I am writing this on a bus from Dublin to Belfast. Bill and Ben, my brother and sister-in-law, one of my nephews, and my cousin and her husband are all taking the trip.
Last year at this time, Bill, Ben and I also traveled to Dublin, and this nephew, who is in the army, stationed in Germany, joined us, as did his brother, who was taking his junior year abroad. We had also planned a trip to Belfast then, but on the day we had set aside we pulled a "typical O'Doherty," sitting at the breakfast table for hours, discussing the best way to get there (bus? Train? Rent a car?) and digressing into reminiscences about past trips, until it was too late to go.
I don't think that was the only reason we didn't make it. My father, the boys' grandfather, was militantly anti-British, stopping just short (we think) of involvement in the IRA. When we planned this trip I imagined him in a red-faced rage, shouting at us about loyalty and traitorousness. He has been dead for 15 years, but the image still has power.
He was no stranger to betrayal. His family disowned us because my mother wasn't Catholic. In fact, both sides of our family have historically been scarred by contentiousness, hostility and disowning. The cousin who is taking the trip with us—the daughter of my father's sister—gingerly approached my brother and me in adulthood, unsure of her reception. We have built up a cautious but affectionate alliance over the past several years, discovering shared senses of humor and political leanings, though our backgrounds and family associations were markedly different.
Relations here have calmed down significantly in recent years. Even so, our bus driver will drop us at the entrance to the city, because "If I drove this bus [bright green with a leprechaun logo] through certain streets, we'd be lucky to get out with a steering wheel and a chassis." Similarly, there are conversational topics our group steers clear of for fear of activating buried explosives. But simply taking the shared journey feels revolutionary, and hopeful.