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What's new

Nonviolence News February 2017

Children and Conflict poster series

Editorials: Northern Ireland political swamp, Holding the nerve

Eco-Awareness with Larry Speight: Through the prism of narratives

Readings in Nonviolence: Refugee stories by Máiréad Collins

Billy King: Rites Again

 

 

 

Billy King

Issue 112: September 2003

[Return to related issue of Nonviolent News.]

Well, hello again and welcome back on board [shouldn't that be 'bored'? - Ed] for the Colm that tells it like it is, was, could be, shouldn't and shall. I hope the summer was kind to you, that you were kind to each other, and that you kind of had a good time. Once more, as every year, what I got done over the summer in terms of things that I expected to get done, well, not very many got done and those that did took a couple of times as long to be finished as I expected. Still, I got out and about as well. But September. Not my favourite time of year. Nevertheless I hope you have a brighter smile, and that you are better misinformed, after reading my column.

Republican plot exposed

It is a very grave matter indeed. Along with social and political commentary we [is that the royal 'we'? - Ed] [don't be so disgusting - Billy] try to bring you the important stories of the day. So when a republican plot was exposed - and by a Sinn Féin councillor at that, we felt it our duty to report it in detail. I am of course talking about Councillor, and leading Sinn Féin figure, Tom Hartley's tour of the City and Milltown Cemeteries off the Falls Road in Belfast which he does each year as part of the West Belfast Festival. Excellent stuff. Though you'll have to wait to next August to partake of that guided tour, you can of course wander there to your hearts content. If you're visiting Paris you can purchase DIY guides of famous cemeteries with surprises in store, in fact without looking for it I once stumbled across the grave of the inventor of the can can dance in Montmartre but there is as yet no printed guide to Belfast's cemeteries (though anything Paris can can do, Belfast can do half as well.

There were various themes to the tour. One theme in the City Cemetery was war and empire, another was those who bankrolled and armed unionism in the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries. But we saw also the graves of humanitarian figures, educationalists like Vere Foster and Margaret Byers and socialist Robert Lynd. The relative invisibility of women was a recurring theme in both graveyards - one other woman whose grave we saw (in Milltown) was Winifred Connery, political and republican activist, at the GPO in 1916, secretary to James Connolly, she married a UVF man and it seems they lived happily (presumably with some interesting political debates!) until she died in 1943.

We also saw the way in which establishment stalwarts of up to the early 20th century were not afraid to proclaim their Irishness through Irish script on their graves or Celtic crosses. One of the graves of war dead was a Sandy Row (Belfast) man killed in battle in the First World War; the British had tunnelled under German lines and packed an enormous amount of explosives. The troops were to go over the top exactly at the same time as the explosives were to go off. It was, in general, a very effective military operation, but not for this soldier since the explosives in the sector he was attacking went off 17 seconds too late, just as the British troops were coming to the enemy lines. He was the victim of an 'own goal' in Northern Ireland parlance, or 'friendly fire' in modern military-speak. A marble pith-helmet on another grave spoke also of the empire and service to it.

The City Cemetery was originally intended to be for both Protestants and Catholics but the then Catholic bishop did a deal whereby for relinquishing the 'Catholic' space he got compensation and bought the first part of Milltown Cemetery, down and across the road. But plans had already been laid for a Protestant part and a Catholic part in the City Cemetery (this was in the 1850s) including an underground wall stretching down 9 feet (best part of 3 metres) between the erstwhile Protestant and Catholic graves -the wall still exists. What did they think the dead were going to get up to that they had to keep them apart like that? More likely doctrinal purity and fear of reactions stipulated that they couldn't be too careful in keeping graves apart. But it makes the most amazing 'peace wall' in Belfast ever. Someone has since told me it featured in Billy Connolly's televised visit to Norn Iron as part of his 'UK tour'.

Milltown Cemetery has for me one of the most powerful statements made in death by anyone. Originally the priests and the relatively small sized Catholic bourgeoisie were buried at the front of the cemetery; there was a poor ground at the back where stillborn babies, paupers, victims of disease like cholera, etc, were buried. Tens of thousands are buried in a couple of grassy areas with no marker to indicate their existence at all and in a space which looked like it would be standing room only. Just beyond the poor ground is the Celtic cross marking the grave of the Bishop of Down and Connor who died in 1814, John Tohill. He chose to be buried there, in what was previously unconsecrated ground, so that in blessing his grave the whole area would be blessed. I don't know what John Tohill was like in life but this is a wonderful example of a churchman taking one last option for the poor in a heartfelt and meaningful way.

We also saw the graves of various people killed in the Troubles on the 20th century, including a couple of families wiped out by British forces just after partition. In a wonderful piece of irony, Tom Hartley pointed out the grave of a Catholic victim of this era and the Catholic member of the RIC/RUC who had killed him, their graves in quite close proximity.

We took in the Antrim Memorial to republicans of various eras, and the grave of Sean McCaughey who died in Portlaoise Prison in 1946 after a 23 day hunger and thirst strike, but we didn't linger at the modern republican plot, though we were pointed out also the Official IRA and IRSP plots.

About the City Cemetery, Tom Hartley said it tended to be ignored by Protestants because it's in Catholic West Belfast, and by Catholics as being Protestant (though in fact there have been quite a few modern Catholic 'infill' graves). Reflecting who had the wealth at the time, the City Cemetery is the one of wide avenues and many more opulent graves. Both graveyards portray so much of the history and culture of Belfast and of Ireland. Worth a visit and definitely worth going on Tom Hartley's tour next year.

But it reminds me also of the song John O'Dreams, maybe because of the euphemism of sleep for death, or maybe because of other parallels:

"Both man and master in the night are one,

All things are equal when the day is done,

The prince and the ploughman, the slave and the freeman,

All find their comfort in old John O'Dreams."

As with sleep, so with death. Despite the fact that some can have magnificent follies erected in their memory while others have only the blades of grass.

Racism - what would you do?

Scene; A 24-hour convenience shop just a mile or two north of Dublin city centre. Time; 12.30 a.m. The shop is staffed by two men in their mid- to late-twenties, one of central European origin on the till, the other a black man working behind the counter towards the back of the shop. An elderly and quite drunk Dubliner aged 65 - 70 comes from the back of the shop shouting at the black man, "It's your sort coming into Ireland that has this country fucked." There is a queue, of varying nationalities including Irish people. The man on the till asks him not to use bad and offensive language.

You are in the queue. What would you do?

a) Nothing. Pay for your carton of milk and leave.

b) Go up to the man and start to try to talk to him that you do not welcome racial abuse.

c) Shout back at the drunk man telling him he is not welcome if he can't control his language.

d) Shout back "This country was fucked by the Irish before anyone else was coming into it."

e) Go up to the black man who was verbally assaulted and empathise with him.

f) Other response

The guy on the till actually said that he came in every night on the cadge and was often given a cigarella free by the staff. Here was his thanks. The guy shouted at remained calm and stoical, doubtless he had seen it all before. Oh, my spur of the moment response was d) - trying to take his language and concept and throw it back at him. With drunks there are limited opportunities for reasoning and while a) might be an option it feels very inadequate and cowardly, so some action of some sort was called for. The drunk man himself was elderly and no physical threat to anyone. Just maybe he remembered the next day what he had done and said sorry. But I doubt it.

Such behaviour is not too unusual, e.g. a seventeen year old was fined €75 at Dublin Children's Court at the end of July for shouting "Fuck you, you black bastard" at a shop assistant who had stopped him stealing a newspaper. Again alcohol was involved; the young man was extremely drunk, but it would be a mistake to simply blame 'the drink'. Drunkenness can embolden but merely amplifies attitudes which are already there. And as these two stories indicate, the racism can come from either end of the age spectrum.

Dublin Dublin Dublin Dublin 4

I can report that at least one part of Irish music is in a healthy state after a visit to the 'Lisdoonvarna' festival at the RDS in Dublin. Many thanks to Clare 'Co Co' for declining to host a revived festival there because 'it's a long long way from Clare to here' and I wouldn't have made it down. Whereas Dublin was easier for me to get to. Mind you I didn't even bother with the alcohol - the queues were too long and €5 a pint, and with that music who needs a drink. The answer is apparently a lot of people but the mood was good and we only saw one person carted off by stretcher which with up to thirty thousand (I estimate) that wasn't bad going. And I didn't see one spot of bother.

Christy of course I loiked [yes, we've heard that before many times - Ed]. The Frames, the main supporting act, I didn't go for, maybe Glen Hasard's comment about 'spasi' dancing (cf 'spastic' as term of derision) poisoned my perception, though the fact that he used some of 'Two little boys had two little toys' (that well known militarist dirge) as part of a song, well, that didn't endear his act to me either - though I did like a couple of songs on the set they played. Other performers I liked included Ann Scott, Ketell Keineg, Damien Dempsey, and Luka Bloom but with three or four stages on simultaneously until the evening you couldn't get to everyone anyway. Kilfenora Ceili Band did their stuff well too.

Luka Bloom fairly got the crowd going with his take on brother Christy Moore's 'Lisdoonvarna'. Instead of the chorus of 'Lisdoon Lisdoon Lisdoon Lisdoon-varna' he had 'Dublin Dublin Dublin Dublin 4' (where the RDS venue is located) and took the piss out of that area including its cappuccinos and frappaccinos. Good stuff. I also liked his 'I am a bogman', in fact I think I'll try to get a copy.

From Carnuntum to Aquincum and back to Hibernia

For the family holiday this summer we cycled from west of Carnuntum as far as Aquincum. Well known European urban centres. Well, they were a couple of millennia ago. Carnuntum is east of Vienna and Aquincum on the outskirts of Budapest, they were Roman towns on the northern edge of the Roman empire. Further north lived the 'barbarians' (the derogatory Roman term for those outside their control). The Romans never conquered Ireland so we must be barbarians, maybe they just decided not to bother though 'Hibernia', their name for Ireland ('winter'), may have been a translation mistake despite the fact that in Ireland it can be winter all year around, except in an exceptional summer. In fact tourists are going to be flocking to Ireland in the future as global warming heats up, looking for a bit of cool. Well, no, I'm only jesting but many's the true word was spoken in gist. And if the Gulf Stream shifts them they can stock up on ice in the winter. PS Interesting etymological fact; The Irish language word for English, 'bearla', has the same onomatopoeic origin as 'barbarian'; the ancient Romans categorised those who spoke foreign gibberish as going 'bar bar bar' (formed into a word as 'barbarian'), while the 'bla bla bla' of English speakers became 'bearla' to Irish speakers. [This month's useless but intriguing fact - Ed].

PPS And who remembers the Irish current affairs journal 'Hibernia'. When it started a back page satirical section it called it 'Hernia'.

Leo's travels

Intercom, the Irish Catholic priests' magazine (....'resource for people in ministry') has a column called "Clio's Diary" which is an account of visits to churches around the five provinces of Ireland (four don't you mean, you're not in Roman times now - Ed) with comments on interesting and sometimes bizarre features, though sometimes too detailed for me. Well, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and given my holiday predilection for visiting ecclesiastical sites, I was thinking of starting a column called "Leo's travels" [don't you mean "Gullible's Travels"? - Ed] which would look at what I found without the detailed analysis of features from an ecclesiastical point of view [you can forget all about that now - Ed]. Anyhow, where did I get to enthusiastically ecclesiastically?

I saw an Irish Madonna and child in Hungary. In the cathedral at Györ. An Irish Madonna? Well, from Ireland, the oil painting taken by the bishop of Clonfert when fleeing Cromwell in the 17th century. The story goes that the Madonna cried tears of blood forty years later - on St Patrick's Day no less!

The national Hungarian Catholic cathedral in Esztergom didn't do very much for me. Too big in a showy kind of way. But the Christian Museum nearby contained a magnificent collection of religious art from the 15th century onwards, some of which defied the stereotype images of the day. The humanness of some of the faces communicated to me across the centuries since. The suffering of Jesus on the cross was seldom as well portrayed.

Back 'home', well in Ireland, a visit to Cong, Co Mayo, included a lengthy peek into the church at the abbey there. Wow. A wonderfully simple, small church, simple in a complex way, where the light comes down through roof lights on the congregation, and as well as what you would expect in a Catholic church there were two beautiful, small stained glass windows commemorating the Augustinians who were there from the 12th century until time was called by the powers that be in the 16th century. But there was more. A stained glass window by Harry Clarke from 1933 had me gasping in amazement at its beauty. Such style and accompolishment [that's not a word - Ed] [it is now - Billy]. Congratulations to the custodians of what is a beautiful Christian centre and as an entity I would feel one of the very finest on the island of feints and skullers.

But my trip to the west also put a thought into my head If you want to see a beautiful lake, forget your Gardas [unless you are being escorted by one - Ed] [Oh police don't! I bet you used every padded brain cell to come up with that joke - Billy] Windermeres and Balatons. You have to go to the west of Ireland. Many European lakes have already been suburbanised, and maybe Ireland's will be too in due course. But there is something wild and free about most Irish loughs still. [So you're not biased? - Ed] [No, I've only one - Billy].

Rocky road to Dublin

While the train fare Belfast-Dublin return has gone up to £23 day return or £32 monthly return, the bus remains at £14 odd, which is a pity for those of us who would rather the joys of train travel. The train fare is expensive enough for just over a hundred miles as the crow would fly if it flew straight - the mileage by train is higher because it weaves about a bit, like taking in Portadown, and while it should take two hours it is frequently more. However the opening of motorway all the way from Dundalk to Dublin's Whitehall means that the journey by motor is now half an hour or more shorter at also around two hours to the north side of Dublin. The northern part of the road Belfast-Dublin is now relatively slower than the southern part! God be with the days when by road you went through all the towns on the route - Banbridge, Newry, Dundalk (which will still be passed through, well its ring road, for another few years yet), Drogheda, Balbriggan etc. I remember more than two decades ago when there was only one lane open at Drogheda for traffic both ways; a lorry had parked outside the church on the left as you come into Drogheda from the south leaving only one lane clear - maybe the driver was inside praying for a speedy journey. Which made the rest of us considerably slower.

But what I did acquire for my last birthday [your 90th isn't it? - Ed] [Sneer, sneer, sneer, jealousy will get you nowhere - Billy] was a fold-up bike which I can bag and take on bus or train for nothing. Brilliant. Sail down to the station, sail off the far end.

The new motorway Boyne bridge west of Drogheda is an interesting one, literally keeping you in suspension. When lit up at night, passing over it, or should I say into it, feels like entering the Mother Ship, a sort of Close Encounters, you almost expect to be met by hospitable aliens. What is also interesting is that its opening was both welcomed and attended by representatives of the Orange Order. Now maybe that is really out of this world. The new bridge is very close to the site of the Battle of the Boyne where King Billy (no relation) and his men they did join, all to fight for the honour of religion (my erse), on the green grassy slopes of the Boyne.

Well, that is it for now, again, good luck with all the autumn schedules and I hope you're not sunk by them. As I was saying at the start, not my favourite time of year, I'm afraid, back to busy-ness with a vengeance and Hibernia beckoning beyond the autumn [maybe you should Hiberniate or Emigrate - Ed]. All the best for now,

Billy.

Who is Billy King?
A long, long time ago, in a more innocent age (just talking about myself you understand), there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train' and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor around with you).

Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little about horses even if someone with a similar name is found astride them on gable ends around certain parts of Norn Iron).

Copyright INNATE 2014