Monday, July 18, 2011

Home Come The Heroes

So once again one of Western Europe's most utterly unique political phenomena has arisen wherein the government and population of Northern Ireland have had their communal self-respect rescued by sportsmen and women. Golfers Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell have joined the ranks of George Best, Derek Dougan, David Healey, the World Cup football squads of 1982 and 1986, Joey Dunlop, the European Cup-winning Ulster rugby squad of 1999, Willie John McBride, Eddie Irvine, Alex Higgins, Dennis Taylor, Barry McGuigan, Wayne McCullough and Mary Peters. All Protestant and Catholic alike.

Hindsight is a very flexible quality as beautifully captured at the very end of the fourth of Graham Reid's "Billy" plays - Lorna. Norman Martin, as played by James Ellis, is now living in England with his second wife and looks back fondly to the old days in Donegall Road in Belfast - a time when his family life was overshadowed by his own drunkeness and brutal ways. Thinking of his daughter Lorna moving into a new property he wistfully reflects "It's empty tonight...I can see it, you know. Jasus, the nights I tramped up that wee street...or staggered and fell up it....there's no light on tonight". He finally concludes fondly that "we did some living in that wee street".

Fast forwarding to the summer of 2011 and the recent cross-community rioting in Belfast, we can safely say that the importance of our recent sporting achievements by individuals of such outstanding personal calibre is utterly beyond any over-sentimentalised qualification in terms of our national sense of rescued worth.

Three points are worth underscoring in turn with regard to the recent civil unrest in Northern Ireland. Firstly the value of saved human lives since the political resolution of 1998 must always overshadow the moral fractures of the peace process as regards demilitarisation and decommissioning delays, prisoner releases and continual interface unrest. The Troubles in Ulster were never going to come to closure with an Alliance First Minister and cabinet majority.

Secondly, by 2011 the fact remains that the vast majority of all the people of Ireland are now utterly cogniscent of the self-reinforcing, farcical and ridiculous bigotry that divided people with so much in common for so long. Likewise for the the kneejerk and insensitive mainland observations towards all the restless natives of Ireland too. That as no more magnificently lampooned than by the Starrett cartoon of Bernard Manning prefacing a joke with the line "There were these thick Paddies..." against a backdrop of such accused as O'Casey, Behan, Wilde, Shaw, Yeats, Joyce and Synge.

Lastly, people in both the North and South of Ireland after twenty years of peace are certainly aware that beyond the conflict dynamics grounded on ethnicity, religion, politics, economics and nationality that violence and division were still underpinned to some degree by a passionate sense of belonging. So to recall the haunting words of Northern Ireland's last Prime Minister Brian Faulkner as head of the short-lived power-sharing Executive of 1974 when appealing for support against a background of widespread industrial and paramilitary disruption: "Today, I fear, we are the despair of our friends and the mockery of our enemies. Let us not plunge this country, which all of us love in our different ways, into a deepening and potentially disastrous conflict".

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