Ireland Recognized Palestinian Statehood. Here’s How Deep Their Solidarity Goes.

Lex McMenamin

It’s probably been difficult for you to avoid our April 2024 cover star Nicola Coughlan’s press tour for the recently released third season of Bridgerton. Coughlan, 37, has made something else unavoidable throughout her press tour: Her Artists4Ceasefire pin and why she’s wearing it. In a clip of the actor that went viral online, Coughlan explained, “I’m hyperaware of what’s happening in Rafah at the moment… I’m Irish, so it’s a bit of a different perspective.”

Ireland is one of three nations — alongside Spain and Norway — who have chosen to recognize the state of Palestine as of May 28, joining 143 other countries. "Today, we state clearly our unambiguous support for the equal right to security, dignity, and self-determination for the Palestinian and Israeli peoples," Irish foreign minister Micheál Martin said during the announcement, according to the BBC. In the days following the May 22 announcement, Israel’s social media platforms have posted videos pressuring Ireland to backtrack, claiming the move “will lead to more terrorism and instability in the region.” Irish taoiseach (prime minister) Simon Harris refuted that stance.

Nicola Coughlan in her Artists4Ceasefire pin.

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Nicola Coughlan in her Artists4Ceasefire pin.
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When Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, killing over 1,200 people, former taoiseach Leo Varadkar called it “appalling.” Within weeks of the attack, he criticized the government of Israel for a bombardment of Gaza that he said “amounts to collective punishment,” making him an outlier among world leaders at the time. While many were talking about Israel’s right to self-defense, Varadkar said, “Israel doesn’t have the right to do wrong.”

There’s quite a bit of preexisting solidarity between Ireland and Palestine. An early November 2023 poll found that 71% of Irish people saw Israel’s response to October 7 as “disproportionately severe,” a response that a review by a Utah State University student described as an outlier within Europe. While many Irish protesters as well as UN special rapporteur Francesca Albanese have criticized the Irish government for not taking a meaningful enough stance, Irish individuals, representatives, artists, and writers have loudly advocated for Palestine.

As Coughlan told Teen Vogue editor in chief Versha Sharma, “There's a huge connection between Ireland and Palestine that maybe a lot of people aren't aware of, and a shared history.” That includes a “shared history” of hunger, as noted by Irish TD (Teachta Dála, or representative) Catherine Connolly last week on Democracy Now! (and echoed by Harris in the statehood recognition announcement).

“Our solidarity is immediately with those who suffer in any way, but particularly from famine,” Connolly told DN!’s Amy Goodman.

In Gaza, the head of the UN World Food Program has declared “famine is already here,” according to the New York Times, which quoted the president and chief executive of Save the Children US, Janti Soeripto, as saying of the conditions in Gaza, “We have never ever seen anything like this anywhere on the planet.” Almost three months ago, Oxfam described the conditions in Gaza as “catastrophic levels of hunger and starvation…the highest ever recorded on the IPC scale, both in terms of the number of people and percentage of the population.” Just under half of Gaza’s population is under 18.

“Our history of being colonized, our history…we know how to speak truth to power,” Connolly told Goodman. “At least I would like to think that we have learned that lesson and we are gradually freeing our own minds from being colonized and realizing that our role in the world is to speak truth to power, to call out injustice when we see it happening.”

Ireland’s 19th-century Irish potato famine was a byproduct of colonialism, which forced Irish peasant farmers to produce potatoes for English and Anglo-Irish landowners, leaving them exposed to crop failure and resulting in mass starvation. In the 20th century, the legacy of colonial conflict developed into what is called “the Troubles,” a period of conflict stretching for decades. (It’s during the final years of this era that Derry Girls, the Netflix show on which Coughlan rose to fame, is set.)

Mural of Bobby Sands, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Mural of Bobby Sands, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Lex McMenamin

During the Troubles, figures like Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, a former Northern Irish member of parliament and Irish civil rights leader, led a movement inspired by and in solidarity with movements of oppressed peoples worldwide under state persecution, like the US Civil Rights movement. For example, Devlin McAliskey received the key to New York City in 1970 for her civil rights work and gave it directly to the Black Panther Party. In March 1981, a group of Irish Republican prisoners held in British-run prisons began a hunger strike in an effort to achieve political prisoner status. They were led by 27-year-old Bobby Sands, who was elected to Parliament during the strike and died on May 5, 1981, as a result. Historians often connect the Irish Republican hunger strikes to those practiced by Nelson Mandela and others in protest of South African apartheid. South Africa accused Israel of genocide in the International Criminal Court in December 2023.

Many have drawn comparisons between the bifurcation of the Irish state into a territory of the UK and the Republic of Ireland to the 1948 partition of Israel and Palestine. In Derry, there are several visible references to Palestine and the Palestinian struggle. And in Belfast, there are famous murals, some pictured here, that include references to Palestine. Earlier this year that wall was rededicated to Palestine.

<cite class="credit">Lex McMenamin</cite>
Lex McMenamin

Dublin-based organizer Conor Reddy, 28, president of the Postgraduate Workers’ Organisation of Ireland (PWO) told Teen Vogue that he’s noticed renewed awareness and attention to Irish history in the Republic, which wasn’t as engaged with the Troubles, as people have learned about Palestine and joined the protests.

“There's always been this deep bond and sympathy between the Irish people and the Palestinian people, that’s [grown] qualitatively leaps and bounds since October 7. But while you might have had this general sympathy, empathy, solidarity within the population, not many people actually understood the history or the situation in Palestine,” said Reddy, a candidate for local office with People Before Profit. “What you've [seen] over the last couple of months [is] through the mass movements’ education of people, not just on Palestinian history, but on aspects of Irish history, particularly in the south [the Republic of Ireland].”

“The parallels between Irish history and Palestinian history — while they were maybe always recognized and understood on a deeper level by people through their engagement with the movement — what people have learned about the realities in Palestine today, about administrative detention, walls, and occupation, and how that compares to internment and division in the years of war in the north [of Ireland], that’s deepened the solidarity,” said Reddy, who as a Trinity College Dublin undergraduate was part of a 2017 student union vote to endorse the principles of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

On May 4, 2024, Trinity students launched a Gaza solidarity encampment in conjunction with the movement of US college students, outside the campus library that holds the famous Book of Kells, which Reddy claimed makes €100,000 daily for the school via ticket sales. Within five days, the school committed to divestment. In the US, few college presidents have engaged with student protests asking for similar commitments. Reddy cited the preexisting movement at Trinity as well as in Ireland broadly, such as the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign, as partial explanations for the difference in reception.

Conversely, the Irish have been furious with President Joe Biden, who since the war began regularly claims his Irish heritage. Clare Daly, Ireland’s representative to the European parliament, has gone viral repeatedly for condemning the war in Gaza, but as early as January was sending a message to Biden: “Keep our country out of your mouth, @JoeBiden. Your ancestors disown you.”

That condemnation grew into a boycott of the White House and the usual US-Irish handholding during St. Patrick’s Day. The day before St. Patrick’s Day, novelist Sally Rooney, a longtime supporter of the Palestinian cause, wrote an op-ed for the Irish Times titled, “Killing in Gaza has been supported by Ireland’s ‘good friend’ in the White House.” Citing the continuous funding of Israel’s military campaign by the US, Rooney wrote, “What is happening in Gaza is not only Israel’s war. It is a US war, and it is most particularly Biden’s war.”

“There hasn't been anything like this movement in Ireland for decades. We've had tens of thousands of people on the streets in Dublin on a monthly basis. Every town in Ireland has a solidarity group, either fundraising or working to support the Palestinian cause,” Reddy told Teen Vogue. “It's been a massive thing, taking in all layers of our society: artists, sports, cultural organizations. It's happening everywhere, so I think the government has been dragged forward.”

Participants with the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign in the National March for Palestine on May 18, 2024, in Dublin.

March For Palestine In Dublin

Participants with the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign in the National March for Palestine on May 18, 2024, in Dublin.
NurPhoto/Getty Images

Reddy cited a recent sold-out women’s soccer game between an Irish team and the Palestinian women’s team in Dublin on Nakba Day, which commemorates the day in 1948 when over 100,000 Palestinians were displaced during the creation of the state of Israel. According to The Nation, “The Bohemian Club invited the Palestinian team as an act of solidarity, and the game raised funds for both the Palestinian team’s travel as well as humanitarian efforts to aid Gaza in the face of an Israeli-imposed famine.”

“It was beautiful: the reference points, things some of the Palestinian players had to say about Irish history, what Ireland means to them, and some of the things that Irish people have to say as well. I think it really just demonstrated these points,” said Reddy.

At the Palestine women's team game in Dublin, May 15, 2024.

Bohemians v Palestine - International Solidarity Match

At the Palestine women's team game in Dublin, May 15, 2024.
Stephen McCarthy/Getty Images
Fans outside the soccer stadium wear Palestinian flags reading, “Saoirse don Phalaistín,” or “Free Palestine” in Irish.

Bohemian F.C. and Palestine supporters queue in the evening

Fans outside the soccer stadium wear Palestinian flags reading, “Saoirse don Phalaistín,” or “Free Palestine” in Irish.
SOPA Images/Getty Images
Palestine players, staff, and supporters after the international solidarity match in Dublin, May 15, 2024.

Bohemians v Palestine - International Solidarity Match

Palestine players, staff, and supporters after the international solidarity match in Dublin, May 15, 2024.
Stephen McCarthy/Getty Images

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