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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Number 263: October 2018

[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Well, hello there, I hope the autumn is treating you well and here are my musings and amusings (I hope) for this month -

Cult-ural sensitivities
The Glider is Belfast’s new tram-like bus system – a bendy bus where you pay before entering (so the driver doesn’t deal with payments), with special stops. This kind of system is much cheaper to set up than an actual tram system though a bus can’t be as long as a tram. It is also less dangerous for cyclists I would say, speaking as someone who has gone flying off a bike when the wheel got trapped in a tram track. Which reminds me of an old joke that I saw on a French Canadian website – What is the difference between a tram and a minister of religion? A tram stops when it loses its track. Meanwhile Dublin is aflame over bus reorganisation proposals, though it has the DART and LUAS making for a different situation it is a bigger entity altogether even if a century ago Belfast was for a wee while bigger than Dublin – and had nearly all the industry on the island (the economic boot is on the other foot these days)..

But what grabbed my attention about the Glider in particular was the fact that on its route from west to east Belfast, i.e. from majority Catholic to majority Protestant areas, it will stop having bilingual English and Irish signage and switch to English only. Of course there are political susceptibilities and these need to be taken into account. But there are also practical considerations concerning difficulties of translation. After all, how could you possibly translate Ballymacarret, Ballyhackamore, Cregagh, Tullycarnet, Ballybeen, Dundonald or Owen O’Cork into Irish??????!!!!!

That nonviolent manifesto
What should be in ‘a nonviolent manifesto’, as published elsewhere in this issue? What should be in and what should be out? How much is just ‘common sense’? Is it pretentious to proclaim certain things? How can we be inclusive while still stating what we want to state? Is it particular to our time and place or universal?

These are just some of the questions which come to mind when trying to draw up such a document. Keeping it short and fairly simple is also important. On the last question as to ‘particularness’ we cannot deny that we produce it at a certain time and in a certain place which obviously makes it ‘particular’. However only one item refers to Ireland and Northern Ireland and we feel most of the values proclaimed are universal.

We do not exist outside of time and place. We cannot. But as people who aspire to build the lofty ideal of peace in the world, we try to have a wide vision of ways we can work forward. Peace is built brick by brick – but it has to be bricks in a house of welcome, not in a wall of division. And “We will attempt to model the new and nonviolent society we are seeking in the way we work and live.” Here’s wishing us (a broad interpretation of ‘us’) luck, the wind in our sails, and some success on our route.
The end of the ‘editorial essays’ of the last number of months makes for a shorter ‘Nonviolent News’ though....for a publication without illustrations it was getting to be pretty long.
No pot pourri here
The British Norn Iron Secretary of State caused a bit of a stir by her admission of her lack of knowledge about the North when appointed, and this extended – incredibly - to not realising that people did not (generally) vote across the Big Divide in Norn Iron. However every cloud has a silver lining, in this case a Twitter thread #ThingsKarenBradleyNeverKnew as reported in the Bele Tele of 10th September

This included statements that “Belfast International Airport isn't actually in Belfast”. Well, that’s a fact. More humorously “Ian Paisley was widely misunderstood; When he called for an end to 'Popery' he was actually decrying the popular 1980's perfumed wooden shavings which many middle class women kept in an ornate dish in the living room” (from Shirley Anne McMillan). “The Apprentice Boys are an exclusive club of trainee electricians, plumbers and joiners”. “A Nationalist Ulster fry has 9 items, a Unionist Ulster fry, only 6” was John Doonn’s contribution. Darren McArdle pointed out that “On cars of young people an ‘R’ plate represented a republican and an ‘L’ plate was a young loyalist”, while Des Cahill revealed that “Linfield beat St Patrick’s Athletic by 2-12 to 1-9 in the All-Ireland Final”. And another pointed out the true fact that “At Benone beach you look North West towards The South.”

Such a pity Karen Bradley was not furnished with this knowledge before being appointed to her job. SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said it wasn’t her lack of knowledge beforehand that worried him but her lack of action since – and given the lack of attempts to unblock the Stormont log jam, who can disagree with that.

Here are a few more alternative facts about Northern Ireland. In the words of Kevin McAleer, the North/South border is the best in the whole world – it unites the whole country. The red hand of Ulster was adopted as a symbol because people kept getting caught out acting in a sectarian manner, so they were ‘caught red handed’, and it was eventually adopted as a badge of honour or even proud dishonour [That’s a better explanation than the usual bloody ones – Ed]. Lough Neagh was so called because of Norn Iron people’s penchant for saying ‘no’ (‘nay’ in old fashioned English). The Best Belfast City Airport isn’t necessarily the best Belfast airport as there are two to choose from. The Titanic never really sank, it was the world’s biggest ever insurance scam – she made her way to the Falklands where she was broken up for scrap.

The old slogan “We will never forsake the blue skies of freedom for the grey mists of an Irish Republic” has been phased out because of global warming and the drought this year. With the burning down of Primark’s flagship Bank Buildings store in Belfast city centre, and nothing happening at Parliament Buildings at Stormont, planning permission is being sought to turn the latter into a Primark store.

Don’t laugh about the last one. If the clothing fits, wear it. Or one size fits no one.

Erin’s green sham rocky shore
I referred last time to Robert Lloyd Praeger and his classic 1937 book “The way that I went”, and when it came to Ireland he went many ways. He has lots of fascinating tangents in the book, and one (page 265) which concerns the shamrock is worth summarising. It is based on research which his friend Nathanial Colgan did in 1892-3. [Wow! Aren’t you bang up to date, quoting research from the 1890s! – Ed] [What’s 125 years between friends? – Billy]

What plant is the shamrock? Nathaniel Colgan decided to try to find out. He sought examples of ‘true shamrock’ from around the country and in 1893 received samples from twenty Irish counties. From this, 19 were White Clover, 12 were Lesser Trefoil, and just two each of Purple Clover and Spotted Medick. Praeger writes “But a previous enquiry by James Britten gave eight more votes for the Lesser Trefoil, making 20 for it as against 16 for the White Clover: so honours are fairly even between these two plants, while Purple Clover and Medick are entirely out of the running....”

Lesser Trefoil and White Clover are both quite common around Europe so the idea that ‘shamrock’ will not grow outside of Ireland is nonsense, well, it is true insofar as then it is not called ‘shamrock’. Nathaniel Colgan had also searched historical records for shamrock references and it would appear to have become an Irish symbol during the 17th century, being an established emblem by 1689. However there are no early references to its purported connection to St Patrick and his supposed explanation of the Christian concept of the Trinity based on its three leaves, which I presume also emerged sometime in this time period; I surmise this may have happened after it became identified as an Irish symbol and someone came up with this ‘back story’.

But clearly the myth of the shamrock became quite a hit and while the St Patrick ‘Trinity’ reference may be used less today, and general use of the shamrock can be kitschy and stage-Irish, it is still a widely recognisable Irish (or Oirish) national symbol, at home and abroad. Not at all bad going for a plant that doesn’t exist.

However if you wanted to drown the shamrock, using this phrase in the sense of killing it off as a symbol and not the usual meaning of drinking alcohol on St Patrick’s Day, you would have your work cut out. Though hats off to those Derry geniuses who reinterpreted the shamrock to be a ‘black shamrock’ as an Irish anti-war symbol.
Well, here we are in October as winter starts to creep in....but this gives more excuses for curling up in your kitchen or living room and relaxing, it’s an ill winter wind that doesn’t blow good for someone. Until the next time, 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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