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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 114: November 2003

[Return to related issue of Nonviolent News.]

Hello there and welcome to the affray [affront is more like it – Ed] once again where we pick a topic, any topic, go off on a tangent and try to bore the pants off you [you’re succeeding extremely well – Ed] [I was being facetious – Billy] [Facetious yes, funny no – Ed]. I start off this time with a story from long, long ago, it was a dark and stormy night, and the captain said to his mate, “Bill, cut off your hand….”
You’ve got to hand it to them

It was a journey through Tyrone that got me thinking on this one. While the Rid Han’ o’ Ulcer is usually thought of as a loyalist symbol (Red Hand Commandos and all that) it was interesting to see it so prominently displayed in the county which for the first time won the All Ireland (Gaelic) Football Final and its Protestant Republican cup (the Sam Maguire – well, he was a Protestant Republican, the cup I can’t vouch for). The Red Hand is of course part of the Tyrone flag. Nice to see the alternating red and white road markings in Tyrone too – alternate white lines had been painted red to give the county’s colours of white and red.

But what of the Red Hand? Tabhair dom do lámh – what is it really about? Where does it originate? Well, eschewing facts for fiction I of course checked it out on the Hinterlandnet. In fact I think the internet should get an award for promoting critical faculties. Because the truth may be Out There but there is also the possibility that the ‘facts’ you’re reading on the Enternit are actually extremely polemical fictions [yes, indeed you must have been reading your own column – Ed] or may be accurate but the site itself belongs to some extremist organisation (say the CIA, CIE or, yes, the Red Hand Commandeers). All dangers that you are up against and need to be wary of.

So what did I find? Well, according to the commonest theory of the origin of the species of Rid Han, the archetypal one, it really is an extremely appropriate symbol for Norn Iron in this day and age; bloodthirsty and acquisitive. You know the story – these geezers making towards land in a boat (according to one version it was the seven sons of Miledh of Esbain, during the Milesian invasion of Ireland seven or eight millennia ago or, in another, Niall, ancestor of the O’Neills/Ui Neill, during the Celtic invasion – a red hand features on the O’Neill coat of arms). Whoever puts his hand on the shore first gets the land. So one brother takes the handle of his sword in his left hand, cuts off his right (it is a right hand on the flag), and throws it onto the shore. It’s called cheating and bloody studip. To do this feat [surely you mean ‘hand’ – Ed] he was presumably somewhat ambidextrous, and after it extremely unidextrous. The one saving grace to the story is that it was a self-inflicted wound; he could have cut off his competitors’ hands, I suppose, and thrown them away [really, this column is getting a bit gory – Ed] [Maybe we do have readers in Co Wexford but none that I know personally – Billy] [So that was really a Gorey remark? – Ed] [Got it in one (county) – Billy] .

But back to what can be learnt about this mythic manhandling (or handmandling). Some loyalists and assorted Prods proclaim themselves on the issue. The Norn Iron Prods are really a lost tribe of Israel, that sort of thing, if that’s the case then they are really lost, which is presumably why they came to adopt as their Chosen Land a cold, wet island, or in their case part of a cold, wet island which is really part of a cold, wet collection of islands? We should be told. The danger about the ‘chosen people’ sort of myth is, well, look at the Middle East today; Israeli right-wing settlers think they have the God-given right (and obligation) to take Palestinian land from its owners. It may feel great to be a Chosen Person but in either the Middle East or Norn Iron it has certain drawbacks. One is that a Chosen Person may see fit, or then feel it’s their duty, to make everyone else’s lives a misery. And Judaic prophetic traditions are ignored; being chosen by God is actually one hell of a responsibility (to coin a phase) and walking justly is part of the deal or covenant and transgressors should look out for God’s wrath. This part of the story of the Jews being chosen is never mentioned by those who adopt their own ‘Chosen People’ myth; they think that being Chosen means they can do what they like. Not so says the Hebrew bible. More about this mythology below.

Other explanations come from a heraldic site http://homepage.tinet.ie/~donnaweb/info/article05.html by Eddie Geoghegan. “The second [explanation] relates to Nuada, king of the Tuatha Dé Danann, who had his right hand severed by Sreng during a great battle with the Fomorians. No imperfect man [sure aren’t we all perfect? – Billy] being allowed to hold the throne, Nuada was forced to abdicate in favour of Bres. However, a silver hand was fashioned for him and the power of ancient magic was used to cause flesh and sinew to grow back around the prosthesis. When Bres died, Nuada again assumed his royal place.”

The third explanation is that the red hand symbol is associated with ”the son of Bolg or Nuadu, the Sun God of the Celts, and by some accounts the divine progenitor of all Celts. The son was known as Labraid Lámhdhearg (Labraid of the Red Hand). The association of the symbolic red hand with the Sun God, therefore makes it an appropriate heraldic icon.” So pick what mythology you fancy.

Even more myth-ological is an explanation at http://www.anycities.com/jahtruth/uflag.htm why there is a red hand mounted on a Star of David under a royal crown on the official ‘Ulster’ flag. “It is because they are NOT gentiles but Israelites who have lost the knowledge of their true identity and the PROOF is on the flag.” To summarise a long argument, Judah (Genesis 38:28-30) had twins including Zarah of the ‘Red-Hand’. Zarah went into exile in Iberia and latter, oppressed by Babylon and Rome, some Zarahites sailed to Hibernia, “Hebernia – the Hebrew’s new land” of Ireland. But there’s more: “Teia Tephi the Queen of Israel and Gibraltar landed at Howth on 18/6/583 B.C. and travelled to Tara where she married Eochaidh the High King of Ireland on 21/6/583 B.C. Eochaidh was from Judah/Zarah of the “Red-hand” and Teia Tephi was from the line of David and when they married they sealed the breach caused hundreds of years previously, when Judah’s twin sons had been born. With their marriage-union we have the “Red-Hand” mounted on the “Star of David” under the single Royal Crown, symbolising the union of the two royal lines, which sprang from Judah.” Goddditttt?

Furthermore this explanation tells us the word ‘British’ is Hebrew in origin meaning “the People of the Covenant” and the Union Jack flag is called that because it is the flag of the “Union of Jack-ob Israel” and “Christ’s own personal flag” [I thought that the Christian message was about there being neither Jew nor gentile – Ed]. The question is asked of one of God’s chosen peoples, “is it just a coincidence that under the same mark [the double cross of the Union Flag] [the doublecross of the Union Flag! Now you’re really getting me – Ed] the British nation has remained unconquered and free for almost 3000 years?” It would be remarkable if true but it’s not, the Romans are written off as not occupying all of Britain or any of Ireland, and 1066 and the Norman invasion of Britain is not mentioned, I’m sure historians can throw up a few more counter-facts for the last three millennia, not least the Vikings. ‘Facts’ can prove anything – what comes to mind is Gernot Lennert from Germany at the WRI Triennial in Dublin in August 2002 humorously ‘proving’ that Ireland is actually Turkish. And what about the fact that the village where Asterix and Obelix lived in Gaul held out against the Romans – does that not make the French a chosen people?

Going back to the ‘jahtruth’ website. the people of Southern Ireland aren’t gentiles either but also Israelites descended from Judah’s brother Dan, the fifth of Jacob/Israel’s sons [Sure the people of Ireland knew they were a chosen people without all this! – Ed]. Finally (though not finally if you check out all this mythology) the Ark of the Covenant is at Tara, Co Meath, a nice touch which goes back immediately to some people’s beliefs in the 19th century. So there you have it. Confused? Moi? Sure am. But it certainly makes a good story, I’ll work on the movie script shortly. I can just see Harrison Ford digging at the Hill of Tara, and catching some baddies red-handed, in a long line of succession to those British Israelite fans of the 19th century who didn’t find what they were looking for at the Hill of Tara. The story of the 1899-1902 botched British-Israelite excavation at Tara, looking for the Ark of the Covenant, is told in Mairéad Carew’s “Tara and the Ark of the Covenant”, published this year, priced €30 (details at www.discoveryprogramme.ie and click on Publications).

But one other comment which needs making strongly is that this British/Irish Israelite stuff is both racist and elitist. Racist in that it places one or more ‘chosen’ races above everyone else. And as the 20th century, and indeed previous centuries showed, this is an extremely dangerous thing to do because at some point it is going to end in disaster. But secondly, it is very elitist. So what if Eochaidh and Teia Tephi got married on 21st June 483 BCE? Good for them, maybe they lived happily ever after. And doubtless interesting and historical, if it was true. But the idea that a people are ‘chosen’ two and a half thousand years later because a royal couple got married is elitist in the extreme.

Let me put it straight. I would love if some of this stuff was true. There are all kinds of linkages in the past that we don’t know about or are unsure about which are exciting to even consider. Bob Quinn, Irish language television producer and author of the ‘Atlantean’ book (1986) and films (1984) about Irish culture coming from the Mediterranean, Middle East and ‘further’ east, has further developed his theory of the origins of Irish culture in a new book to be launched soon. He reports (‘JMI/Journal of Music in Ireland’, March/April 2003) “I took examples of Conamara sean-nós [traditional unaccompanied singing – Ed] as far as Tatarstan (Russian Federation) and had it recognised by performers there as almost identical to their own. I played Tatar sean-nós songs to Conamara singers; even they unanimously declared it to be musically identical to their own.” Jean Yves Bériou of Barcelona (same reference) in a word of caution says “One can find strong resemblances between certain Korean and Mongolian melodies, for example, and certain [Irish] slow airs, without recourse to a theory of influences in one or other direction”.

All sorts of linkages may be developed in the future, through advanced scientific techniques and cultural and historical analysis. Every one of us is after all descended from one African woman tens of thousands of years ago. But even if ‘we’ did have a few Israeli links in our past, that doesn’t make us a ‘chosen people’ any more than it makes us Fomorians or Milesians. And even if it did then the implication of that is a burden to be just and righteous (in the right sense) as much as anything else.

PS If you want a straightforward guide to flags and emblems in Norn Iron, try CAIN’s “Symbols in Northern Ireland – Flags used in the region” at http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/images/symbols/flags.htm

Taking offence

It’s all in the branding. Today the power companies and oil companies, without the credentials to prove it, proclaim their green and ecological credentials. A photocopier can be proclaimed ‘organic’ presumably because it isn’t as toxic as its ancestors (but organic plastic?). Anyway, guess who this description is about, from the job ads in Norn Iron: “X is a large central government department employing both service and civilian personnel, based in various locations throughout Northern Ireland. The work activities are diverse, ranging from normal office functions, through various workshop and stores environments, property management and high volume catering, to operational training.”

They don’t say what the operational training is. But the organisation in question isn’t the Department of the Environment or the Driver and Vehicle Testing Agency. It’s the Ministry of Defence trying to be MODish and describe what it does without describing what it actually does. Like invade other countries at the USA’s behest. I could think of some better ads; “Be part of the team that supports the country’s highly trained killers”, “We bomb the hell out of people better”, “We’re the people who help put the nUKe into UK”, “Support the USA’s global aggression”, “Soldier, sailor, air personnel, spy”, “Per ardua ad haemorrhoids”, “Who dares, spins”, “Making a real killing”, etc.

But black is white, lies are truth, and the Ministry of Defence is really just a Ministry of Love for All Mankind. Or as the old Peace News sticker sort of went; “Travel to exotic lands, meet fascinating and interesting people, and kill them.”

A trenchant film

I stumbled across it in TV channel hopping so I don’t know whether the introduction to the 1999 war film ‘The Trench’ (directed by William Boyd), told viewers that the scene was just before the start of the Battle of the Somme in the First World War - in which, despite impressions on gable walls in Belfast, ‘Catholic’ Ireland suffered as many casualties as ‘Protestant’ Ireland. I suspect the time and place was left vague; the film wanted you to empathise with the plight of these men and the knowledge that they were all going to be shot and probably killed would have been an obstacle to this. All the characters you might expect were there; the steely sergeant with a real concern for his men underneath, the officer getting by on whisky, the good-hearted, the brave, the cowards, the fools, they were all there. And they were all shot as they went ‘over the top’ (judging by the closing sequence, maybe a few survived wounded but were able to crawl back into their own trenches).

I don’t want to replicate what the editorial in the last issue of NN (NN 113) said on remembrance. But the idea of getting into a situation where the sacrifice of these men is ‘remembered’ without a critique of why millions were sent to their deaths by conflicting imperialisms and nationalisms, is abhorrent. We cannot simply uncritically admire why all people on the island of Ireland have died in wars. Yes, we need to remember their sacrifice, and the indirect sacrifice and misery of their loved ones. But, no, we cannot simply join in a celebration of British militarism and imperialism which is what a lot of ‘Remembrance’ is about in this part of the world. And still it goes on, as Iraq ironically shows given Britain’s imperialist and brutal past in that neck of the woods. Remembrance yes, militarism no.

George B*s* and George B*s*

The tale of two Georges. As is my wont from time to time, I take two disparate entities and compare them, like Dublin and Beijing in my Colm many moons ago (in Nonviolent News 88, e.g. Dublin has lots of Chinese restaurants but 99.8% of restaurants in Beijing could be considered Chinese, both are capital cities but only one has capital punishment, etc). This time it’s two Georges, or two George B*s*’s [your Campari Zones are getting a bit like your Liszts – Ed]. Both have or have had the world at their feet. Both have had problems with alcohol, one has kicked it entirely and one still falls off the wagon betimes. Both have received plenty of publicity recently, neither for the best of reasons. Both are conservative politically but only one has sent his country to wars. Only one has taken to parading about in armed forces uniforms. Neither was elected President of the United States by fair process or popular vote.

George Best, arguably one of the greatest footballers of all time, and a Norn Iron man to boot [very funny – Ed] was in the news because he took to the alcohol again despite implants to keep him off, was seen with other women, and split with his wife for a while and then they got back together again. He looks rather older than his age, not surprising given he has had a liver transplant due to alcohol abuse. But when he applied himself in his footballing days he was a great performer and renowned for dribbling and getting the ball past opponents, as well as shooting at goal. He can be witty and charming but tolerance for his misdoings has worn thin, even in Norn Iron. He has got into various scrapes and fights over the years but is not known to have been responsible for serious injury or death to anyone. Despite his conservative and sometimes rather reactionary views, his impact on human rights is negligible. He has never really lived up to his potential as he preferred the good life of alcohol and philandering to playing good football. Perhaps you could say he was good at scoring in two senses. George Best is from a part of one small island but would seem to identify more with a neighbouring island.

George Bush has the job of President of the United States of America. Tolerance for his misdoings is wearing very thin indeed, even in the US of A. Eschewing alcohol with which he had a problem years ago, he has taken a shine to another liquid, the black stuff, oil; he does anything the oil lobby wants him to do, even to the extent of partly going to war in Iraq over oil, or plundering Alaskan wilderness, so in a real sense he has become an oilaholic. He has got into two major wars since getting the job of President by underhand means; in the last (current?) Iraq war alone he was responsible to a major degree for well over 10,000 deaths (13,000 in one recent US study). He never shoots or scores directly; he gets his armed forces to attempt direct hits, killing thousands of civilians in the process. His ‘war on terror’ (sick) has arguably sent human rights on a worldwide stage back decades; his tolerance of the human rights misdeeds of the USA, its allies and other countries not seen as hostile to the to the USA makes this a much riskier world than it was for literally billions of people who risk arrest, beatings, torture and death for standing up to their state and state servants.

George Bush is not good at getting the ball past opponents; in this regard his performances at the UN have been abysmal. He has never really lived up to his potential, preferring to reward his pro-Republican cronies and pander to the worst excesses of xenophobia than take an honest and critical view of US and world needs, e.g. in the USA itself the plight of the poor is getting steadily worse. George Bush is from the biggest island in the world, the United States of America, and does not identify with any other countries or parts of the world, anywhere, except and only when they do his bidding.

Both Georges are deeply flawed individuals. But one is more a menace to himself and his immediate loved ones than to anyone else. The other threatens to wreak destruction to the world militarily and ecologically. So come home George Best, all is forgiven; in a contest between the Georges, you win hands down.

- Well, that is the Best I can do for now, by George. So I sign off until the December issue. December? Christmas? Where did the autumn go, nay where did the year go, I just don’t know. See you soon, your humble scribe, Billy.

[Return to related issue of Nonviolent News.]

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