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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Number 249: May 2017

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts –

We can all get into negative patterns, I discovered one of mine recently. There is a piece of roadway in town which I always feel vulnerable on when travelling along it on a bicycle. At one point the road is more or less single carriageway and then, immediately after a traffic island, it broadens out into three lanes, two going right and one left at the junction another thirty or forty metres ahead. Because I may already be holding back car traffic in the single lane part, and the correct lane for me to be in for turning right at the junction is the middle one, I feel quite vulnerable, and this has been exacerbated by cars cutting in too close past me or in one case verbal abuse from a driver.

Anyway, I was travelling home after a meeting and it was already dark. A car beeped once at me and then again. My temper was rising and I probably looked angry and perhaps even aggressive even though my decision at this point was to stop and see what the car had to say. I stopped. The car pulled up. The passenger in the car spoke to me and handed me a pack with a couple of batteries which I had dropped out of my backpack some distance before. Did I feel an eejit. So the car had stopped when it saw me drop something, which it could easily not have bothered to do, the passenger had got out to pick it up, and it had then tried to pass it back to me and I was getting irate. Oops. As I say, I did feel an eejit and there was to time to explain why I was looking angry at the beeping at that particular juncture. So I probably came across simply as an angry old man. You win some and you lose some and I certainly didn't win that one though I did get my couple of batteries back thanks to their thoughtfulness and kindness.

The turning of the tide
Nestling on the land but beside the waters of Strangford Lough on Island Mahee – now joined to the mainland by causeway but presumably fordable at low tide previously – is the remains of Nendrum monastery. It is just six miles from Comber, at the end of the Comber Greenway, a former railway line to Belfast. What is visible at Nendrum is largely due to a 1920s partial reconstruction following archaeological excavations then.

It is one of those magic places which links past, present, land, water, air, scenery and atmosphere. It is also a favourite family cycling destination for us, with options from Belfast to go on the main road or Greenway to/from Comber, and quiet country roads past Comber, as well as passing Castle Espie run by the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust (where you can have a wonderful and fowl experience at the same time, or just a coffee).

Some of the history of Nendrum monastery is a bit sketchy and it seems it was most important in the earlier part of its possible 7th – 11th century history, with a bishop based there. But Nendrum is important in the history of technology as the site of the earliest known tidal mill in the world, the best preserved early medieval one, and the earliest known horizontal wheeled mill. There were certainly two tidal mills based there, the first probably constructed 618 – 621 AD/CE and this may have been the time of the construction of the monastery, dedicated to Saint Mo-Choí (a pet name, real name possibly Cáelán) which is still present in Island 'Mahee'. The first mill ran for 167 years before being replaced by an even more sophisticated mill in 789 CE.

While investigating the remains of the first watermill was difficult because it was replaced, the second mill's remains included a unique (for Ireland) stone penstock, directing the water towards the waterwheel, and scoop shaped paddles – a techie advance from the first mill which assisted it being very efficient with a possible maximum output per year of up to 50 tonnes of coarsely milled barley.

Most of my information on Nendrum comes from "Harnessing the Tides – The early medieval tide mills at Nendrum Monastery, Strangford Lough", by Thomas McErlean and Norman Crothers (TSO, 2007, 468 pages). While containing more detail than I as a layperson could handle, it is a thorough investigation not just of the mill but its history, background, and artefacts. Precision on years was possible because of dating oak timbers through Dendrochronology (tree ring dating). The millstones probably came from the Mournes, 25 miles away, and were granite. The book details the very thorough construction of the tidal mills and sea-retaining walls that enabled the powering of them.

Mo-Choí had possible associations with Saint Patrick. The probable first abbot of Nendrum, Cridán, died in 639, around two decades after the foundation of the monastery. While there were quite probably Viking raids which would have looted the monastery, the book speculates that the probable outcome was Nendrum was simply superseded by ecclesiastical and other developments including a possible decline in the number of monks at Nendrum. Other corn mills on the mainland may have taken on the function fulfilled by the Nendrum one before it fell into disuse.

We are now, as we approach a post-carbon age, looking increasingly at harnessing the power of the sea again – indeed there is a tidal generator placed at the narrows of Strangford Lough between Portaferry and Strangford. While as a society of monks they are unlikely to be our direct ancestors, we can take pride and wonder at the engineering and technological skills of the people who built these mills. And, fourteen hundred years later we can commit ourselves to harnessing wind, water and wave power which will lay the foundations for power sources for future generations. Of course there will always be technological advances, just as there were between 618 and 789 CE, but we will be sailing in the right direction and building on ancient foundations.

Patient patients
You might have to be patient to be a patient in Ireland, North or South. Waiting lists in both jurisdictions can be appalling particularly if you have a chronic condition which is not life-threatening. But beware of homonyms, words that sound the same, can even be spelt the same, but mean different things. The RTE website of 1st May 2017 proclaimed "First ever National Patience Experience Survey commences throughout all public hospitals".

Being ludicrously literal, this could mean a survey was being conducted on patience, how patient people are in Ireland, and how content or discontent people are to wait; hospitals were simply being used as an easy means of reaching people or because the survey particularly wanted to reach out to look at patients' patience. But then the text indicates "Patients are being asked 61 questions on topics such as confidence and trust in hospital staff, hospital food, care and treatment on the ward and the provision of information and support at discharge from hospital.". So it is a "Patients Experience Survey" or a "Patients' Experience Survey". Maybe having read this you will feel you have been very patient with me. I'm patient or impatient?

There was a worthwhile seminar in Dublin in April on "Struggles for Justice and Peace: Nonviolent Resistance and Conflict Resolution" put on by the International Peace Studies Department at TCD along with the Institute for International Conflict Resolution and Reconstruction, DCU, and the Edward M Kennedy Institute for Conflict Intervention, Maynooth University (Phew – the thing about academic 'conflict institutes', certainly in Ireland, is they tend to have very long names!). I'm just going to make a few points from this; I'm not attempting a summary of the event or any one speaker. It looked at six different situations internationally and photos of presenters are on the INNATE photo site and around which also lists the formal titles of talks.

Iain Atack in opening referred to the tension between struggles for peace and struggles for justice which is a key factor in many situations. Frank Smyth is director of the UN Coordination and Conflict Resolution Unit at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin and was the first speaker; though small it was good to know that there was, on the face of it, a clear approach being taken by this Unit.

One issue which came up, particularly in relation to Palestine but more generally, was appreciation of the stage that struggles are at. Yaser Alashqar spoke of the need to deal with the massive trauma in Gaza (where he is from) and Palestine before peacebuilding can proceed. He spoke of a willingness to work with anyone on the basis of recognition of international law and a rights based approach, as well the right of return for Palestinian refugees. When someone attending raised the issue of why there was no Israeli on the panel, I felt Yaser gave an excellent reply; he pointed to the need to distinguish between Israeli state policy and the Jewish people, and stated that both Israelis and Palestinians have been victims of European policy.

Gëzim Visoka in his coverage of UN intervention in Kosovo felt that it was always trying to mitigate consequences rather than deal with peacebuilding, and seemed more of an exercise in international authority. Sunghwan Kim spoke, and showed videos, on resistance to a naval base in South Korea which was basically built for the USA; there was vibrant resistance locally in Gangjeong village on Jeju Island, and from outside once resistance was publicised. The base has now been built and opened in early 2016 though resistance continues. The situation reminded me very much of Corrib Gas in Co Mayo with the state backing external interests against the will of its own citizens. One great slogan I saw in a video on Jeju was 'Friendships not battleships'.

Lynda Sullivan in her account of resistance to mining in Cajamarca, Peru, which is very destructive of land and water locally, implicitly pointed to the importance of long term resilience in the face of total inequality in power. The multinational companies have money and time; locals have to continue to live in the places concerned and work to survive when under attack individually and through crops being destroyed, water seriously contaminated etc.

Eamon Rafter spoke of Glencree's engagement with victims and survivors after the Good Friday Agreement. He rightly attacked as ridiculous the notion that victims should 'move on' and he was correct in labelling the area of 'dealing with the past' as the single most unsatisfying area of concern in the current Northern situation. Alejandro Valderrama-Herrara used the term 'grey actors' in relation to Colombia for those who are not paramilitaries but could be linked with multinationals and are involved in negative ways in the situation; it might also be a useful term in relation to Northern Ireland. 92% of displaced people in Colombia have not received any compensation.

Kieran Doyle, in making concluding reflections, spoke of the difficulties of measuring success and the lack of assessment tools. Referring to his previous career in the Irish military, he spoke of being rewarded for deciding 'a' or 'b', i.e. making clearcut choices even if imperfect. While his example looked like it was about military 'peacekeeping' operations, he referred to the fact that research showed that being with people (e.g. on a checkpoint), and personal contact, was much more powerful and effective than reports or other methods.

That is just a few points worth passing on from this day seminar.

- - - - -

Well, that's me for another few weeks. April is usually the driest month in Ireland and it seemed to live well up to its record this year. I have a herb bush in a tub which looked like it was dying of thirst, but hopefully I got it 'in thyme', for that is what it was; a soak in thyme saves mine. 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).

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