully crafted pages, the tiny black and white photo of myself aged 15, the rich leather binding.
I was off travelling on my first ever trip abroad. Don’t lose it I was warned. Keep it in a safe place. Better sleep with it under your pillow. Or in your vest…
At Checkpoint Charlie on my way into East Berlin, the Guard smiled and said: “Englander nicht gut, Iren, sehr gut” or “English people not good, Irish people very good.” It often seemed like the Irish passport would open any door.
Today one of my oldest and best friends is becoming an Irish citizen. I feel almost as awed as I did back then. What a precious gift to be recognised as a citizen of our fledgling republic. A hundred years is a blink of an eye in the greater scheme of things and although some people take it all for granted, I still feel having an Irish passport is something very special.
‘There was no childcare in those days and so we came up with a great arrangement. We decided we would swap kids every so often, maybe once a month.’
She is as excited as I am. She has lived here for 40 years and has contributed more to the quality of our democracy and society than a lot of people born and reared here.
Last night I sent her a photo I had taken of her young self. She is playing with her baby daughter on the floor of the ramshackle old cottage we used to live in. It was taken a few years after we first met.
We were both young mothers, trying to keep up some semblance of proper art careers, having babies, building houses around us. It wasn’t easy in the 1980s to keep the show on the road. I think our friendship was the best support we had then; both blow-ins, far from family, going through so many life milestones.
We were madly free as well, fearless about what we could create. We held the first International Women’s Day celebration in the old Garter Lane in 1986. I had a small baby on my lap and 180 women turned up. Later we joined forces to found an NGO supporting community building around the country. It lasted for 25 years until other more mainstream organisations took up the role.
We worked together in that organisation as joint managers. Highly unusual and never recommended in management books, I always thought it was something only two women would dream up! We could run the organisation in a family friendly way, have each other’s backs and play to our strengths.
We often laughed about our contrasting personalities. We would leave some meeting and while I would still be mulling over how to respond to it, she would have a list of 12 next steps already jotted down. Joint management turned out to be a great strategy and really allowed each of us to thrive and never get too isolated.
Over many years we have been campaigners for change but usually under the radar. Now with grown up children and her with grandchildren, we walked the highways and byways in the last two referendum campaigns. A far cry from the anxious tiny march in favour of abortion legislation we once joined in the centre of Waterford many years ago. In particular I recall the walk down the freezing cold and inhospitable Quay. That was a scary one!
There was no childcare in those days and so we came up with a great arrangement. We decided we would swap kids every so often, maybe once a month. It was always better to have a house full for a few days and then to have a few days off. The young ones loved it and it was a mark of the trust between us, that we managed it at all.
I sent her a message last night before she set off for Killarney to her citizenship ceremony. I told her how in all our history books at school we were told that the invaders always became “more Irish than the Irish themselves”. It certainly couldn’t be truer of anyone, than of her.
So today she finally gets a right to her very own Irish passport. I couldn’t be more proud or emotional about how special this day is for her. Typically she sent us all a lovely message last night. Photos from a lifetime of friendship and love and, in the end, she says, “Am so honoured and deeply proud to become an Irish Citizen tomorrow, why did I wait so long!”
I dunno, but we are so privileged to count you as one of our own, my dear old friend!
Catherine Drea blogs at Foxglovelane.com