An African American in Ireland

Barack Obama's visit to Ireland reminds this writer of her own eye-opening encounters on that island.


By far my most frightening encounter came in a small pub in a town in northwest Ireland, also near the border, called Letterkenny. Unlike most of the towns we visited, from the start this one was less than welcoming. It was very austere looking, drab, and didn’t have a “fun” vibe. In the evening my mom and I decided to check out the local pub anyway, and its uninviting atmosphere immediately hit us.

Instead of friendly smiles, we got stares. We headed to a corner and tried to settle in. I forget exactly how long it took, but soon after we sat down, I could hear someone at the bar, muttering. I looked up to see a grizzled, obviously drunk man pointing at me and saying something in a loud whisper. At first I couldn’t make it out, but most of the pub’s inhabitants kindly shut up so that I could: “Nigger!”

“Who, me?” I looked around and realized that, yes, he must be talking to me. “Wow,” I thought. “I had to leave the U.S. and come here to be called that!”

I looked at the other folks sitting in the pub, wondering if they were going to help break up this awkward moment. But I didn’t notice any sheepish smiles of apology or sympathy. Just silence. And more stares. My mom and I looked at each other and wordlessly agreed that now might be a good time to leave.

We walked by the bartender as we approached the door, and to his credit, he did come up to us and apologize — he even gave me a lighter with the pub’s logo emblazoned on it. Great; a souvenir to commemorate the only time in my life I’ve ever been called a nigger! I probably still have it somewhere.

Editor’s note: The original choice of photo to accompany this article was not meant to suggest that Ventry Post Office was involved in any account mentioned by the writer.

Teresa Ridley is a freelance editor in New York City.

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