Fans and followers of popular culture will
note that Elvis Presley is back in the music charts a rather
long time after his hits were first released and, indeed,
a very considerable time since he died. As a result of his
being dead, interviews with Elvis are rather difficult to
get. Though there was the DUP jibe some years ago asking what
was the difference between Elvis Presley and David Trimble
(this was after Paisley and Trimble had gone separate ways
on the Drumcree situation in Portadown and Trimble had taken
a more negative line on Drumcree protests and violence). The
answer? That Elvis had been seen twice on the Garvaghy Road
in recent times. Anyway, back to our search for an interview
with Elvis, and since we're not ones to give up we kept right
onto the matter. In the end we couldn't really get an interview
with him, but he did agree to answer just one question. We
had difficulty deciding what one question to ask him, but
came up with "What is it that has taken you back to the
top of the popular music charts at this time?" His answer
was "Hard work and deadication". [May I let out
a loud groan on behalf of your readers? - Ed.] Anyway, on
with the show.
It is strange how a particular song, saying, piece of poetry,
art, whatever, can take on a meaning to you or I which it
was never intended to impart or imply. I wanted to share one
such piece with you. Some of us who are most vociferous in
our criticism of the US of A's foreign, military and even
domestic policies (e.g. on welfare) are often fans of parts
of US culture, or friends and/or fans of US citizens (not
least those who stand up for peace and human rights in the
USA). The USA is a very vibrant country, it is just unfortunate
that some of that vibrancy works its way out in militarism
and global domination, and the divil take the hindmost.
Here is a song from perhaps an unlikely
source to illustrate the above. It is a song entitled Prayer
in Open D from Emmylou Harris (off her 1998 album Spyboy)
which has for me come to encapsulate the position that the
USA is in regarding its role in the world. I'm not sure what
Emmylou Harris as the writer of this song, it's one of her
own compositions, intended to imply, maybe ruined relationships
at a personal level. For me it has come to represent the hole
that the US has dug itself into internationally - and yet
it indicates there can be light ahead. See what you think
if you apply it to the USA's role in Iraq and the world. Here
are the lyrics:
There's a valley of sorrow in my soul
For every night I hear the thunder roll
Like the sound of a distant gun
Over all the damage I have done.
And the shadows filling up this land
Are the ones I've built with my own hand.
There is no comfort from the cold
In this valley of sorrow in my soul.
There's a river of darkness in my blood
And through every vein I hear it pulse,
There is no bridge for me to cross,
No way to bring back what is lost.
And in the night it soon will sweep
Down where all my grievances I keep,
But it won't wash away the years
Or one single hard and bitter tear.
And the rock of ages I have known
Is a weariness down to the bone,
I used to ride it like a rolling stone,
Now I just carry it alone.
There's a highway rising from my dreams
Deep in the fire I know it gleams,
I have seen it stretching wide
Clear on across to the other side.
Beyond the river and the flood
And the valley where for so long I stood,
With the rock of ages in my bones
Some day I know it'll lead me home.
Courage and cowardice
There are different kinds of courage and cowardice. Some of
them are very well explored in the French film appearing in
English as A Very Long Engagement, directed by Jean-Pierre
Jeunet and starring Audrey Tautou (respectively director and
star of the hit film Amélie) and based on the novel
by Sebastien Japrisot. In my war film typology (NN 117) I
would say it's a cross between types 2 and 3. [This is as
bad as telling jokes by numbers! Anyone wanting to know would
have to look it up - Ed] [Exactly, you should be pleased -
It's part war film with the horrors of
trench warfare, part tender love story, and part detective
as the redoubtable but young female lead searches for traces
of her lover/fiancé after the end of the First World
War. As a result of shell-shock and resultant self-mutilation,
he had been summarily court-martialled and sentenced to be
pushed out into no man's land between German and French trenches,
a sentence worse than death. What happened to him and the
other men so treated? She does not give up until she learns
the truth (note that in the best traditions of film reviewing
I'm not saying here what the outcome is...)
What came to me from the film, both the
war part and her incessant search, is that 'cowardice' can
be courage, 'courage' can be cowardice, and that reminded
me of the 'upsidedown kingdom' and Christian gospel values.
What we need is more of the courage in everyday life which
heals, liberates, lives, and perseveres, and people willing
to challenge a system which is failing, failing our children
and in due course our children's children so badly with a
mess of a world. I am not saying there is no such thing as
'military courage' ('courage under fire', so to speak), obviously
there is, but that is not the epitome of courage; I feel the
epitome of courage is quiet, nonviolent perseverance for justice,
peace, human rights and a sustainable future. It is the latter
which will secure a peaceful future for our world.
When it was publicised recently that George W Bush POTUS was
descended from the invader Strongbow (Richard de Clare, Second
Earl of Pembroke, c. 1130 - 1176) who took his holidays in
Ireland, so to speak, in 1170, it made me think of the English
cider of the same name ('Strongbow', not 'Bush'! If you ask
for a 'Bush' in Norn Iron you get a Bushmills whiskey). George
W Bush is certainly a potent mixture and drinking his words
too deeply and fully could make you violently ill, and the
results could leave you with a nasty hangover. But the connection
is true. Though given George W Bush's military record, skiving
off and avoiding Vietnam, and not coming out against that
war - and hiss (sic) [don't you mean 'sick' - Ed] more recent
facile attempt to show himself as a heroic war leader - he
could be given the nickname Weakbow.
However a fascinating letter in the Irush
Times (1/2/05) from Mark Humphrys, lecturer in the School
of Computing in DCU/Dublin City University, pointed out that
the vast majority of people in Ireland (over 90% though he
didn't say 26 or 32 counties) are probably also descended
from Strongbow, and he went on to list other descendents of
Strongbow ..."Richard Dawkins, Robert Emmet, Terence
O'Neill, William of Orange, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Marie
Antoinette, Tsar Nicholas II, Kaiser William II, and the entire
British Royal Family." In addition he also listed other
famous ancestors of GW Bush saying "There is no particular
reason to highlight Strongbow among Bush's ancestors"
- though I might say that invading countries does kind of
link them across the centuries. But then you could say that
Bush loses his head though in a different way to Marie Antoinette.
The Duke of Wellington was also descended from Strongbow so
it is a pity that just a couple of percent more US voters
didn't decide to give GWB the boot.
for details (or web search 'royal descents famous people').
Reassuringly, Mark Humphrys' website informs us that "I
am not actually interested in Royalty per se. Rather, I am
interested in showing the common relationship of all humanity.
Royal Descents are simply a convenient way of doing this."
While the whole world is almost certainly descended from one
African woman many millennia ago, Humphrys makes a case for
pretty much all of us having a common ancestor within 'historical'
times (3000 BCE - 1000 CE). So racism is pointless when we're
all cousins - pointing the finger points other fingers back
Oh, the 'u' in 'Irish' above was intentional.
Before the Celtic Tiger there was the joke that "In Ireland
we have no word as urgent as 'manana' ". Now, maybe the
motto could be something like "In Ireland, we have nothing
as weak minded as the Protestant work ethic."
Oranges are not
the only summer fruit
Interesting one from the Orange Order survey which showed
that for the Twelfth July celebrations, OO members and followers
spent £6 million on food, transport, clothing and hotels,
an injection of that much into the Norn Iron economy (which
works out around £3.50 a head though probably a proportion
of that would have been spent by the same people anyway, so
it is not all gain). But what they didn't study is the loss
to the Norn Iron economy from the Twelfth July, as those who
are not involved as participants, viewers or monitors (!)
get out of the North as fast as their legs, cars, buses, trains,
boats, bicycles and planes can carry them. The exodus from
the North over the 'Twelfth Fortnight' is partly because it's
peak holiday season but I can state that, whether they be
Catholic or Protestant, many of those who depart over the
border or far away do so specifically to avoid the Twelfth
and its ramifications. I am certain that this far outweighs
any possible spending on the Twelfth by its participants,
so there is a net loss to the North.
The Twelfth is a huge and colourful spectacle
(I have watched it often enough). I have Orange blood in my
veins seeing one of my grandfathers was in the Orange, but
I suppose I am torn between wanting that spectacle to be retained
but gain a more acceptable image for all the population (Protestant
and Catholic), and wishing that it would just disappear since,
as a celebration of Protestant-only culture and politics,
it has inherently sectarian qualities (but see below). Certainly
before the Troubles many Catholics would have watched the
Twelfth but how you can turn a particular Protestant and unionist
festival into an inclusive event is a bit beyond me; perhaps
the only way would be if the Order really did take seriously
its motto 'Civil and religious liberty for all' and not just
for Prods and loyalists. OK, bands and marching is part of
the 'Protestant' culture in Norn Iron but as an anti-militarist
I'm not sure it's all a great idea, being too close to the
military model (marching in rank, swords, uniforms and other
military symbolism - it is, after all, celebrating a military
Does part of the Protestant community 'need'
the Twelfth as a symbol of its strength and culture? Particularly
so at a time when it is not always sure where it is going?
And if so, what does this say about that part of the Protestant
community, or the Protestant community as a whole? Limited
exclusiveness is fine, I think, if it is within the context
of a wider inclusiveness. In other words, if some Prods feel
the need to do their thing on the Twelfth July, that is fine
if it is part of a wider commitment to respect and cooperate
with the whole community, irrespective of religious or political
views. I don't think we're yet near that stage. Whether and
when it could be arrived at is another question altogether.
However it is important to point out (cf
Mary McAleese's recent clanger and my comments in the last
issue) that sectarianism in the North is not solely a Protestant
phenomenon. Because the main force of sectarianism in the
Twentieth century was associated with the state, and the state
was Protestant controlled for much of this time, it is sometimes
thought of as a peculiarly Protestant phenomenon. Not so.
The first thing to point out is that sectarianism covers a
multitude of sins, including simply unthinking patterns within
either side, not in themselves particularly atrocious but
enough to make the other side uncomfortable. That is at the
benign end of the spectrum. Less benign is outright sectarian
discrimination and hatred.
Most of sectarianism is at the unthinking
end of the spectrum; within the Catholic community one example
would be playing 'traditional' music which includes republican
military ballads - this is hardly likely to make most Prods
feel at home (or at one with traditional music either). Going
to an event in the West Belfast Festival and finding republican
(Sinn Féin) political/community awards being presented
in the interval (not advertised) is a bit of a shock to the
system; you think you're going to a cultural event and it
turns out to be political as well as cultural. You can understand
Sinn Féin doing it in terms of identification with
the community, consolidating support etc, but the term sectarian
applies. Also there is the failure of some people on the Catholic
side in Belfast to realise that making St Patrick's Day inclusive
in Northern Ireland terms means there needs not to be a tricolour
in sight (nor any other symbols which can be seen as political
in the context).
I am not here trying to give a detailed
exposition on sectarianism. Parts of it are simply the result
of living in such a divided society, and something which none
of us in Northern Ireland can escape (either participating
in, or suffering from its repercussions - even racism has
connections with sectarianism in rejection of the other, the
stranger). It can be a fact of life. Without endorsing its
definitions, see for example the discussion of sectarianism
on the Community
Relations Council website
However, talking about the Orange Order
gives me the chance to wheel out one of my old jokes, retailed
in my very first cyber column in Nonviolent News (NN84) -
I try not to repeat myself in this Colm but I'm giving myself
permission here. At the height of the international nuclear
disarmament movement in the early 1980s, a group of Japanese
Buddhist monks came to Belfast and went walkabout on the Falls
and Shankill roads. I had borrowed a book with a picture of
the Nagasaki bombing which I wanted to get copied. I was trying
to find them on their walkabout to return the book and failing
since I hadn't allowed for them disappearing into the Woodvale
Park for a sandwich break. At one point I was on Divis Street
in the Falls on my bicycle when I came across a school crossing/lollipop
man; I asked had he seen any Buddhist monks, and as they are
not common in these parts I explained that they were dressed
in orange robes. Yer man gave me a deadpan look and said;
"This is the wrong road for Orange men!"
It is not every day that Ireland gets a new daily newspaper.
But at the start of February, Daily Ireland, the new morning
paper from the Andersonstown News stable in Befast, hit the
news stands. There is probably no front page ever as carefully
planned as a launch edition, and that of 1st February had
security issues as the main story, plus trailers for features
inside on 'Young, Irish and loaded', and 'Lapdancers - The
naked truth'- so it had politics, young people, and sex on
the front page as its hoping-to-win formula. Mind you, the
lapdancer article did subsequently get negative feedback,
e.g. from Susan McKay and others pointing out lapdancing's
inevitable link with prostitution (the original piece was
a cleverly written but very uncritical article). Daily Ireland
circulates in the North and top part of the Republic and is
aiming for a circulation of 25,000, considerably less than
the Irish News but close to that of the Newsletter, the Northern
'Protestant' or unionist morning paper.
Since its launch it hit controversy over
Minister for Justice (in the Republic), Michael McDowell's
allegation that it is backed by the IRA, and he had previously
compared it to a Nazi propaganda paper in Germany in the 1930s.
The latter was perhaps not a very wise comment to make when
the newspaper hadn't been published. Unless he has serious
information that it is 'backed by the IRA' it is also dangerous
to make such allegations (apart from potentially libellous,
a libel writ being written), though 'backed' could mean different
things such as a) their preferred morning read, or b) receiving
financial or other support - and a) and b) are rather different.
Its news coverage is as yet not as detailed or wide as the
Irish News but it is also dealing seriously in features and
Daily Ireland may take a more Sinn Féin
point of view than, say, the Irish News but not in a simplistic
way and in any case perhaps that viewpoint should be welcomed
on at least a couple of counts - diversity, freedom of expression
and, wait for it, a paper from a 'republican' stable which
supports the peace process and may help to keep some people
on board. It would have given coverage to action by Robert
McCartney's family to get justice following his killing, allegedly
by IRA men. Propagandist? Probably a lot less than many of
the established papers circulating in these arts and parts.
But it will be interesting to see whether the Catholic/nationalist
community in the top half of the island can support two newspapers.
Well, that's it for another month, but before I go I wanted
to share a couple of snippets. One was proof that the Blarney
Stone really works - the Belfast Telegraph of 26th February
revealed that Ian Paisley toured around Ireland just after
the Second World War - he kissed the Blarney Stone in Cork,
and probably hasn't stopped talking since, but maybe in a
bizarre twist of fate it only works for loyalists.
The Meath Peace Group meeting entitled
"Where do we go from here?" reminds me of he late
Rowel Freirs' cartoon about the Troubles. It portrayed the
aftermath of the time the public toilets in a town in the
North were destroyed in a bomb. With smoke rising in the background,
two oul gents are talking to each other and saying, "Where
do we go from here?"!
But my 'letter of the month' is also about
Cork, the ongoing money-laundering saga and the house in the
Farran area of Cork where a couple of people were arrested
and lots of sterling £'s seized. The photo in the Irish
Times (18th February) managed to include in the foreground
of the shot of the house, taken from across the road, a holy
statue, a woman praying on her knees (St Bernadette). The
following Monday's issue had a letter from Patrick Slattery
in Dublin saying that it should inspire readers to "pray
for us Shinners..." Anyway, I agree with the Headytorial
in this issue that more than the Shinners have sinned but
there you go, see you soon, Billy.
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).