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Billy King

Number 173: October 2009  

[Go back to the related issue of Nonviolence News]

Billy King gives us his monthly thoughts –

Well, it was into September before we got more anticyclonic weather (a high, and boy did it give us a high after a summer of low pressure, no pressure). Better late than never but it means July and August had no warm dry periods longer than a day or usually a few hours. That’s what we get for living stuck out into the Atlantic – but then we also get fairly mild winters. Maybe, as global warming boils up, and drought becomes an enormous threat and challenge for many around the world, we should be thankful for small mercies. But then we should also be doing everything possible we can to help prevent runaway warming.

Boyne Valley, honey

I meandered around a few of the attractions of the Boyne Valley one day in the summer. The ruins of Mellifont Cistercian abbey, Monasterboice with its high crosses and round tower (the only unique indigenous Irish form of architecture), though not the passage grave at Newgrange (I was going to leave a passage of time to revisit here at a less touristed time of the year). But I hadn’t been to the site of the Battle of the Boing (so called because it keeps coming back to haunt us), I mean Boyne, at Oldbridge before, despite having been frequently very close to it.

The OPW or Office of Public Works has been doing a brilliant job of restoring the house and grounds of Oldbridge House, which was started about 1740 but substantially remodelled later. Though the battle is clearly illustrated, there aren’t a lot of genuine artefacts on display at the museum in the main house though the story is quite well told. Some Prods in the North think of the Battle of the Boyne as establishing ‘civil and religious liberty for all’ (cf Orange Order) but a line in the entrance hall clearly states correctly - that it meant the end of religious toleration for Catholicism. The musket, said to have been used at Derry and at the Battle of the Boyne, which Ian gave Bertie at the opening of the centre in 2007 is on display.

My minor gripes would be that signage outside and in the grounds is less informative, or present, than it could and should be. Appropriately I came across a crushed can of (Bavarian) ‘Crown’ beer on the bridge at Oldbridge. From the main house I would feel they should have attempted to relate more to the river Boyne; presumably because of the more modern canal and road outside it is rendered and left almost invisible with trees; surely a viewing platform or something with a small clearing should have been provided to link the site with the strategically vital river which was so significant in the battle? I had also forgotten that 60,000 men fought in the battle – the largest pitched battle ever fought in Ireland (and larger than anything in Britain).

How you can get across the horror of war is one of the other questions that comes to mind, and 1,500 men died that day, the audio-visuals did not actually say how many were injured, seriously or otherwise. That one and a half thousand is chicken feed or small cannon fodder compared to the numbers killed in more modern battles (the number of artillery pieces held on either side was very limited). I’m not sure battle sites of this kind do justice to the horror, and re-enactments can make it all seem ‘exciting’ rather than horrific and barbaric.

The site at Oldbridge is open to the public for no charge, including the attractive café; you pay €4 per adult or €10 for a family ticket if you want to go into the museum. It is worth stopping off even for that break in the gardens or café, or a wander close to the green, grassy slopes of the Boyne, where King Billy and his men they did join…. It can be just an attractive stop in the countryside – or an attempt to understand European politics and warfare in the 17th century and one of the most formative battles from the whole of Irish history. It’s easily combined with a stop at Monasterboice if you’re travelling the Dublin-Belfast road.

Scary stories

I must admit aspects of the 21st century scare me muchly. Water and resource wars, occasioned by global warming, later in the century – when I will no longer be around (prior engagement – pushing up or fertilising daisies) – have the capacity to make dire situations really dreadful. And the rich West will presumably do what it usually does, find reasons to justify some atrocious behaviour which keeps most of the rest of the world in far inferior situations, which, with water, resource and food shortages will be getting far worse. Which is partly why I fear the developing of EU military capacity; what sounds grandiose now (and is actually less so – e.g. Afghan involvement) will become even more oppressive in future.

The limits on Western warfare from the time of the Second World War have tended to be due to a level of deaths of their soldiers (the numbers of enemy killed, soldiers or civilians, as in Vietnam, don’t count) which citizens found unacceptable. What threatens to remove this break on Western warfare is the robotisation of war (‘robotisation’ looks like it’s a phase used more in French than English). If rich countries break the link between war and their soldiers being killed, then the only thing they will have to expend is money, and, relatively speaking, they have an abundant supply of that. The US killing drones and zones of Afghanistan are just one element of this; families allocated so much charred bodies to mourn and bury because no one could be identified.

This technological superiority may create the ‘perfect storm’ for warfare later in the century; the rich West having its lifestyle threatened by lack of resources and by conflict elsewhere disrupting supplies. Doubtless the proclaimed motive for intervention will be altruistic whereas, as in Iraq, the underlying reasons will be resources – oil will still be important though maybe not quite so important then - but other resources which are needed to sustain the rich Western lifestyle. And that may drive many other people to the wall.

Crystal ball gazing of this kind is uncomfortable. It means that not only will we not have left the world a better place for our children’s children, we will have left it as a hellhole for many. Taking urgent action to address climate change is only just one of the actions needed to avoid this future. Telling scary stories is, unfortunately, becoming a whole lot easier. ”By 2050, 25m more children will go hungry” headlined the Guardian (30/9/09) quoting a report by the International Food Policy Research Institute.

I’m really looking on the bright side of things, aren’t I? But I think I should call a spade a spade, and the great big hole we’re in just that.

Defending family values

I’m all for defending family values. What values would those be? Love and companionship between adults, the protection and nourishing of children, where possible the provision of a safe space for older people whether very active or inactive (where possible not in an institution), a home which is a defence against the toils and tribulations of the outside world – but one which does not try to be in splendid isolation from it, a home which provides space for rest, relaxation and building strength for everything that the outside world can throw at people, young or old. So I do think the family needs protected and nourished itself.

But whether that family is heterosexual, homosexual, asexual, based on companionship and friendship, or an adopted family in the way of a community (religious or otherwise), whatever, I do not mind. I happen to be in a stable heterosexual relationship myself but if other people find happiness in other formats or patterns who am I to wish them ill? There are enough brutal examples of ‘conventional’ relationships, and institutional abuse, to show that ‘traditional’ patterns are not always the best, and certainly not the best for everyone.

There are conservatives and Christians, sometimes one and the same, who oppose this and stick up for the old ways. But the old ways are not necessarily the ways which we think of as the old ways. Even in the ‘Christian West’, in days of yore, cohabitation between men and women, without marriage, was common, as was trial marriage and so on. Some will quote the Bible in defence of what they label as ‘traditional’. Some will ask what would Jesus do. But the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) question has to be asked in the context of what would Jesus do if he was in 21st century Ireland/Europe/World, not 1st century Palestine (Jesus’ teaching had to be contextualised in his time, and we can extrapolate from that). Personally, and I’m a Christian, I believe in rolling revelation – if Jesus took the stands he did two thousand years ago in the society where he lived, what stands should we take today?

I applaud each and every happy and nurturing family relationship, indeed, you could say I thank God for them. If we say ‘defend the family’, yes, I can agree with that, in all the permutations and richness of that term.

-

Well, we know it’s into the autumn as the charity gift catalogues start arriving – buy now for Christmas, or, better still, don’t buy but give some €/£ instead. For me the autumn goes by in a flash with all its busyness, and taking time out becomes more problematic. You can sympathise with macrobiotic George Oshawa who, when asked the secret of the universe, said “Chew your rice slowly”. No, I don’t think that is the secret of the universe but it is one secret of the universe. Something to chew over anyway until we meet again, I do know where and when, in a month’s time in fact, so until then, cheerfully chewing, Billy. 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).

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