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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Issue 127: March2005

[Return to related issue of Nonviolent News]

What goes around, comes around.

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 - Billy]

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.

See 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 at yourself.

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 victory).

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!"

Delay Ireland
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 sport.

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.

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 2021