How can Ireland balance its growth and improvement with the need to preserve its heritage and its environment?
Vincent Salafia has been in the forefront of several important instances in Irleand where many argue there was an imbalance toward growth without proper consideration of heritage and the environment. As we will see in the following interview, Vincent was uniquely equipped by his background in the US and Irish cultures, with his knowledge of the legal heritage, millennia old, in Ireland, and by his own personal commitment to see things done right.
But before we go to the significant instances that have drawn worldwide interest, let’s hear about how Vincent came to live in Ireland.
Question: What is your history with Ireland?
Brief family history: Our family has had a long tradition of emigrating and returning to Ireland. Starting with my grandmother in the mid-nineteen twenties, she left Ireland. She was one of ten children. One of the McGees from the Longford area. Her brother was supposed to go to America, but got pleurisy after playing Gaelic football. So the ticket was given to her and she came into the lower east side of Manhattan at 16 years old. She had a tough time working in sweat. She married an Italian-American called James Salafia. They had four children there in the States. She always wanted to return to Ireland. They did pretty well over in the US. He was an electrical engineer and built houses, army bases, and other structures in New Jersey. She moved back to Ireland in 1957, and bought up some property in Wicklow. My mom was put into school and my uncle, who had done a year in Georgetown, was here. There was my mother and her three siblings. Three of them went to university here.
My mother, when she was in the town of Arklow, she met my father who was an O’Toole. The O’Tooles had this farm across the way. They got married and I came along. They didn’t seem to get along too well, so she ended up going over to England to study to be a nurse. I was raised by my grandmother on the farm down in Wicklow.
After being raised and going through boarding school, I graduated in 1983. By then my mother had moved back to the States. She was living in upstate New York working as a nurse. She was in the Finger Lakes district, Hammondsport, New York, which is gorgeous country. I visited there a few times. She got married again and they bought a motel in Florida.
When I headed over in 1983, I landed in Florida. I did a year in High School there to kind of integrate a few areas and sort myself out. I went to Saint Leo College, a small Catholic College, which is about an hour north of Tampa. I had a lovely time there. Studied pre-law political science and also worked as a DJ part time. I took a year off before graduating, went to Pittsburgh, worked as a DJ, came back and graduated.
Then I went to work in the family business for a while. Then I went up to New York and worked in some law firms to see if that was what I wanted to do. Entertainment law was what I wanted to do. I went to law school in Fort Lauderdale in 1993 and graduated there in 1996.
I worked for a while in Florida.
I got married and moved up to the Indiana area, Carmel, outside Indianapolis. That went well for a while and then not so well. Around 1999 I decided I’d leave America. I’d always wanted to get back to Ireland. Seeing that certain things had come to an end, it would be nice to get a fresh start. I hadn’t seen a whole lot of my grandmother while living in the States, so I’d decided I’d see a lot more of her on this side of the Atlantic. I came back.
Question: When did you return to Ireland?
The year 2000 is when I started to settle back in. Almost immediately upon my return, I started working on this project called the Brehon Law Project, which I’d started in Florida (Ireland’s own indigenous system of law dating from Celtic times, which survived until the 17th century is known as the Brehon law. Written down in the 7th century AD for the first time, Brehon law was administered by Brehons (or brithem) who served more as arbitrators.) I”d had an amateur type interest in the early Irish legal system. I’d done a paper in an art, literature, and law class. The Internet was just getting started then, so I made up a web site and got in touch with various professors who were working on translating the Brehon laws. I started to put on a series of symposia where I gathered together a lot of different scholars and judges. I did that three years in a row and focused on various aspects of early Irish law.
During that process I got to know more and more people in Dublin and was fitting back in. I was interested in the O’Toole history as well and part of the reason for studying Brehon law was the tie in with my own family history. The O’Tooles had been chieftains of Leinster. They had been great warriors against the British in their day. There was the history of Saint Lawrence O’Toole who was the patron saint of Dublin. I studied his involvement going all the way back to the Northern invasion. Strongbow, when he came over, married Aoife of Leinster. She was the daughter of Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster and Mor O’Toole. The marriage was performed by Saint Lawrence O’Toole.
Question: So you really liked that history?
This history fascinated me. I read in the paper there was a Norman castle, known as Carrickmines Castle, outside of Dublin, being attacked by a motorway proposal for the ring road around Dublin. The Castle had been blown up in 1642, so there wasn’t a whole lot of it left, but the huge defenses around the Castle were being excavated in preparation for the motorway to go through. The motorway had been built up to either side of the Castle by the time these protests broke out. It was the tail end of the excavation. The archaeologists were being rushed out of the site. They were furiously objecting, saying they’d made these important discoveries, the site should be a national landmark, and it shouldn’t be destroyed.
A bunch of us went in and occupied the castle site. We were called the Carrickminders. I got together a legal team and we proceeded to the High Court (In the Republic of Ireland the highest court is the Supreme Court. The court just below that for civil cases is the High Court). We lost in the High Court but won in the Supreme Court obtaining an injunction which held up the road to the dismay of the Taoiseach and many others (The Taoiseach (pronounced approximately TEE-shock) is the equivalent of a prime minister in the Republic of Ireland).