Independence Day?

blue and yellow round star print textile
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Today was supposed to be the day the UK left the EU. Needless to say, that’s all still up in a heap, as my grandfather would say. When we heard the referendum result in June 2016, it was a massive, massive shock. I left work quite late, and feeling pretty sure that while the vote result would be narrow the UK would vote to stay.

Watching what’s supposed to be the home of parliamentary democracy slide into what can only be describe as a massive clusterfuck doesn’t make me happy in any way. I’m not particularly nationalist and I don’t have any innate desire for a united Ireland any time soon. I know the EU isn’t a perfect institution, but show me one that is.

I’m able to say with a fair degree of confidence that I, like most other people observing this chaos, have no idea what’s going to happen next.

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Independence Day?

1972/1998

In 1998 I turned 17.

Six of the 14 people murdered on Bloody Sunday were 17.

Listening to the Morning Ireland coverage of Bloody Sunday was hard.

In 1998 the Good Friday Agreement was one of the highlights of the year, not just for me.

I wasn’t old enough to vote but I was old enough to get a copy of the referendum materials from the local library and read them and feel the excitement when the referendum passed.

Hearing today that one soldier will face charges because of his actions on Bloody Sunday I couldn’t help but think of 1998 and how things have been since then.

Peace is so very fragile. And is it even peace at all.

We studied the poems of Thomas Kinsella in school in 1998.

We never studied this one.

BUTCHER’S DOZEN:
A LESSON FOR THE OCTAVE OF WIDGERY

by Thomas Kinsella

I went with Anger at my heel
Through Bogside of the bitter zeal
– Jesus pity! – on a day
Of cold and drizzle and decay.
A month had passed. Yet there remained
A murder smell that stung and stained.
On flats and alleys-over all-
It hung; on battered roof and wall,
On wreck and rubbish scattered thick,
On sullen steps and pitted brick.
And when I came where thirteen died
It shrivelled up my heart. I sighed
And looked about that brutal place
Of rage and terror and disgrace.
Then my moistened lips grew dry.
I had heard an answering sigh!
There in a ghostly pool of blood
A crumpled phantom hugged the mud:
“Once there lived a hooligan.
A pig came up, and away he ran.
Here lies one in blood and bones,
Who lost his life for throwing stones.”

More voices rose. I turned and saw
Three corpses forming, red and raw,
From dirt and stone. Each upturned face
Stared unseeing from its place:
“Behind this barrier, blighters three,
We scrambled back and made to flee.
The guns cried Stop, and here lie we.”
Then from left and right they came,
More mangled corpses, bleeding, lame,
Holding their wounds. They chose their ground,
Ghost by ghost, without a sound,
And one stepped forward, soiled and white:
“A bomber I. I travelled light
– Four pounds of nails and gelignite
About my person, hid so well
They seemed to vanish where I fell.
When the bullet stopped my breath
A doctor sought the cause of death.
He upped my shirt, undid my fly,
Twice he moved my limbs awry,
And noticed nothing. By and by
A soldier, with his sharper eye,
Beheld the four elusive rockets
Stuffed in my coat and trouser pockets.
Yes, they must be strict with us,
Even in death so treacherous!”
He faded, and another said:
“We three met close when we were dead.
Into an armoured car they piled us
Where our mingled blood defiled us,
Certain, if not dead before,
To suffocate upon the floor.

Careful bullets in the back
Stopped our terrorist attack,
And so three dangerous lives are done
– Judged, condemned and shamed in one.”
That spectre faded in his turn.
A harsher stirred, and spoke in scorn:
“The shame is theirs, in word and deed,
Who prate of justice, practise greed,
And act in ignorant fury – then,
Officers and gentlemen,
Send to their Courts for the Most High
To tell us did we really die!
Does it need recourse to law
To tell ten thousand what they saw?
Law that lets them, caught red-handed,
Halt the game and leave it stranded,
Summon up a sworn inquiry
And dump their conscience in the diary.
During which hiatus, should
Their legal basis vanish, good,
The thing is rapidly arranged:
Where’s the law that can’t be changed?
The news is out. The troops were kind.
Impartial justice has to find
We’d be alive and well today
If we had let them have their way.
Yet England, even as you lie,
You give the facts that you deny.
Spread the lie with all your power
– All that’s left; it’s turning sour.
Friend and stranger, bride and brother,
Son and sister, father, mother,

All not blinded by your smoke,
Photographers who caught your stroke,
The priests that blessed our bodies, spoke
And wagged our blood in the world’s face.
The truth will out, to your disgrace.”
He flushed and faded. Pale and grim,
A joking spectre followed him:
“Take a bunch of stunted shoots,
A tangle of transplanted roots,
Ropes and rifles, feathered nests,
Some dried colonial interests,
A hard unnatural union grown
In a bed of blood and bone,
Tongue of serpent, gut of hog
Spiced with spleen of underdog.
Stir in, with oaths of loyalty,
Sectarian supremacy,
And heat, to make a proper botch,
In a bouillon of bitter Scotch.
Last, the choice ingredient: you.
Now, to crown your Irish stew,
Boil it over, make a mess.
A most imperial success!”
He capered weakly, racked with pain,
His dead hair plastered in the rain;
The group was silent once again.
It seemed the moment to explain
That sympathetic politicians
Say our violent traditions,
Backward looks and bitterness
Keep us in this dire distress.
We must forget, and look ahead,

Nurse the living, not the dead.
My words died out. A phantom said:
“Here lies one who breathed his last
Firmly reminded of the past.
A trooper did it, on one knee,
In tones of brute authority.”
That harsher spirit, who before
Had flushed with anger, spoke once more:
“Simple lessons cut most deep.
This lesson in our hearts we keep:
Persuasion, protest, arguments,
The milder forms of violence,
Earn nothing but polite neglect.
England, the way to your respect
Is via murderous force, it seems;
You push us to your own extremes.
You condescend to hear us speak
Only when we slap your cheek.
And yet we lack the last technique:
We rap for order with a gun,
The issues simplify to one
– Then your Democracy insists
You mustn’t talk with terrorists!
White and yellow, black and blue,
Have learnt their history from you:
Divide and ruin, muddle through,
Not principled, but politic.
– In strength, perfidious; weak, a trick
To make good men a trifle sick.
We speak in wounds. Behold this mess.
My curse upon your politesse.”

Another ghost stood forth, and wet
Dead lips that had not spoken yet:
“My curse on the cunning and the bland,
On gentlemen who loot a land
They do not care to understand;
Who keep the natives on their paws
With ready lash and rotten laws;
Then if the beasts erupt in rage
Give them a slightly larger cage
And, in scorn and fear combined,
Turn them against their own kind.
The game runs out of room at last,
A people rises from its past,
The going gets unduly tough
And you have (surely … ?) had enough.
The time has come to yield your place
With condescending show of grace
– An Empire-builder handing on.
We reap the ruin when you’ve gone,
All your errors heaped behind you:
Promises that do not bind you,
Hopes in conflict, cramped commissions,
Faiths exploited, and traditions.”
Bloody sputum filled his throat.
He stopped and coughed to clear it out,
And finished, with his eyes a-glow:
“You came, you saw, you conquered … So.
You gorged – and it was time to go.
Good riddance. We’d forget – released –
But for the rubbish of your feast,
The slops and scraps that fell to earth
And sprang to arms in dragon birth.

Sashed and bowler-hatted, glum
Apprentices of fife and drum,
High and dry, abandoned guards
Of dismal streets and empty yards,
Drilled at the codeword ‘True Religion’
To strut and mutter like a pigeon
‘Not An Inch – Up The Queen’;
Who use their walls like a latrine
For scribbled magic-at their call,
Straight from the nearest music-hall,
Pope and Devil intertwine,
Two cardboard kings appear, and join
In one more battle by the Boyne!
Who could love them? God above…”
“Yet pity is akin to love,”
The thirteenth corpse beside him said,
Smiling in its bloody head,
“And though there’s reason for alarm
In dourness and a lack of charm
Their cursed plight calls out for patience.
They, even they, with other nations
Have a place, if we can find it.
Love our changeling! Guard and mind it.
Doomed from birth, a cursed heir,
Theirs is the hardest lot to bear,
Yet not impossible, I swear,
If England would but clear the air
And brood at home on her disgrace
– Everything to its own place.
Face their walls of dole and fear
And be of reasonable cheer.

Good men every day inherit
Father’s foulness with the spirit,
Purge the filth and do not stir it.
Let them out! At least let in
A breath or two of oxygen,
So they may settle down for good
And mix themselves in the common blood.
We are what we are, and that
Is mongrel pure. What nation’s not
Where any stranger hung his hat
And seized a lover where she sat?”
He ceased and faded. Zephyr blew
And all the others faded too.
I stood like a ghost. My fingers strayed
Along the fatal barricade.
The gentle rainfall drifting down
Over Colmcille’s town
Could not refresh, only distil
In silent grief from hill to hill.

Maybe we should have.

1972/1998

100 Years

Armistice day isn’t something I remember growing up but I do remember the first time I read about the Great War. It was in the book Rilla of Ingleside and I was quite confused by it the first time around. It wasn’t my favourite of the Green Gables series so I didn’t reread it as much as the others and I’m fairly certain I read it out of sequence to add to the puzzlement.

It’s not a typical book about war because it’s about the home front, even more so becasue it concentrates on the Canadian home front and the women left behind while their sons, brothers, husbands and sweethearts headed off to war in Europe. I’ve reread it a lot as an adult and it has been on my mind in recent days.

On my mind too is a book of war poetry my father gave me. I’m not a huge poetry lover but these are poems I return to, because the older I get the more I get from them.

I watched the memorial services on CNN and the BBC this morning. Two minutes silence isn’t very long really, considering what the silence is meant to stand for.

100 Years

Status Update: Bag of Nerves

Two more sleeps and we’ll be voting. That’s the easy part. The hard part will be Saturday, when the count starts. I’m nervous. I’m tired. I’m weepy.

I haven’t thought through what I’ll do on Saturday. I’ll probable be glued to the radio coverage and obsessively updating twitter on my phone.

I haven’t been able to concentrate on much this week. I know this isn’t a constructive use of my time but all I can do is read referendum updates.

I know if the worst happens on Saturday we’ll wake up on Sunday feeling defeated and angry. But we’ll have to pick ourselves up and move forward.

I hope this isn’t the case. I hope by late afternoon I’ll be able to breathe out deeply for the first time in weeks.

If you are undecided, please think of the women who are travelling today, tomorrow, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, who are feeling all the anxiety I am now but with the added trauma of knowing they had to leave Ireland for health care. Please don’t let your personal ‘I would never’ be ‘You can never’. Please vote yes, and help Ireland move forward to a more compassionate, honest future.

Status Update: Bag of Nerves

James

It’s 25 years since the murder of two year old James Bulger in Merseyside. I remember this like it was yesterday. I was about the same age as the boys who murdered him. I remember the disbelief that children like me could kill a child. I remember the trial and the references to Boy A and Boy B – one line in particular stands out when I saw in on an ITV news report, “The other boy did it”. The Mothercare CCTV footage is still shockingly, gut wrenchingly awful. I can’t read all the details of the case, and what details I do know still make me cry.

I admire Denise Fergus more than I can possibly express. I don’t know how she has kept going, but she has a depth and strength of character I can only dream of. To campaign and show more restraint than the adults who banged on the sides of the van bringing the boys who murdered her son to court, baying for their lives, is awe inspiring. Even this week, she’s working on a petition instead of posting on forums, calling for the retrospective death penalty to be applied.

To be pushed into that sort of life is just so bloody unfair. If I, a grown woman who was a child when this happened, can be more upset now than I was when the dawning horror of what happened started being reported, how does she cope? I hope she can get some sort of satisfaction from knowing that people like me, in another country who she has to give no thought to, admire her still, and think of her and her boy, and we cry for her loss and her heartbreak.

James

A New Coat For Anna

When I was a small child, one of the books I remember borrowing a book about a little girl who got a new coat from the library. It was a story that stayed with me as a child and I remember loving the book, but I hadn’t thought about it in years. The book, A New Coat for Anna, tells the story of a little girl dealing with post-WWII life in the Netherlands and her mother’s efforts to get her a new coat.

As an adult, rereading the book is a jarring experience. Anna’s mother had to give up a gold watch, which must have been a valuable heirloom and which had survived years of war, just to get the wool for a coat. She has to give up other things too, like a lamp, a necklace and a teapot, to ensure Anna has the coat she needs.

More than that, the book shows that war doesn’t end when the powers that be sign an armistice. Children grow and need warm clothing. Mothers who’ve carefully hoarded family treasures weigh up what they might be worth. People with skills trade them for necessities.

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. I’ve been thinking about Anna’s red coat because of the iconic scenes in Schindler’s List, where a tiny girl in a red coat wanders around the horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto. And I’m thinking about all the children who today have grown out of coats and are dealing with war and its effects and their mothers who are trying to decide whether now is the time to trade a precious family object for the necessities of life.

I wish Anna’s red coat was a purely fictional book about a time long ago that we’re glad never happened today, but sadly whenever humankind has said ‘never again’ this hasn’t come to pass.

A New Coat For Anna