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Billy King shares his monthly thoughts
Hello there, and welcome to my last Colm before I get a month off for good behaviour and hopefully we all get some time off for good weather. [A word of explanation - there is only a short news supplement for Nonviolent News in August – Ed]. I do hope the summer will be summery and not summary.
Meanwhile, you have heard of the Kilkenny Cats but I wanted to say brief congratulations to a different kind of being on a neighbouring island, CAAT (Campaign Against the Arms Trade www.caat.org.uk ) for getting the judgement (in the Court of Appeal) that British arms sales to Saudi Arabia are illegal in the light of their use in the war in Yemen. Making money from the destruction, or potential destruction, of other people has to be some kind of human nadir but sadly many people think it is just fine, and the situation in Yemen has been particularly brutal.
“Low lie the fields of....” a) Athenry? b) Ballynafeigh?
We are coming in to the Marching Season in De Nort, otherwise Norn Iron, a time in Colum Sands' words of the 'Fifth Season' which is found 'somewhere inside of where summer should be'. I wanted here to pay tribute to the inegenuity of a loyalist songwriter who took Pete St John's 'Fields of Athenry' and turned it into 'Fields of Ballynafeigh'. I am constantly amazed at the ingenuity of someone who took an extremely popular song, an Irish anthem in fact, about the Famine and turned it into a song about Orange marching rights and supposed discrimination against the Orange tradition.
It feeds into the Orange martyrdom complex (in the interests of even-handedness I should say there is also a republican martyrdom complex, perhaps even more pronounced because they have tended to be on the losing side in the North). Ballynafeigh is just a couple of kilometres to the south of Belfast city centre, with the Ormeau Road as its main artery; it is a very mixed (Catholic and Protestant) area, now perhaps majority Catholic. Orange parades passed through the Catholic area of the lower Ormeau Road, immediately across the Lagan on the city side of the Ormeau Bridge. Local protests against the march coming through the latter grew in the 90's but the police pushed residents back to let Orangemen (and Orangewomen) through.
That was until the display of five fingers on an upraised arm, understood to be a triumphant and very violent reference to the five people killed by loyalists in the 1992 'Bookies massacre' at the Sean Graham betting shop. The march through the area was subsequently banned. The year after the ban the Orange Order held 'the field' in the Ormeau Park rather than Edenderry in solidarity with Ballynafeigh Orangemen who could no longer march where they wanted.
The whole issue is, or course, one of clashing rights; the right to demonstrate, even in semi-military form often enough, versus the right not to be intimidated. In a divided society like Northern Ireland there are no easy answers but two others points can be made; some parades have always been contentious (all were banned by the British government for a period in the 19th century) but most parades go off peacefully in areas where they are supported or at least tolerated.
Anyway, back to the song. To change lyrics transposing a song from the mid-19th century in the rural west of Ireland at the time of An Gorta Mór to urban Belfast at the turn of the 21st century is quite a feat. You can listen to the results on YouTube if you search for 'Fields of Ballynafeigh'.
But I will summarise some of the changes. Fields are a scarce commodity in Ballynafeigh, and have been for a long time, apart from playing fields and the Ormeau Park - though the latter does perhaps make the Ballynafeigh name still apt, 'The townland of the green'. But the modified version keeps the original "Low lie the fields of......." but it becomes "Ballynafeigh / Where we love to watch our Orangemen walk by". The names of Michael and Mary are loyalised to Billy and Maggie, not that the latter is particularly loyalist but maybe less Catholic.
"Against Dublin and the Crown, I rebelled, they shot me down" is substituted for "Against the Famine and the Crown" (note the 'Crown' being labelled as out to get loyalists). "Maghaberry" (prison - with it pronounced "Mag-gab-barray" to fit) is substituted for "Botany Bay". But how can you render “That the young might see the morn” into this loyalist context? It becomes “For the young in freedom to be born”.
The cleverest bit for me is where the adaptor takes "The prison ship was waiting in the bay" and transforms it into "The prison bus is idle in its bay”! Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it is said, but hats off to the ingenuity of a loyalist songwriter or adaptor almost a couple of decades ago for sheer ingenuity and affrontery: "Our banners they will fly / Every Twefth day of July / But it's lonely around the fields of Ballynafeigh"...
There are many efforts, of many different kinds, to support newcomers and in particular asylum seekers and refugees to this island while at the same time the appropriate authorities, North or Republic, can tend to make it difficult for them. One of these citizen efforts, in both jurisdictions, is the Cities of Sanctuary movement, see ireland.cityofsanctuary.org which is called Places of Sanctuary in Ireland (not just cities) and has a dozen places involved. See also the news section of this issue.
I was at the recent ‘Great Refugee Picnic’ in Belfast organised by the local City of Sanctuary group there with support from Amnesty International and others – and it was good to see a number of local councillors turning up. Along with the usual diversions of face painting and a bouncy castle there was some wonderful music and dancing, by groups and attenders, and someone I was talking to said “Isn’t it great to see people able to enjoy themselves without alcohol”.
This alcohol-free aspect wasn’t a fact I had actually thought about as it was a family event starting from lunchtime but I immediately thought to myself – “Wow, that is really true...” Many music festivals and events in our necks of the woods tend to have broken alcohol bottles discarded around outside, and being well tanked up (on caffeine drinks if not alcohol or other substances) can be de rigeur. Of course alcohol consumption is not culturally or religiously part of the lives of many who were at this event but I thought our local culture could certainly learn a thing or two. The alcohol industry and lobby is also a powerful one in this country which needs taken down a peg or two.
And while Irish culture, in all its variety, has many positive aspects to it, our island is infinitely more interesting for the fact that we have very significantly more people from more places than we did just a few decades ago. Let a thousand flowers bloom. The loss to their countries of origin is our gain.
Which planet do I live on?
[Do you need to be told? – Ed] Well, you certainly wonder what planet some politicians and others live on, and as many green campaigners currently state, “There is no Planet B”. I recently watched the five programmes in the BBC TV series on ‘The Planets’, fronted by Brian Cox. It inspired in me a mixture of amazement, awe, wonder – and a little bit of terror.
There was plenty I didn’t know. Mercury probably began its life elsewhere in the solar system. Mars, which had been a watery world, became a pretty sterile planet through losing its magnetic shield when its core cooled (possibly because it is rather smaller than Earth) allowing the solar wind to eat away at its atmosphere. We as humans owe a debt of gratitude to Jupiter for being most likely the cause of dislodging the meteorite from the asteroid belt that crashed into the Earth and led to the wipe out of the dinosaurs – enabling mammals to flourish and ‘us’ to eventually emerge. And the extent to which change is happening – now – in most of ‘our’ solar system is amazing.
But what was also instructive here was the interplay and interaction between the planets (not just the asteroid example above) leading Brian Cox to comment on the whole set of inter-plentary events which allowed life on earth to flourish in the way it does, that the possibility that life ‘as we know it’ may not be that common in the universe. Of course we don’t know, and as I write there may be a monkey, intelligent or not, typing the final words of Shakespeare somewhere far, far away in another galaxy - or, said monkey might just be pushing button ‘v’ to copy the whole lot. To be or not to be open to the possibilities of life elsewhere is one question, to which the answer is ‘of course’, but we have to see if there is indeed a brave new world elsewhere, and whether All’s Well That Ends Well.
But as to the question whether ‘our’ kind of life is common or not (I was going to say ‘intelligent’ life and then thought better of it.... maybe I could say ‘sentient’) it all makes me more wondrous about what we have. Whatever your philosophical, scientific and religious/atheist views of the origin of the earth and the whole universe, we have got something pretty special. Which is why messing it up through something like global warming and species annihilation is not only very violent towards people and other beings and organisms but totally stupid. We must be loonies, mooning around with our petty prejudices and greed when our ecosystem (i.e. all that we are) is at stake.
Before I go, it is always fascinating when you see something useful somewhere you don’t expect. Reading the Tools for Solidarity newsletterwww.toolsforsolidarity.com for example, there is an excellent short guide by Andrei on page 11 to ‘trueing’ a bicycle wheel when it goes out of alignment (wonky wobbles). You may also be able to twist the nipples from outside the rim but the advice given here is best. Every season is cycling season but do remember Rule No.1 of summer cycling; Keep your mouth as closed as you can, there is probably enough protein in your diet already – and the insects will thank you too.
That’s me for now and I’ll see you again in, aaaarrrggghhh, September, with the summer receding into the distance. But in the mean time I hope you get your head showered (metaphorically and not literally....) and a good break with time to put your feet up, yours ever, Billy.
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).