Category Archives: Billy King

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Billy King: Rites Again, 305

In the damp of Irish weather you might not always recognise relatively warm weather outside of summer, but the autumn has been just that. In the garden, leaves and foliage have been very slow to die back and perennial plants to take on their winter garb (or lack of it). ‘Our’ lilac – actually in a neighbour’s garden – still has quite a few leaves on it and the new growth which came after it got chopped back in the summer looks perfectly green and healthy. Marigolds and rudbeckia are still flowering away. The gorse/furze/whins/aiteann outside the city looks like it is coming into nearly full bloom. A few decades ago you could have expected a hard frost before the end of October – I define a hard frost as probably something below -2° although in practice I see it as when all the nasturtiums turn to mush. Last winter there was no ‘hard frost’ at all. It’s global warming at work, and in the Irish context that can mean more rain and wind. And you may want to issue a religious or secular prayer that the Gulf Stream doesn’t stop or Newfoundland here we come…..

Reconciliation

Reconciliation is an interesting word and concept, conciliation is too but what does it mean and especially in the context of the North? Rev Norman Hamilton, a former Presbyterian Church in Ireland moderator, recently accused the various governments and politicians of not having a clear definition https://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/politics/ex-presbyterian-moderator-asks-london-dublin-washington-and-ni-politicial-parties-for-their-definition-of-reconciliation-3906790

There are technical definitions of reconciliation in relation to accounting and legislative processes but relevant definitions in this context include “The act of reconciling parties at variance; renewal of friendship after disagreement or enmity” and “the process of two people or groups in a conflict agreeing to make amends or come to a truce” – obviously in the context of the North, however, we are talking about group processes, so “the process of making two people or groups of people friendly again after they have argued seriously or fought and kept apart from each other, or a situation in which this happens” is a bit more apposite (as opposed to opposite). We probably all need to work on our own definitions of reconciliation, and indeed our understanding of forgiveness (another difficult one to be clear about).

I am reminded of the old cartoon about a character expressing thanks for advice they were given about dealing with interpersonal conflict rather than letting it fester. Asked how they resolved the matter they stated, “I killed the bastard”. No, not funny except just possibly in a fictional circumstance of someone doing the unexpected. And doing something positive and unexpected is an excellent way to promote reconciliation. A positive gesture or undertaking can be a great way to assist travelling to reconciliation. Actually listening to each other in the North, as opposed to talking at each other, could be such a gesture.

The U?S of A

There are bodies which proclaim themselves unreformed and unreformable. However realities change over time even if systems do not and the US political system seems singularly inappropriate for the 21st century, likewise the idea that you need a billion dollars, or thereabouts, to even enter the presidential race, and before that there is a long race to enter the bigger long race.

I have been following events there with some interest especially in the Trump era and afterwards, including Republican moves to get into key election posts where they can call the shots (sic). I know US democracy, such as it is, is teetering on the brink. But I was astounded to read an article in the Guardian where all three writers took quite pessimistic views on the topic of how close the USA is to civil war https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/nov/06/how-close-is-the-us-to-civil-war-barbara-f-walter-stephen-march-christopher-parker?CMP=share_btn_link

Of course definitions of ‘civil war’ do not need to move to images of Gettysburg, it can be assassinations, turmoil of various kinds, political violence. The ‘U’SA is certainly already very divided and did have what amounted to some sort of coup attempt within the last couple of years in the Capitol invasion of 6th January 2021. Where the legitimacy of the decision making process in the political system is already hotly contested then there are certainly Big Problems.

Will mob rule trump or can the USA move to a more democratic system? I am not sure of the answer to that one. There are strong labor, civil rights, peace and other movements within the US which are often not recognised. But whether they and those on the left and centre of the political class can avoid meltdown is an unfortunate question to have to ask.

The extent to which the USA is being overtaken as an economic superpower is also relevant. People may go with the ‘bigger pie’ argument of economic development, unsustainable as that is, and many people have gone with Trumpism, it would seem, because of hits they have taken economically. However the Donald is not as much flavour of the decade in US Republican circles since the US mid-term elections didn’t show he was delivering the goods (in terms of people he was backing doing well) but it would be a brave person to write off Trump. To mix metaphors, you can’t keep a rotten apple down.

Edumbification

There are many questions about the economic development model in the Republic and its reliance on multinationals but there is no denying that It Has Worked to a considerable extent in helping to bring wealth. And why did it work? Relatively low taxation, a largely English speaking environment, membership of the EU, and an educated population attracted the, mainly US, multinationals. And where did the population get educated? Partly from (what were) the regional technical colleges, now technological universities, established from the start of the 1970s, but also because of an emphasis on education within many families.

However the relative lack of investment in education in the Republic is a danger for the future, as quality may decline in some instances. But in the North under the current British government regime, and no Stormont, there are going to be actual cuts as opposed to inflation eating away at educational spending power. This is so short sighted as to be dangerously myopic.

A recent survey by the ESRI https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-63779243 showed economic productivity in the Republic to be 40% higher per head than in the North – there are some uncertainties about the role of multinational profits in this but the study tried to take this into account. “An additional economic modelling exercise undertaken by the authors suggests that almost all of the productivity gap can be explained by lower levels of investment and skilled workers in Northern Ireland. Low investment and relatively low levels of skills are chronic problems in the Northern Ireland economy, although there has been some improvement in skills in recent years. The authors suggest that if firms in Ireland were faced with the same labour market as exists in Northern Ireland productivity levels would fall by an average of 30% and as much as 60% in some sectors.”

Cutting spending on education, at any level, is simply crazy. Skilled workers have to be paid for and their skills built up from the first day of kindergarten and primary school, not in a rat-race way but in terms of allowing the potential of the child or young adult to develop. For the North to have to cut back on education at any level, and in the economic context most directly post-secondary education, is totally crazy. But that is where things are at, and it is sadistic as well as sad for those whose life chances will be stymied by such cuts.

Celebrating murderers

Celebrations of gunmen who have killed others in the Troubles are common in Northern Ireland, in numerous different formats including especially murals and ‘wayside shrines’. However the writing is certainly not on the wall for violent murals like the new UVF one on the Shankill Road, Belfast which celebrates two arms-toting men and a red poppy wreath (on the latter my comment is ‘no comment’). Naturally the daughter of someone murdered by one of the gunmen is distraught; having the killer of your father openly celebrated must be painful beyond the imagination.

However the law, as interpreted, says this mural is legal. It is certainly not a moral mural but it is judged legal by the police who have said that while it is abhorrent it does “not constitute the offence of Encouragement of Terrorism under the Terrorism Act 2006, or other offences.“ If that is the case then the law is a wal-ly and needs to change. How paramilitarism is remembered and celebrated in the North is deeply problematic and paramilitary memorialisation is a key way in which territories are defined and marked, something which has to be overcome if divisions and hatreds are ever to be transcended.

Maybe in time in Northern Ireland we can come to celebrate togetherness in a vibrant and meaningful way which overcomes and leaves far behind the divisions which exist but marks our common humanity. Last time I looked, Catholics and Protestants in the North, or however you describe those two cultural-political grupings, were both human beings and members of homo not-too-sapiens.

Leprechauns and leps forward

It would be remiss of me, given the news item about The Steel Shutter film and 50th anniversary conference in the news section of this issue, not to mention a little saying by one of the participants involved in the original event. Belfast community worker Sean Cooney, who was in the 1972 encounter group, used to talk approvingly, in the community context, about “the leprechauns – the people close to the ground”! My only surprise in mentioning this is that he is the only person I have heard using this expression or joke.

Well, the year is drawing towards a close, not a year to look back on with any fondness in relation to building peace and progress at home or abroad. In fact with the ecological crisis closing in on us there is a more than a sense of trepidation. But I wish you a peaceful and pleasant Christmas/New Year and, well, a peaceful world in 2023…..and if I wish you a Preposterous New Year then what I wish for is some people stepping outside of their constraints to do the radically positive actions which are needed to transform the dire circumstances we face. Imagination and not procrastination is what is needed in many areas of life and the world. I hope you have a great break over Christmas and New Year, and c u in 2023…. Billy

Billy King: Rites Again, 304

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Here is my pot-pourri for this month, or, given the content, perhaps my veggie hot pot…..[Or is it just you going to pot? – Ed]

Hopefully never taking off……

A considerable part of success in nonviolent action lies in creativity and imagination. Doing things differently, perhaps with humour or verve (not to mention nerve), can be vital. On the other hand repetition (e.g. walk ons at Shannon Airport) can also be symbolic, particularly where the potential cost to participants is high (legal charges lasting for years and the risk of a significant sentence in the case of Shannon walk ons).

But links are important too – what are the buttresses or pillars that hold up a particularly unjust policy? People around the world have been aghast at some of the goings on in British politics and policies, and none more than the dangerous and crazy, human rights destroying policy of exporting asylum seekers to Rwanda where they will be out of sight, out of mind – and probably driven out of their minds by being dumped thousands of miles away by a rich world system of screwing anybody unable to stand up freely for themselves – and a lot of those as well.

Lateral thinking on the ‘pillars of injustice’ front was what came to mind by news that an airline which had contracted to deport people from Britain to Rwanda had withdrawn. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2022/oct/21/airline-hired-uk-rwanda-deportations-pulls-out-privilege-style?CMP=share_btn_link

In this case, human rights and anti-torture activists, in opposing a woeful British government policy, put pressure not directly on the British government (which might be considered a bit of a lost cause, in more ways than one) but on a firm which had been willing (wiling?) to sell its soul to do the government’s bidding. Taking the anti-deportation case directly to bodies who do business with the firm and and other potential customers has succeeded; the firm realising that being a human rights destroyer was not a good image and likely to be detrimental to the business overall. So they have withdrawn. And hopefully that is a significant undermining of a British government policy that is inhuman, racist and a lot of other things beside.

So think laterally, and think of commercial pressure you can bring.

The home manager

The citizens of the Republic most likely face a referendum in 2023 on Article 41.2 of the Constitution which states “… the state recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the state a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.” and “the state shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.”

There is more to this area than meets the eye. Of course this anachronistic and discriminatory piece in Bunreact na hÉireann should be obliterated and removed. But there are lots of issues herefamily, cultural, economic, human rights, and so on.

The term ‘housewife’ (a term not used in the Constitution) is also anachronistic. In the era of hybrid or remote working, many men are also in the home and it is up to a couple or the household to sort out who does what. Statistically women still do far more work in the home on housekeeping and child care than men but things have been changing even if equality may be some considerable distance away in heterosexual households.

If someone, woman or man – currently more likely to be a woman than a man – decides to stay at home to look after children and manage the home then that can be a Good Thing in terms of the family’s lifestyle and wellbeing. It is likely to lead to less pressure overall, and that can be good for all concerned, because combining paid work and looking after a home can be stressful. There are many tasks to be done about the home, especially with young children, including conveying them to pre-school or school, cleaning, washing, cooking and shopping, organising other eventualities such as doctors visits, play dates, and so on. There is a lot to be done.

Finance is an essential element in this. In many or most families today and in the recent past, if there are two adults then both may need to go ‘out’ to work to survive financially (today ‘out to work’ can mean paid work remotely at home), or they may prefer to do so. On the other hand if children are very young then creche fees may cancel out an adult’s pay. People can make their own decisions about what is possible and feels good for them and their family and it is right that people should have a choice without feeling constrained one way or another by norms and societal expectations. Making a statement in the Constitution about gender roles, except to support and promote gender equality, is inappropriate in 2023, whatever about 1937 (when the Constitution was first enacted). Providing adequate financially accessible support for pre-school children in creches where both parents work is a major issue in the Republic (and also in the North).

Finding a replacement for the term ‘housewife’ which is non-sexist and recognises the role a stay at home parent or a parent who does a significant amount of work in the home is a difficult one and it does not need to be in the Constitution. I would suggest the term ‘home manager’ – because that is what the role entails.

Taoiseach goes ballistic at the plain truth

He was raging. “Taoiseach Micheál Martin has angrily rejected an accusation that the Government is “cynically using Putin’s war to drive a coach and four through Ireland’s neutrality” https://www.irishtimes.com/politics/2022/10/25/it-makes-my-blood-boil-taoiseach-rejects-accusation-the-government-is-using-putins-war-to-address-irelands-neutrality/

Oh no, he would never do that when it is as obvious as anything that is precisely what the three government parties (FF, FG and Greens) are doing and have been doing by both commission and omissionin alliance of course with others in elite circles including in the army and business. I am not saying they don’t want to do ‘right’ for Ukraine according to their views of what is ‘right’.

But hey, they didn’t need the excuse of the Ukraine war to support moving ever closer to EU and NATO militarism through Nice and Lisbon referenda, joining NATO’s so-called ‘Partnership for Peace’, and EU’s PESCO. The Ukraine war has been an added opportunity to get Ireland on board the militarist train.

But Martin let the cat out of the bag (or the missile out of the silo) in going on to say “I made it clear that we’re not joining Nato, that no government decision has been taken. People can have different perspectives on that. I suggest we have a citizen’s assembly in the fullness of time, but not now in the middle of this conflict, this war.” In other words it is clearly on the government agenda to move towards NATO membership and/or full EU-military participation, whatever proves possible; a citizens’ assembly would only be mooted if a change is desired. They just don’t judge the time to be the most opportune at the moment. If there was an open and accessible citizens’ assembly on the issue, as opposed to a government stitch up, then the peace movement and neutrality groups could face that eventuality with confidence as an opportunity to put their case. The political elite currently continually say ‘nothing to see here’ when their role has been to slowly whittle neutrality away until it is totally meaningless..

Frank Aiken, former Fianna Fáil Minister for External (i.e. Foreign) Affairs for 15 years in total in the 1950s and 1960s, and a stalwart campaigner for non-alignment and disarmament, would have something rather strong to say about the turncoat government of today and particularly his own party. How are the mighty peacemakers fallen.

Spicing it up

As some of you may remember [How could we forget?- Ed], I jump into matters culinary from time to time and have a wee publication on veggie and vegan cuisine to my name https://innatenonviolence.org/wp/pamphlets/ on this very site. [No one else would have published it? It sounds like you jumping from the frying pan into the oven – Ed] I am returning to this area of life because a request was made from a relation for suggestions about spicing up their cooking. Now I was wary of teaching my granny to boil a kettle (the vegan equivalent of teaching my granny to suck eggs…) and wanted to suggest fairly straightforward and easy ways to make meals more interesting. I thought it might be worth sharing a shorter and simpler version of what I shared with themsome suggestions are lacto-vegetarian and more are vegan. Bon appetit!

Using condiments: Try different pickles and sauces, perhaps from Asian/Chinese supermarkets; and there are some great Irish pickles and chutneys around that are well worth trying – or make your own;.use grated parmesan (or other grated or dried) cheese to put on top of stews and other food; use fried battered onion to add flavour and crunch on top of dishes (may be much cheaper in larger bags in Asian supermarkets); use nooch (nutritional yeast) as a topping (it is vegan), either plain nutritional yeast or mixed.

To make nooch ‘plant based parmesan equivalent’: Take 100 – 150g raw cashews, sunflowers or other nuts/seeds, 30 – 40g of nutritional yeast, 1 teaspoon garlic powder; salt to taste (needs very little, a sprinkle if you like, or none at all). Grind the mixture quite fine and keep in an airtight container, probably in the fridge. I am not sure I particularly like the US English word ‘nooch’ and think I would prefer something like ‘nuteast’ (a shortened word from ‘nutritional yeast’) but nooch it is.

Toppings

– Use mashed potato as a topping to turn a bean. lentil or other dish/stew into “shepherd’s pie”. You can use flavourings in the mash as well as butter and milk (or olive oil and plant based milk) such as wasabi/horseradish.

– Use a crumble topping to turn a bean or vegetable mix into a vegetable crumble. Mix vegetable oil with wholemeal flour until like breadcrumbs but add whatever herbs, curry, cheese, nutritional yeast to flavour and add umami (richness). Cook in oven for c.20 minutes.

– Use breadcrumbs, again with herb or spice flavourings, cheese or nutritional yeast, as a topping on bean or vegetable mixes. Cook in oven for c.15 minutes.

– For a cheap highly nutritious addition to crumble or breadcrumb toppings, add ground linseed (I use a coffee grinder); grinding makes the linseed more digestible. Golden linseed look better than brown but the latter are much cheaper and equally nutritious and look little different when mixed. Whole linseeds are much cheaper to buy than ground.

Accompaniments

– Roasted nuts or toasted seeds make an easy way to add a contrast, different taste (and protein). Lightly cover nuts in oil (a teaspoon or two and mix by hand) and lightly salt as desired; you can use a mixture of cashews and peanuts but cashews in particular can burn very easily so keep an eye on them, 15 minutes is probably plenty in the oven.

– Sunflower seeds can be dry toasted on a heavy pan over a low to medium heat, stirring and shaking frequently to see they don’t burn. When golden brown slope than pan so they bunch up and cover lightly with soya sauce and stir; the soya sauce will dry fast and as the salt is on the outside you get more taste for less sodium.

– Easy ‘sweet and sour’ sauce’; mix together tomato ketchup and half that volume of cider vinegar and less again of soya sauce; add water to double the volume and a small amount of sugar. Heat and add cornflour in water to thicken, stirring well, it will darken as it thickens, add more water if too thick.

And some fairly easy dishes:

Colcannon

Sauté onion and kale (or cabbage) in oil until cooked (you can use uncooked scallions instead of the onion) and mix with mashed potato which has plenty of butter or oil and milk (plant based if desired) added, and seasoning such as black pepper. It’s as Irish as champ.

Vegetable crumble

Sauté chopped veg until nearly cooked. Add parsley sauce or a tin of condensed soup. Top with crumble mix and cook in oven for 20 – 25 minutes.

Sesame fried cabbage

Sauté chopped cabbage or kale in toasted sesame oil and add sesame seeds, add more oil or a little bit of water if starting to burn – cook on medium heat, covered most of the time.

Nan bread pizza

Lightly sauté whatever ingredients you would like for the topping – onion, garlic, chilli, finely cut other veg such as broccoli, peppers etc. Cover nan bread with tomato puree and add sautéed veg on top. Cover with cheese or nutritional yeast/nooch and grill as desired.

Pasta

Add a jar of pesto to cooked pasta along with olives and/or dried tomatoes chopped, possibly tofu cubes, and/or anything else you fancy.

Gram (chick pea) flour

Make savoury pancakes with sieved gram flour (sieve or have lots of lumps) with chopped rosemary and other flavourings (e.g. curry, cajun spice, bouillon) and water. You can add bread soda if desired to help make the pancakes rise/be lighter but just adding water makes the batter, and for vegans – and coeliacs – that is obviously a better batter. Gram flour is also the basis of bhajis and pakoras.

Additions to stews etc: Try different flavourings including wasabi (horseradish), cajun spice and Marmite (yeast extract, other brands may be available); add nutritional yeast (flakes) for umami; try different soup stocks and bouillon powder (but go for ‘Reduced salt’ or ‘Low salt ’versions if you can because others can be very very salty); use coconut milk or (it’s cheaper) creamed coconut (blocks) to give things a different ‘east Asian’ flavour and umami; if roasting potatoes, add a mix of paprika and chilli (or other flavourings such as cajun spice) sprinkled over the oiled potatoes. Or do ‘roasted roots’ (e.g. carrot, parsnip, beetroot, onion as well as potato).

Only slaggin’

I can’t remember what it was in but the late Frank Kelly had an audio skit where he was an Irish reporter for the BBC describing the Irish sport of “slaggin’”. While much of slagging is not in strict accord with nonviolent communication, and can be rude and crude, it depends on the spirit it is offered and the spirit it is received, it can be good natured…..and it is obviously easier to be on the issuing end of slagging than the receiving end. It can be difficult, however, requiring considerable skill, to be a nonviolent slagger. And it can indeed be cruel if the slagee (person being slagged, I think I just invented a word….) takes great offence. However in Frank Kelly’s sport report it is dynamic in that the slagee comes back at the original slagger and so it goes on.

In the following thread referred to there are many instances where someone never wore a garment again after a particularly effective jibe, but there are some brilliantly innovative comments made on the spur of the moment. Indeed slagging seems to be an Irish sport, and that has minuses as well as pluses, though as a sport it is preferable to plain hurling abuse.

However you would want to have a stone sense of humour not to laugh at some of the thread about comments made to people about what they wore (and other comments) at https://twitter.com/janky_jane/status/1426981976142123010?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw Sometimes people have been marked by a nickname for life after one evening or day’s sartorial incident. Many of these tales are shared by the slagee themselves. There are other major questions about Twitter with its recent elongated musky smell [Now that is really slaggin’ – Ed] – that it is likely to become even more tolerant of intolerance and hate speech, but we are not [the royal ‘we’? – Ed] exploring that here.

Not all comments on this thread are perceived sartorial misdemeanors one was about the son of a guy named Con Kearney who got called Chilli. But on clothing:

– “I wore a suit with a matching tie and pocket square to my first day of work at an advertising company (I thought I was going to be in Mad Men I guess) and the staff sent around and signed a communion card for me with a fiver in it.

– “I once wore a silver jacket to college, turned up late for class, said ‘sorry I’m late’, lecturer said, ‘that’s ok’ then waited til I was halfway across the front of the full class before following up with ‘trouble with the spaceship again was it?’. “

– “Early 90s Omagh, bloke comes into the bar wearing a puffa jacket, 120 notes it cost, everyone is mocking him, barman says ‘not sure why you’re mocking him I’ve one of those at home…’ lad getting mocked “See?” Barman continues ‘aye its round the immersion heater’ uproar

– “Back in Dublin after travelling S. America, decked out in a visually assaulting combo of zebra print leggings and tiger pattern knee high boots. Queuing into well known Dublin nightclub that evening was asked “Did you get let out of Dublin zoo or make a break for it yourself?”

Slagging can consist of severe and cruel put downs which are rather unfair to anyone on the receiving end but that is at its most negative. It’s not about slagging as such but put downs when I once get in trouble with someone well known on the peace scene for accompanying their article on affirmation in school situations with a word bubble cartoon. In that the teacher says “Can you give me an example of a ‘put up’ instead of a ‘put down’?” Reply: “How do I ‘put up’ with you?!”. Fair or unfair satire and humour? You judge. To me it was attempt to make the article lighter and therefore more accessible.

One time I felt justified in a bit of slagging was when someone arrived late for a committee where I was the paid secretary. He was an intelligent and useful but verbose participant who was known to arrive late from and/or leave early for another ‘important engagement’. He had just retired but continued his position on the committee concerned. As he came in rather late I said “I’m glad to see retirement hasn’t changed you….”. I got away with it and they didn’t sack me for it either (the sacking came later for other reasons….)

Well, if you are a soap fan you haven’t needed to look further than UK politics in the last couple of months for on the edge of your seat excitement and ‘follow-uppers’. In politics, boring can be good but with a near-billionaire now in charge in the UK, what could go wrong????? The UK economy on the wane isn’t good news for De Nort but as Larry Speight puts it eloquently in this issue, it’s a fairy tale to think the pie can keep getting bigger, and that’s still a fable that most people in most places believe in, including Ireland. When will the reality kick in that redistribution of wealth, along with a different lifestyle, is part of the answer? For a free printable A4 poster on this see https://innatenonviolence.org/wp/posters/ and scroll to “Economic Justice…[EJ]”

In the Northern hemisphere we are now approaching the Real Winter which may not be much fun for many people. So I hope you can stay warm and stay warm-hearted, until we meet again, I know where and I know when (the December issue), I remain, Yours truly, Billy.

Billy King: Rites Again – 303

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Airy ferry notions

I would have thought that at this stage 90% of people would have realised that air travel is much more damaging, environment wise, that any other form of transport, even comparing it to a car carrying a single person. But a recent discussion in the extended family about travel to a family gathering generated the assertion, and this from someone relatively young, that air travel is no more harmful than any other form of travel. This is plainly and simply wrong, and I am having to resist putting ‘wrong’ in capitals to emphasise how wrong it is. [THANK YOU for sparing us that……… – Ed]

You can look at a wide variety of websites to check out the facts. These are just a few of them: https://ourworldindata.org/travel-carbon-footprint

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/transport-energy-and-environment-statistics-notes-and-definitions/journey-emissions-comparisons-methodology-and-guidance

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-49349566

Figures may vary slightly but the message is quite clear; don’t fly for relatively short distances if you can avoid it, and don’t fly at all if you can avoid it. Of course this does not obviate the need for us to exercise responsibility in what other forms of transport we use on land. And for most of us, in terms of local transport, buses, trains or bicycles beckon though this is less possible in the countryside than towns and cities, however park and ride options exist in places (or we can drive to a bus or train station if we have to).

What can we say about the comparisons between different modes of transport? There are many variations, and, for example, considering the number of passengers in a car makes a considerable difference (having 4 or 5 passengers in a car as opposed to one makes a journey much less polluting per head). There can also be considerable variations in coach or train travel too according to the fuel used, numbers travelling etc. However as a general rule we can say that on land train is best though depending on fuels a completely full car might rival it, or if the car is electric. Short haul/domestic flights are worst of all (because of the energy used in lift off compared to the distance) and flights also have a higher pollution factor because of where the emissions take place and the slower rate for that pollution to disappear than at ground level. Ferry emissions per foot passenger are very small, relatively speaking. You can of course easily find the appropriate figures for yourself or use an emissions calculator though the ‘pollute and offset the result’ model is now much discredited.

I have referred to the fact before, even if it is completely obvious, that overland travel out of the island of Ireland is impossible. So sea or air travel is necessary. The fact that air travel anywhere, say to Britain, can be much cheaper than sea and train or coach is a nonsense, environment-wise. ‘Rail and sail’ type connections are poor and governments and government agencies should be ensuring that over-sea-and-land connections are much less complicated, better connected, and, indeed, cheaper than air travel. It is certainly not rocket science (thankfully for the environment) but it needs done if people are to be weaned off air travel. And this should extend to all of western Europe, i.e. making it easy for people anywhere in Ireland to book sea and rail or coach travel anywhere within a thousand kilometres or so.

Just remember, there are ferries at the bottom of our garden (metaphorically at least). And history goes in (on?) cycles while here is life beyond the infernal combustion engine. [Ferry funny Billy, maybe you should head for the hills – on your bicycle – Ed] [If they reintroduce sails on ships, as likely, you can go plane sailing…. – Billy]

Card carrying members

When a card is needed, for birthdays, anniversaries, bereavements and achievements, it is always good to have one that is suitable and carefully picked – or handmade (I explored making pressed flower cards some time back, in NN 289, and it is quite easy and certainly demonstrates that you have put in time and effort). However, most of the time we may buy our cards and generally the selection is incredibly poor. If you want twee verging on sickly, well, you can have it in bucketloads. If you want crude, well, you can get that in bucketloads too – sexual innuendo may not be what you want for the person in question or the occasion, nor advice about how to drink alcohol to excess. I like humorous cards but finding ones that are genuinely funny can be next to impossible, at least ones that are funny and not rude and crude.

This is where, obviously, making your own designed card comes in using a commercial firm that will print it for you, and probably post it too. But you can do a good job yourself. The easiest thing is probably to design your card as A6 (folding A5 in half) but print on A4 – the standard size for home printers – then just cut it to size, using the other, blank, half for a handmade non-printed card. This saves the possibly tricky or awkward operation of adjusting your printer to take A5.

However in terms of ‘off the shelf’ you can come across some beautiful cards in the likes of craft shops although often at expense. I will mention two places which are worth exploring anyway. Draíocht art and craft shop, in Station Road, Adare, Co Limerick, has some great paintings, pottery and carvings, at a price, but has some less expensive products including recently acquired – and lovely – marbled ink cards, blank inside, which sell at €3 each; this is a bargain in my book in that you can pay more than that for a standard printed card. And the EPIC shop at Custom House Quay in Dublin has wonderful 3D (foldout design) cards from Paperbear, www.paperbear.ie which sell at €5 each; not cheap but they are really well designed and made, and with a wide variety. Concerning the latter we bought a few and mainly went for different flower designs but there are birds and local scenes, balloons and cakes among many other designs.

The English English-language term for someone being ‘a bit of a card’ – presumably deriving from a playing card reference – I think only refers to men and implies they are a bit of a chancer or certainly a character, is archaic and possibly not used at all now. But we can all be a bit of a card maker or a bit of a careful card selector, cairde.

War on our doorstep

Almost eight months on, it is still difficult to believe that a full scale war is being fought in Europe, even if many Ukrainian refugees have come here, as far as they can within the continent, to Ireland – and even to Tory Island. The fact that the war is constantly in the news can become, for some, simply a background noise that is taking place ‘over there’ on the far side of our continent.

It is intriguing to watch the reactions to what is, and has been, a hugely serious and cataclysmic event. Ukraine and Ukrainians deserve all the attention they get, and more, but I can’t help wondering about all the other victims of war and violence washed up, usually metaphorically as we are not close to the mainland of Europe, on our shores, Are they deserving of being thrown into Direct Provision, or, in the case of the North, possibly deported to Britain via Larne House to enter the also atrocious asylum system there.

The theme of Naomi Klein’s book ‘The Shock Doctrine’ is how capitalism can use crises to sledgehammer existing social supports and carve out new territory for itself. The Irish government and political establishment has been doing something similar in trying to destroy Irish neutrality – a hidden goal for many for a long time – through the shock to the system provided by the Russian war on Ukraine.

Invasions and wars conducted by western powers over the last couple of decades received scant criticism from an Irish establishment keen to ingratiate itself with the powers that be. Despicably, the Irish government has gone so far as to facilitate US neo-imperialism through giving it near carte blanche use of Shannon Airport for its military escapades. No, it is meant to be troops without weapons but as planes are never, ever, inspected – as trials of activists have clearly shown – anything can go through Shannon (including ‘renditioned’ prisoners). Russia has not been the only aggressor around.

The Ukraine war is a challenge to those who believe in peace in perhaps a similar way to the way the Spanish Civil War was in the 1930s [It looks like you remember it well – Ed]. Was military resistance the only possible response? We don’t believe so and an alternative case has been made in these pages. And I am so sad – something also dealt with in an editorial in this issue – that Ireland has had the opportunity to play a constructive role in looking for ways out of war but has been content to play a bit part in the hollering for Russian blood. And that Russian blood is largely the blood of young, poor, and ethnic minority members of the Russian Federation.

Making sense of, and after, the Norn Iron census

Quite a lot of printers’ ink and e-words have been expended on the first results from last year’s Northern Ireland census. You can read plenty of detail online so I won’t go on about it too long. There is nothing that can be taken for granted but it is clear that unionists will have to up their game if they want the UK to continue to consist of GB&NI given that the very basis the statelet of Northern Ireland was set up on – the largest area that would give a Protestant and Unionist majority in perpetuity – no longer applies.

The results of the census are complex in terms of identity. Simple ‘British only’ identity has been declining but ‘Irish only’ identity has not been advancing rapidly. ‘Northern Irish’ and multiple, overlayering, identities has been increasing. And of course there are the 6% of people in the North who are newcomers from ‘elsewhere’ (only half the figure in the Republic but still significant). Old certainties are out the window but there are as yet no ‘new certainties’.

It is the ‘middle ground’, as we have oft stated before, that will have the casting vote if it comes to a referendum on a united Ireland, deciding between the options. Some unionists were getting perturbed when Peter Kyle, Labour shadow secretary for the North, said he would set out his criteria for calling a referendum – this isn’t prescribed in the Good Friday Agreement. To these unionists this looked like treachery whereas it is simply common sense. The more clarity the better. The Good Friday Agreement provides for a referendum to be called by the Secretary of State if he/she feels that a vote for a united Ireland would succeed. Being clear on what criteria would be used to make that decision would be good so it is a mystery to no one. A Lucid Talk poll has shown 57% of 18–24-year-olds would vote for a united Ireland; this ‘united Ireland’ majority disappears at the next age cohort up but it is still a straw in the wind.

A non sequitur (wishful thinking by some unionists perhaps) is that those identifying as ‘Northern Irish’ will necessarily vote for the continuation of the UK as opposed to a united Ireland. This cannot be assumed. It would seem more Catholics than Protestants proclaim themselves as ‘Northern Irish’. But in any case, if you are ‘Northern Irish’ you can be ‘Northern Irish’ in the UK or, potentially, in a united Ireland which would, sensibly, allow the continuation of some Northern Irish identity or devolved government. This has all to be defined and efforts to explore what the nature of a ‘united Ireland’ would be are welcome so that people can decide on as factual a basis as possible rather than simple identity politics. And, as we have said before, any vote for a united Ireland, should it come, needs to be the start or continuation of a process not a sudden fait accompli.

Unionism in Norn Iron previously existed through being set up as a majority and proclaiming majority rule; it is no longer a majority but then neither is nationalism. Let’s hope that both get their acts together to try to appeal outside their core base so that future debates can take place with as much reason, and as as little vituperation and hate, as possible. Discussions organised by Ireland’s Future group are grappling with different issues of a possible united Ireland, and there should be separate Irish government action and discussion on the same theme,. It is possible that Together UK, associated with Arlene Foster, to be launched in November, may do something similar on the unionist side; it will hopefully go way beyond civic campaigning for the UK link and the simple statement from Foster that a united Ireland would be an economic ‘nightmare’. It needs to compare actualities and real possibilities on both sides, from a unionist perspective..

Of course comparing current realities (the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, where it is currently and where it can go) with potentialities (of a united Ireland) are rather different tasks. But let us hope that all sides – the ‘muddle in the middle’ too – can exercise their imagination and thought processes to the fullest so that what we get is not flag waving but concrete analysis and careful planning, whatever the future of the wee North holds. People deserve no less. I certainly won’t object if the concentration on symbols like flegs flags but that is left blowing in the wind. And we don’t want more flags to be flying at half mast.

Beautiful questions

I’m not a Quaker though sometimes people who see I am into peace think I must be one (!). However I did have a Quaker great-great-great-grandmother from Westmeath – maybe she was great – and at the time ‘marrying out’ (mid-19th century) she would have been cast out from the Religious Society of Friends – a not very friendly action perhaps which is part explanation for the small numbers of Quakers in Ireland today. Anyway, that’s a preface to mentioning the lecture at Quaker Irish Yearly Meeting this summer was given by Lynn Finnegan on the topic Embodying the Quaker Testimonies in Service of a Living Planet: The Challenge of Asking Beautiful Questions’ and it can be found at https://quakers-in-ireland.ie/2022/08/16/iym-2022-public-lecture/ If you are into Quaker-style spirituality and action, environmentalism and justice, you might want to give it a look cos it has lots to ponder.

As we have undoubtedly said in these pages before, the history of peace action in Ireland would be a lot shorter without the members of the Religious Society of Friends who have been fiendishly or friendishly dedicated to justice and peace, and have been at times able to initiate positive earth-quakes. Interestingly, they share initials, RSF, with Republican Sinn Féin. [Is this your Useless Fact of the Month? – Ed]

The winter is coming in, unfortunately for those who will struggle to heat their homes and eat as well. The cycle of life continues and there will be a spring, literal and metaphorical, even if both may be a long way away. Until we meet again, take care of yourself, take care of others, Billy.

Billy King: Rites Again, 302

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

As always, summer comes and goes fast, but then we are only really talking about a couple of months, and less when we are thinking of our ‘time off’ or ‘time out’. I hope you were able to get your head showered, metaphorically speaking, and at least a bit of a break. Welcome to the autumn – and the autumn equinox takes place later this month when we enter the darker half of the year. Every season has its pluses and minuses but unfortunately this winter we will have to see how well people can survive in terms of heating, what government financial supports people have to help them get through it, and the knock on effects of the expense involved for the rest of their lives and living. So it is a time of great uncertainty and dread for many.

Currant affairs

Was it global warming in general, a short but very hot spell in July, a mild winter and spring, all these, or what? Normally the redcurrants last on our bush – if protected by netting from the birds (who have plenty else to eat at that time of year!) – until a good way through August. We used to pick them all together but then discovered that they lasted well on the bush for quite some time. Not this year however – they were turning to mush before the end of July and when we went to pick them all a significant amount were unusable. I don’t know the reason but it could be all the factors mentioned above. Incidentally you can make beautiful wine from red/white/black/any colour currants – I haven’t done it but have sampled some excellent Finnish currant wine, indistinguishable to my palate [or your pallet? – Ed] from a good grape wine.

In gardening, as in life, some things are blindingly obvious, the reason for some things can only be guessed at, and the reason for other things remain beyond even an educated guess. But as a gardener for some decades I do know that the certainty of a hard frost before the end of October has disappeared completely with climate change, now it can be the end of the year or into the new year. When nasturtiums go to mush is my visible guide to a hard frost; this last year some – not all – survived right through to grow afresh this spring, and have provided great colour up a trellis on a shed wall.

As yet Ireland has escaped relatively unscathed from climate change. But what if the Gulf Stream slows further or stops? And what damage will storms wreak in the future? And drought could strike the east of the country. We should not be complacent for ourselves, and certainly not for others as the world hots up and droughts and floods increase. We remain to see whether Roman nomenclature of ‘Hibernia’ for Ireland could be an accurate blessing or curse – if the Gulf Stream stopped the label might indeed be even more accurate – Newfoundland here we come?

More generally this July and August I found it amazing to stand in the sunshine and watch the insects, including numerous Small Tortoiseshell butterflies, on our oregano, helichrysum/strawflowers, fennel and other flowers. They were all busy as bees, some were bees, but it felt a privilege to watch such a display of life and insect industry. It may seem a bit crass and simplistic to say, but if we take care of the insects (a small but not the smallest of life forms yet a vitally important part of our ecological system) then our world will certainly help take care of us.

Civil and religious liberty for all

The concept of ‘civil and religious liberty for all’ is a noble one and anyone who supports equality would find it hard to disagree with it. But what does it actually mean in practice? Is it just a slogan? Is ‘all’ all-inclusive? And if there are competing or conflicting rights, who gets to decide? Such issues are of major import in Northern Ireland or, indeed, anywhere.

Civil and religious liberty for all’ is a central slogan of the Orange Order. The marching season in the North is now over and this year was the first year that things were ‘normal’ for it after a couple of years of Covid. Thankfully things passed off relatively peacefully, a wheelie bin thrown towards a band and a broken window (in the one incident) are not, by the standards of some previous years (and centuries), anything much to write home about, distressing as this may have been for those involved.

Arlene Foster has been busy reinventing herself as an activist-cum-spokeperson for civic unionism. And there is a case to be made for unionism and the Norn Iron link with Britain which is often ignored in shibboleth-laden diatribes. In the same way that some supporters of civic nationalism have been trying to move on with what a united Ireland would mean in practice, unionism can examine itself and what ‘the Union’ means or could mean, and rational debate or argument on both sides is to be encouraged. There are debates about whether ‘the centre ground’ has actually grown in the North or simply coalesced more, in electoral terms, around the Alliance Party, but ‘the fact is’ that it is this ‘centre ground’ (covering quite numerous views) which will get to swing the day if it comes to a referendum on a united Ireland in some years to come. Yes, nationalism is somewhat waxing and unionism waning but the floating voters will be the people that both sides have to persuade to go with them.

This is relatively positive in import in that it might persuade unionism and nationalism to be at their best and most cooperative of behaviours – though ‘might’ here is the operative word. For example, unionism shows no sign of compromising on the Northern Ireland Protocol although they would say that it is a question of principle; a LucidTalk poll for the Belfast Telegraph showed 82% of unionist voters believing the DUP should not return to Stormont until the Protocol is scrapped or significantly changed. Yes, that certainly indicates the issue needs dealt with but the Northern Ireland Protocol is not the only issue around and Claire Hanna of the SDLP has pointed out how much nationalists have to constitutionally compromise on a day to day basis in the North: “hundreds of thousands of us in Northern Ireland who do not identify as unionists constitutionally compromise every single day; we live in a reality where the governance lines do not directly match up with our identity…..” https://www.irishtimes.com/world/uk/2022/06/30/london-letter-belfast-banter-in-westminster-reveals-protocol-home-truths/

To return to Arlene Foster, she presented live coverage of the Twelfth parades for GB News television (the BBC were only doing a compilation programme this year, leading to loyalist protests) and wrote a piece in the News Letter https://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/opinion/columnists/arlene-foster-bbc-ni-wont-cover-the-twelfth-live-so-we-are-stepping-in-with-gb-news-and-if-you-see-me-in-armagh-be-sure-to-say-hello-3763031 advocating for the Orange cause.

However I suspect Arlene Foster’s grasp of Irish history is a bit lacking, she probably never had the opportunity to study it at Enniskillen Collegiate, or in the unlikely event she did get to study it she is ignoring a crucial element. She said in the article that “This 12th of July, whatever about the naysayers, we will once again celebrate William’s victory at the Battle of the Boyne and the Glorious Revolution — Civil and Religious liberty for all.” King William’s victory at the Battle of the Boyne and the ‘Glorious Revolution’ did not establish ‘civil and religious liberty for all’ in Ireland or elsewhere, it perpetuated control by the Protestant, Anglican, upper class and in Ireland the impoverishment and exclusion of Catholics from society and the possibility of economic or political advancement. To think that the Battle of the Boyne established civil and religious liberty for all is a myth and a dangerous one as well because it justifies radical discrimination that is not labelled as discrimination. King James might have been as bad, or worse, the other way around, if he had won, but it is William’s forces who won the day and the effects of his victory that we are judging.

In a divided, polarised society like the North there can be a tendency to think that ‘our’ side is better, all round more civilised, than the other lot, and this is across the board, it is a middle class trait as well as working class. It is present in polite society who may extend the feeling of ‘otherness’ to working class people in general; sectarianism and classism can be intermixed.

Getting people to acknowledge the flaws and imperfections on their/’our’ side, and examine their/our myths and shibboleths, is a major task. However until this happens there remains the risk of fractures in society in the North, and resultant violence. United Kingdom or United Ireland, it does matter but overcoming prejudice is a major task whatever flag flies. Northern Ireland at the start of the recent Troubles is a strong lesson in how a society with such fissures can quickly deteriorate into violent chaos – and the former Yugoslavia is an even more brutal example.

Dam it anyway

Typoos – typographical errors – are impossible to eraddyate. Getting rid of one you may cause another. However a classic appeared in a Belfast Telegraph article in mid-July on “15 of Northern Ireland’s hidden gems for staycation visits”. https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/15-of-northern-irelands-hidden-gems-for-staycation-visits-41843818.html Regarding Mossley Mill, north of Belfast, this advised that “Located in the heart of Newtownabbey, Mossley Mill is a fond location for anyone familiar with the small village’s flax milling community. The location has a large damn visitors can walk around and even offers fishing.” Well, dam it anyway. But I am a veggie and I think fishing is cruel, and fish are sentient, social creatures. So that might even cause me to utter a dam or something worse.

My humorous or light-hearted headline of the month, though, goes to the BBC NI website: “Pole-dancing axe thrower wins world title”. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-62717150 There can’t have been any ground for the article to be axed, it wasn’t a hatchet job, the writer had no axe to grind – and I wasn’t bothered to axe about it since I saw it on the website. It all sounds like an interesting way to fly off the handle, and good to hear of someone from this island reaching her target on the world stage. Take a bow, Ceola McGowan from Sligo who is clearly at the cutting edge of her sport. [Billy, unfortunately you seem to have missed the bull’s eye for puns here – Ed]

On a more serious note, it was good to see Suzanne Breen, also in the Tele, https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/opinion/columnists/suzanne-breen/bloody-friday-and-role-of-14-year-old-hero-stephen-parker-must-not-be-forgotten-41845237.html (pay wall though) writing to remember Stephen Parker who died fifty years previously. Stephen Parker was a young hero, warning people of a bomb on Bloody Friday in north Belfast in July 1972. His father subsequently founded Witness for Peace. https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/albums/72157675161158637 Dying while warning others of the IRA bomb that killed him, Stephen Parker deserves all the memorialisation possible. Had he lived he would now be approaching retirement age and possibly playing with grandchildren but his life was snuffed out as a young teenager on a day that acted as a very effective recruiting sergeant for loyalist paramilitaries (just as Bloody Sunday had done for the IRA).

Apropos of nothing, I thought of the old (more than a century old) pun “If you weren’t so Ballymena with your Ballymoney we’d have a Ballycastle to be our Ballyholme” – Ballyholme is near Bangor, Co Down so they are all Northern places. But unfortunately in the winter to come most people will not be thinking of a castle for a home but just staying warm and fed. And on a world scale those who have done least to cause the ecological crisis are those who are suffering most from climate change. Anything we can do to make it a less cruel and more caring world is certainly required of us and that includes collective political as well as individual action.

Until I see you again, take care of yourself, take care of others, Billy.

Billy King: Rites Again, 301

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Ah, ‘summer’ in Norn Iron, and the fifth season of the year, the Marching Season (as Colum Sands so admirably marked in song). A few days ago I was passing along a small back street in East Belfast, now it is a modern back street, with loyalist flags. And I saw a sight which made me think “No, they wouldn’t, they couldn’t be……” and they weren’t. A workman was placing a ladder against a lamp post which had on it an illegal paramilitary flag….was it just, incredibly, possible he had been delegated – and been willing to risk his safety – to take down this illegal flag? Two out of the three flags there were paramilitary ones. But of course he and his workmate weren’t taking the flags down, they were fixing the lights or replacing the bulbs. It is nobody’s responsibility, you see, to deal with such violent and sectarian branding which can be (and probably is) against the wishes of most residents.

7m

The population of the island of Ireland is now 7 million – 5.1 million in the Republic and 1.9 million in Northern Ireland with both showing increases, though at a higher rate in the Republic. At the current rate of increase it will take another couple of decades to reach the 8 million that was the pre-Famine/An Gorta Mór population, a particularly symbolic total given that the population of area of the Republic continued to decline from that time until the 1960s – it reached a minimum of only 2.8 million in 1961. Emigration was, of course, the main scourge. If trends continue the Republic’s 1961 population will have doubled by 2040 or not long after that. If the population of the 1840s had continued to grow, to be half the population of Britain (as it stood then) it would be over 30 million now.

Northern Ireland has moved from a population of around 1.25 million in 1921 to 1.9 million now. Because Northern Ireland’s population grew more steadily, if variably, since partition compared to the Republic’s more recent rapid increase, the proportion of the population of the whole island living in Northern Ireland has only declined from around 29% to around 27% in a century, so it stands at slightly over a quarter.

Is there such a thing as an ‘optimum’ population? That is very debatable and can be used (e.g. Britain) as a poor excuse for throwing people out who are seeking refuge and a new life. Ireland is relatively underpopulated by many international standards. Of course there are questions about sustainability and food sovereignty which are important but these are much more questions of policy – as is the provision of reasonably priced housing in Dublin which is a total disgrace and indictment of Irish government policies. Net immigration has been a major factor in population increases, particularly in the Republic, and that, as we have oft stated, has been a positive factor in Irish life in numerous ways over the last few decades.

Deaths in the family

It may not actually be true in a very meaningful sense but I tend to think of peace movement people around the world as ‘family’ – hopefully not in the manner of the mafia!. I have been to enough international peace events, and worked with others in other ways, to have made some great friends and learnt many things from them – not least that, through learning about their work and coming to highly respect them, even or particularly where there approach is different to my own, that ‘different strokes for different folks’ is important. I try to carry that through to work at home; obviously I believe in my own approach but one size doesn’t fit all, and what someone else does or says may communicate to others in a way that my own work does not. And peace is a jigsaw, made up of many different shaped bits.

So I am sad when I learn of an activist’s death that I know or know by name. Most have never been in the media spotlight, certainly outside the peace movement, but have been people of stature and impact – I think of someone like Tess Ramiro of the Philippines. Some are known widely internationally in peace circles, someone like Richard Deats from the USA who died in April 2021 (a web search will give you details of his life). Tess Ramiro and Richard Deats actually appear in the one photo on the INNATE photo site at https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/50679396881/ even if it is not a particularly brilliant photo of either of them as they are in the background. Others are known internationally and in different circles, someone like Thich Nhat Hanh who died in January 2022; a profound peace activist, he was a ‘founder’ of ‘Engaged Buddhism’ and of mindfulness, and again there is plenty available on his life and teaching.

A more recent death, on 8th June 2022,was Bruce Kent, perhaps the best known peace activist on the island of Britain, and no stranger to Ireland, visiting and speaking a number of times at CND events both in the North https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/3337020641/in/photolist-65T6V8-65T6YD and the Republic https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/14890287515/in/album-72157614961149810/ For his life see e.g. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jun/09/bruce-kent-obituary Bruce Kent is of course most associated with CND but had strong involvements with other organisations such as Pax Christi and the Movement for the Abolition of War (MAW).

I am not into nonviolent sainthood. Few of any of us are saints and we all have our failings and faults which we may or may not know about ourselves. But family is family and I mourn all their deaths and am thankful for their lives and the dedication of peace and nonviolent activists around the world, many of who have difficulty to survive because of repression, ridicule, or basic questions of survival, and in all cases face difficult questions of direction.

The Midas militarist touch

Midas got more than he bargained for in everything that he touched turning to gold; you can’t eat gold (and with modern dentistry having moved beyond using it, gold is not a particularly useful metal). If you are involved in the arms trade, well, maybe everything you touch does turn to gold in your pocket. But as someone into peace and nonviolence I am amazed at what militarism touches and makes totally unpalatable for me.

I am not into royalty and that whole scene but if you take the recent Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth, a whole day seemed to be devoted to military pageantry – and the members of the British royal family were groaning under their chestfuls (double meaning intended) of military medals. The Orange Order, and other loyal orders in Northern Ireland plus the bands that accompany them, are into military style marching, symbolism and regalia, and as I have already stated now is the Marching Season in Norn Iron. A fairly recent innovation is an ‘Armed Forces Day’ in the UK which is also celebrated in the North, which attempts to portray militarism as simply kind-hearted, family-friendly culture.

The standard welcome for a foreign dignitary is a military ‘guard of honour’ (what I would usually consider a guard of dishonour). The Republic has a commission on the future of the defence forces but not one of peace and neutrality. And who represented the President of Ireland at the funeral of Ciaran McKeown of the Peace People in Belfast in September 2019 – why, a military aide-de-camp in uniform….how appropriate was that for the funeral of a well known believer in nonviolence but it was certainly a fascinating juxtaposition.

And if you scratch the Christian churches, particularly the Protestant ones in Northern Ireland but the Catholic Church in Ireland a different way, well, militarism is part of the whole ideology. Some Protestant churches have got rid of military or military related flags in some of their buildings but the likes of St Anne’s Church of Ireland Cathedral in Belfast has a military chapel. Has no one told them, these professed and sometimes professional Christians, that in the first couple of centuries after Jesus it was considered impossible to be a Christian and a soldier???????? [You are going to add to a world shortage of question marks – Ed] The lack of connection there is absolutely stunning.

Of course the decline and fall of Christianity as a default belief system in Ireland opens up new possibilities, and there have always been some Christians who stood against militarism but they have tended to be a small minority ever since the time of Constantine turning the Christian church into an adjunct of the state.

We have a huge task to liberate whole cultures from the militarist death wish. And unfortunately the Russian war on Ukraine seems to be reinforcing the view of many that militarism is the only way to go when it is the path to armageddon.

Peaceful Ireland

The Republic came in as third most peaceful country in the Global Peace Index (GPI) for 2022. See https://reliefweb.int/report/world/global-peace-index-2022 for summary and link to full report. Overall peacefulness was judged to have declined considerably. “Iceland remains the most peaceful country, a position it has held since 2008. It is joined at the top of the Index by New Zealand, Ireland, Denmark and Austria. For the fifth consecutive year, Afghanistan is the least peaceful country, followed by Yemen, Syria, Russia and South Sudan. Seven of the ten countries at the top of the GPI are in Europe, and Turkey is the only country in this region to be ranked outside the top half of the Index. “

Of course it all depends on what your criteria are. They say the GPI “uses 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators from highly respected sources to compile the index. These indicators are grouped into three key domains: Ongoing Conflict, Safety and Security, and Militarisation.” And while there might be some correlation between peacefulness and happiness there can be other factors not included which impinge on quality of life.

The cost of violence to the global economy was $16.5 trillion, or 10.9% of global GDP, which is the equivalent to $2,117 per person. For the ten countries most affected by violence, the average economic impact was equivalent to 34% of GDP, compared to 3.6% in the countries least affected.” This is only the economic effect that they measure and you cannot put a cost on trauma and injury. Not all the news was bad (war in Ukraine etc): “There were substantial improvements for several indicators, including terrorism impact, nuclear and heavy weapons, deaths from internal conflict, military expenditure, incarceration rates and perceptions of criminality. Terrorism impact is at its lowest level since the inception of the GPI. “

However it looks like the Irish government is trying its damnedest to join NATO and EU militarism to the full – and that would be sad in so many different ways. One of the things which Ireland (Republic of) can be proud of historically as an independent state is some of its international dealings, from de Valera and the League of Nations through work on nuclear issues, landmines and cluster munitions, and being previously somewhat non-aligned. That risks all going down the drain. The Irish government believes in cutting peacefulness into pieces.

Well’, as the water sprite said spritely, summer is here and I hope you are able to get a break in the routine and some holliers to enjoy. I often quote Christy Moore here and his definition of holidays (in ‘Lisdoonvarna’) – “When summer comes around each year / They come here and we go there”, though with Covid over the last couple of years there wasn’t too much of people going here or there. Make hay while the sun shines cos September will be here in a flash, and I’ll see you again then, meanwhile take care of yourself and some others, Billy.

Billy King: Rites Again

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Sic transit gloria mundi

Martyrs’ Memorial Free Presbyterian Church is the Free Presbyterian ‘cathedral’, the church which Rev Ian Paisley was minister of in the religious denomination which he started. It is situated on Belfast’s Ravenhill Road only 1km or so from where Paisley had his first small gospel hall or church building. The name celebrates Protestant martyrs. Close to the roof at the front of it is the evangelical slogan ‘Time is short’, and a clock face. There was a clock telling the time but that has now been removed, hands and all (“look, no hands!”), whether to be replaced or not I cannot say, presumably it stopped working. So we are left with the slogan and an empty clock face; has eternity already arrived? Time has certainly ceased, it seems a bit ironic. Of course Ian Paisley had a run in with the church once he saw the light in 2007 and was converted to political cooperation, and having been moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church every year since it started he had the indignity of being forced out; sic transit gloria mundi (‘so passes the glory of the world’)

Perhaps I can be allowed [You may – Ed] to repeat an original joke, original to me that is though not to these pages, about what the white van driver texted to the company secretary, whose name was Gloria, when he couldn’t get his vehicle started at the beginning of the week: “Sick Transit, Gloria, Monday”.

The cycle continues

Dervla Murphy, the renowned Irish traveller and travel writer, went on her last great journey on 22nd May, and her death has been fairly well marked in the mainstream media. She was outspoken and fearless to the last. Unlike some south of the border she was not afraid to interact with those of what was then the ‘majority community’ in the North, and wrote a book about her cycling and journeying around Norn Iron, A Place Apart (1978). One of the many things which she illustrated was the value of cycling as a way to get to know anywhere, and its facility in allowing interaction with local people. Here is one story which was told to me by Peter Emerson, a friend of hers, and incidentally another inveterate cyclist in local and foreign parts.

“She wanted to see an Orange parade, and I knew an LOL [Loyal Orange Lodge] met on the morning of the 12th in the youth club where I was working at the time in north-west Belfast. So I asked them – as it happened they were a temperance lodge — and they said ok. She’s from LIsmore. Yeah, no problem. So I told Dervla, and off she went. She arrived in the club at about 8am and the first question they asked her, “Would you like a wee half’un?” .” Slainte! May she travel in peace.

300

We don’t blow our own trumpet too often [I thought trumpeting on was what your Colm was all about – Ed] but 300 issues of any publication produced on a voluntary basis is an achievement worth celebrating. It is not actually only 30 years (at ten issues a year – the couple of news supplements produced most years in January and August don’t count as issues) but 32 years old as it was first produced in 1990; INNATE began in 1987 but Nonviolent News only became monthly in 1994.

A lot of water has passed under many bridges since then, and many bridges have been built and others destroyed, literally and metaphorically, at home and abroad. The two page paper issue, which was how it started, is still produced as the first two pages of news but the email and web editions are substantially longer – and more opinionated – as you may know if you are reading this, and that is how most people see it these days. Nonviolent News first went online simultaneously with the paper edition in 1998 but all issues, the earlier ones as PDFs, are online.

There are lots of other resources on the website, including posters and workshops, beyond Nonviolent News but as a monthly it is still usually the most visible star in the INNATE firmament. As always we welcome your input or suggestions and support in whatever way possible. It will keep going and the oul boots won’t be hung up yet. After all, we are led to believe peace, ecological sustainability, human rights and social justice have not yet arrived……

Ticked off

I have been ticked off many times in life, often enough justifiably, and often enough due to circumstance. However after a recent visit to the countryside in Co Donegal I found I had a red spot near my ankle when I returned home. Thinking that a small thorn or something might have embedded in my leg, I used my nail to investigate…..and was surprised to find a live tick, at the nymph stage and only just over 1mm long, in my hand. Picking it off with my nail was the wrong approach to take, at least if I had known I had a tick (it wasn’t just the ticket) as you have to be careful removing a tick – look it up online – to avoid leaving part behind and possible infection. I was lucky it came away so easily, it can’t have been well embedded. Ticks have a fascinating life cycle though – just I don’t want to be part of it. After a couple of days of an itchy spot I was fine.

When hill walking I have stout boots and a couple of pairs of socks with my trousers tucked into the outer pair – which is the best way to avoid ticks. But I was also wandering about without such protection in grass and a field where there would have over time been sheep, cattle, dogs, and birds. So I got a little passenger. I am not in favour of parasites though as the African proverb goes, the sharks on land are more dangerous than the sharks in the sea…..I won’t adapt the African proverb to one about parasites. The chance of getting an infection from a tick is small – though I do know someone who got Lyme Disease from walking the hills of Donegal and the effects are like ME/Chronic Fatigue so very unpleasant and long lasting – but just in case of any problems I kept the dead tick in tissue paper in an envelope; had it been a match box I kept it in I could have been accused of engaging in a tick box exercise…… [Tick tock, your time is up – Ed]

Turncoat

The term ‘turncoat’ is used for someone who radically changes their views and allegiances, the origin of the term may be military (literally changing the colour of your uniform by inverting it) but it is not a violent military term; and it is also not synonymous with the term ‘traitor’ since circumstances may have changed radically before the person concerned became a ‘turncoat’, even the nature of the state. I can say I am always fascinated by people who radically change their viewpoint. Ian Paisley, mentioned above, was one such person who ‘saw the light’ of cooperation and compromise, of a sort, late in life, and became involved in power-sharing….which the year before he had said would happen over his dead body. Whether a desire to ‘leave a legacy’ was the major factor in Paisley becoming a ‘turncoat’ is probable but may not have been the only reason.

One figure of interest in this regard, who was a very young, active, and seemingly successful, military republican in the Irish War of Independence but ended up a Zen Buddhist and pacifist, was George Lennon (who died in 1991). His story is told in various entries online and there is a documentary film about him, “O Chogadh go Síocháin: Saol George Lennon” which I haven’t seen. I am not going to give too much about him here except to say he resisted clericalism in the Free State and moved to the USA a couple of times where he permanently emigrated in 1946. From Dungarvan, Co Waterford, he was married to a Dublin, well Dun Laoghaire, Presbyterian, and their only son was baptised as a Presbyterian which was not in accord with the Ne Temere decree of the Catholic Church (but then he was married outside the Catholic church too).

As to what influenced him to become a pacifist, the suggestion is made that being ordered to kill a childhood acquaintance, an RIC man who acted as a British army scout, may have been part of it. He actively opposed the Vietnam war in the States and got up to all sorts of things not mentioned here. Worth looking up. Turning your coat can be a positive move, as Paisley and Lennon both illustrate.

BJ in NI

Boris Johnson visited the Thales (they pronounce the name to rhyme with ‘Alice’) armaments plant at Castlereagh, Belfast during a recent visit to Norn Iron to not sort out the Assembly impasse. He has been doing his best to look like, and failing to be, a ‘war leader’ which presumably is also part of his schtick in attempting to survive as boss of the Conservative Party and prime minister of the UK. Ditto his visit to Ukraine earlier. Why do I get the impression that he actually welcomed the war in Ukraine since he thought it was an opportunity to look like a Big Guy and regain some authority.

However he was looking like a little boy in a toy shop when he described the Belfast Thales arms factory as ‘amazing’ and joked as he looked through the aiming device of a weapons system. Very funny hilarious, such killing machines. Thales does make bazooka type NLAWs which are widely used by the Ukrainian army….but Thales, as INNATE has repeatedly tried to state, also has components in Russian war planes and tanks. Profits from all sides then, as is typical of the arms trade.

What the media North and South has refused to publicise is the corruption existing in the arms trade in general, and relating to Thales in particular (proven in relation to Malaysia, Taiwan and South Africa – the last still ongoing in relation to Jacob Zuma, former President). See Andrew Feinstein’s book “The Shadow World – Inside the Global Arms Trade” (Penguin) on the arms trade for some more detail on this – and lots of astounding detail about the arms trade around the world, not least its links with pollytitians.

Oh, and on another matter, Alliance have shared that on his visit to Norn Iron Boris Johnson didn’t know that Stormont MLAs have to designate themselves as unionist, nationalist or other, and Alliance is therefore discriminated against since the first and deputy first minister have to come from the two largest parties, one from each ‘side’. Not for the first time Johnson hadn’t done his homework but for the supposed, and self appointed, ‘Minister for the Union’ not to know a very basic fact about politics in one of the Terror-Tories in the UK, the most Troubles-some one, is absolutely astounding.

That’s me as summer begins, which, as Irish people know, may be more a state of mind than a warm and sunny season – but the rain is warmer. It is not necessarily the holliers yet but not too far away. I don’t usually make appeals [you are not very appealing – Ed] but if you have a few bob/quid/dolours/yen to spare for a green project, see the ‘water protectors’ piece in the news section of this issue. Anyway, see you soon, Billy.

Billy King: Rites Again 299

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Well, hello again, April has now been and gone and once more it looks like it was – as it is on average – the driest month of the year in Ireland. It wasn’t necessarily very warm all the time but some of my plants in tubs were looking very weepy for want of water. The weeds in the garden are doing well too.

The Planter and the Gael

It was 1970 and all hell (or maybe not all hell but a fair bit of it) was about to break out in Northern Ireland, not that anyone really knew that at the time. In a piece of perspicacious planning the Arts Council in the North arranged a tour by two poets under the title ‘The Planter and the Gael’; I don’t know who suggested it but I hail the originator of the tour. The two remarkable poets involved were John Hewitt and John Montague. It was an inspired programme and I am sufficiently long in the tooth to have attended one of the sessions, a privileged memory which has stayed with me. One of my possessions still is the booklet of poetry which went with the tour but had to be purchased separately to admission.

The two poems which I would like to refer to from what was presented are ‘Once alien here’ by Hewitt and ‘The Siege of Mullingar” (it was the Fleadh Cheoil, not a military siege) by Montague. Hewitt’s ‘Once alien here’ is quite well known and an exposition of how ‘a planter’ can belong and how he/they “must let this rich earth so enhance the blood / with steady pulse where now is plunging mood / till thought and image may, identified / find easy voice to utter each aright” – the ‘each’ being “the graver English, (and the) lyric Irish tongue”. In the middle verse where he refers to “The sullen Irish” and proceeds from there, I presume (hope) is is deliberately dealing in stereotypes and popular images and that his depiction should not be taken at face value.

John Montague’s poem, ‘The Siege of Mullingar’, is looking at the behaviour of young people at a fleadh cheoil and concluding “Puritan Ireland’s dead and gone / A myth of O’Connor and O’Faolain”. It is a portrayal of a new Ireland, a changing Ireland, or maybe an old Ireland re-emerging, and it is very forward looking or prophetic, written as it was more than fifty years ago. Though when I see a portrayal of any society as monolithic in its views I always tend to question that; is it really monolithic or is it just appearing so because some people are unable to speak out? Was ‘puritan’ Ireland really a mixture of genuine puritanism and, to a considerable extent, enforced puritanism which people did not necessarily agree with but could not publicly dissent from? I think the latter. Maybe that still makes it ‘puritan’ but is nevertheless an important qualification. Maybe ‘society’ can be puritan when the majority of individuals aren’t so.

The title of the tour was ‘The Planter and the Gael’, emphasis added by me. Or, in relation to demographic changes in Norn Iron, that could soon be ‘The Gael and the Planter’. There are no ‘buts’ in that title, it is not ‘The Planter but also the Gael’. It is not ‘The Gael/Planter but we will allow the Planter/Gael a look in at some later point’. ‘And’ is the operative word. More than fifty years later Norn Iron can still learn from a simple title adopted for a poetry tour. Maybe such learning might even apply to the title of “First Minister and Deputy First Minister”,

Smoke and mirrors

There are so many competing narratives in life that it is sometimes difficult to navigate them, either in coming to a fair comprehension or avoiding going overboard. One such area is Brexit and the good old (or not so good in some people’s book) Northern Ireland Protocol. It is quite clear that the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Boris Johnson MP, has told various lies in relation to said Protocol, not just that he would never adopt such an approach (in a promise to unionists) but also that it would have no effects on trade and people could tear up any associated paperwork.

And various people go in various directions on the issue, including loyalists who see it as the thin end of a united Ireland wedge. And their concerns deserve being listened to. But they also need to listen to other perspectives, not least business exporters in the North who see inclusion in the EU single market as an opportunity, and the fact that even most unionists don’t put the Protocol as their top concern.

The British government meanwhile has been valiantly trying to use the Protocol as a stick to beat the EU (and the EU could have been a lot faster to compromise but trust was in short supply) saying all sorts of things such as they only agreed the Protocol (a binding international agreement) as a temporary measure, and even that if the EU didn’t reform the Protocol in an acceptable way they would reform it themselves. Ahem, it may seem strange to have to point out that an agreement (and particularly a legally binding international agreement) is an agreement between at least two parties and a position taken by one side is not an ‘agreement’; the British government doesn’t want to understand this simple fact of life.

And the senior British politicians who negotiated Brexit and the Protocol, now decrying it as a terrible affront to justice and Britishness, as if it had nothing to do with them, well, it takes some gall. Yes, everyone is entitled to change their mind but to make it look like they have been consistent requires stunning somersaults which should qualify them for some elite political athletic team.

Anyway, on occasions something penetrates the mist and a beacon of light shines forth. It can be argued (some loyalists disagree) that one such featured a former senior Norn Iron civil servant, Dr Andrew McCormick, in a statement https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-61252259 which was quite clear. And he witnessed Brexit negotiations himself. “There is little credibility in any argument that the UK government either did not anticipate the implications of what it had agreed, or was constrained and unable to choose any other option. The facts and choices had been spelt out clearly over the whole period from 2016 onwards and the detail of the provisions (notably most of the applicable EU law contained in Annex 2 to the Protocol) were known at latest in autumn 2018.” He went on to say “its collapse would create uncertainty and instability – which cannot be in the interests of those who want Northern Ireland to succeed”.

Meanwhile the UK’s Lord Frost (quoted in the same report) spoke of how the EU was treating his negotiating team as “the supplicant representatives of a renegade province”. Eh, could this be because they are sick and tired of the whole matter and also it being a factor of the current power relationship involved? And the UK is not a ‘province’ now because it is fully outside the EU with the exception of Norn Iron staying in the single market.

In addition “He said he had assumed it would last only until Stormont voted on whether to keep the accord in 2024.” However this would not seem to accord with the fact that the British government stipulated this Stormont vote as a simple majority matter and not as a cross-community vote (i.e. that a majority of both unionists and nationalists would have to support it). My understanding was that the ‘simple majority’ method on the issue was adopted by the British government to ensure a ‘yes’ vote in support of the Protocol and therefore they were expecting (and supporting) it to last beyond 2024 and had no doubts about it – and the brilliant deal they were saying they negotiated – at the time.

But I do favour the EU being a lot more liberal in how the Protocol is enacted.

ABC

This issue has a piece on ‘Jesus and nonviolence’ by John Dear. INNATE is not a religious body though some people involved would be inspired by their religious tradition or beliefs, and others come from a secular background; the INNATE policy is respect for all people. We are equally happy to publish articles on religions, philosophies and beliefs other than Christianity and their relationship to nonviolence, and we have done so.

However I was musing the last time on the difficulty in finding a balance between religion and secularism, in our context in Ireland. There is an adjustment needed on all sides and I was thinking about how something Christians think of as deliberately not being ‘Christian’, to accommodate all comers, can still come across as being Christian to others.

However there is another side to the coin. Because of secularism and past oppression supported by Christian churches – in both jurisdictions on this island – including clerical sex abuse and institutional abuse of women and children – Christianity of any form or denomination is written off as a valid world view by many people today. ‘ABC’ as an acronym can mean many different things, from ‘Anything But Chardonnay’ in relation to wine, to Anarchist Black Cross in the political arena, or Always Be Careful, and a host of other things. But in our context here it can stand for Anything But Christianity.

However, and I hasten to add I am attempting to inform and not proselytising here, plus I have some experience of being on the unpleasant receiving end of actions by Christian churches or clerics, there are some things Christianity has going for it. Incredibly, many – most – Christians – including many prominent church people – don’t know that for the first two or three hundred years after Jesus it was incompatible to be a soldier and a Christian – in other words the early Christian church was nonviolent. What happened? Well, partly Constantine but I look forward (I am being facetious here – I will not hold my breath) to hearing church leaders explain why the change took place – I think it is spelt ‘p o w e r’. We have as a poster on the INNATE site https://innatenonviolence.org/wp/posters/ (click on ‘Nonviolence and Christians’ ‘NC’) the quote from Mohandas Gandhi that “The only people on earth who do not see Christ and his teachings as nonviolent are Christians”.

The early Christian church was also communitarian and held goods in common. In Polish/German revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg’s words, it was communist in consumption if not in production. So what happened to that? Maybe that was ‘g r e e d’.

And who usually presided over the Passover meal, which was what the Christian ‘Last Supper’ was? Why, the matriarch of the family. So almost certainly the ‘Last Supper’ had women at it (and not just those who cooked or served) – and the early church had women leaders. So what happened there that women were written out of the church and its early history? I think that one is spelt ‘p a t r i a r c h y’. And of course in Ireland later on there was St Brigid who had the status of a bishop.

Dangerous raging radicals, those early Christians; so there are some things in Christianity which we can draw on and refer to, whatever our beliefs in relation to religion, if we find it acceptable to do so – and some may not and that is fine too.

Not seeing the wood or the trees

The amount of land planted for forestry in Ireland (Republic of) in 2021 was just a quarter of targets contained in the Government’s Climate Action Strategy, the Central Statistics Office has stated, and the area planted has shrunk considerably over recent years. This is incredible. Instead of boldly going forward to a greener arboricultural future Ireland has been very bold (as in naughty) in going backwards. And the 8,000 hectares aimed for planting was itself reduced from an original 20,000 hectares.

This has serious implications for Ireland’s plans for net carbon zero by 2050. Yes, there have been problems with licensing and other issues – and local communities have to be engaged with and brought along in woodland areas -but it is the job of the minister and responsible bodies to sort all this out. It feels tree-sonous not to get this sorted, and it is certainly highly irresponsible on a global level, not to do our part, it goes against the grain to have such a wooden response. The issue should resin-ate with people in general. Some people need to turn over a new leaf, and introduce root and branch reform, fast [Or their bite needs to be stronger than their bark – Ed].

Well, that is me until next month when I will meet you in Nonviolent News Number Three Hundred – Nonviolent News has only been published monthly since 1994 and was occasional for a few years before that. And for most of the first ten years it was only two pages of news. Now, well, if you read it all you’re doing better than well and your day will be well gone [Just give it some well-y! – Ed]……..See you soon, Billy.

Billy King: Rites Again

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Mapping violence, oppression and war

For me, the carefully crafted artwork of Tom Weld https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/albums/72157711237159086 brilliantly captures the randomness of oppression and war. By that I don’t mean that the causes are random, no, they are very definite, but that the victims, bloodied, beaten, killed, terrified, possibly starving, made homeless and turned into refugees, may be ‘others’ but they didn’t do anything to deserve that treatment, and if it is ‘them’ today it could be ‘us’ or ‘you’ tomorrow. In that sense the victims are random, anybody and everybody.

Tom Weld’s maps are fictional but for me encapsulate the essence in thinking of victory and territory, not people, they represent inhumanity personified, if that is not a contradiction in terms; perhaps you could say they illustrate what happens when we think only of a cause, our ‘just’ cause, and not of the people affected by war and oppression.

They could have been made for Ukraine and the current war. Do have a look at the link above.

Christianity and contemporary culture

A few decades back, Ireland was very definitely a ‘Christian’ country in its overall ethos. Given the dominance of Catholicism, and to some extent the Catholic church, in the Republic, this enabled Northern unionists and loyalists to talk about the state south-and-west of the border as ‘priest-ridden’ (though it should also be pointed out that only one part of Ireland had a Christian minister and church leader who was also a party political leader – Ian Paisley). In some cases, as in the ‘Mother and baby’ scheme of 1951 there was more than a hint of truth in these allegations, it was glaringly obvious. But situations varied enormously.

However if anyone tried to say today that the Republic was priest-ridden they would be laughed out of court. The only political party where there is an ongoing tussle which is religion-related is arguably the DUP where Poots is of the ‘Free Presbyterian’ very conservative evangelical strand and Donaldson of a more secular but still conservative variety of unionism.

Of course if you looked more closely there were always people of secular, non-denominational or even anti-clerical views. Going back in time some such views would have been hidden or partly hidden. Secularisation and sex and child abuse scandals, particularly involving Catholic clergy, have drastically changed the reality of this aspect of life, particularly in the Republic. The incoming of people from elsewhere to the North has been a very positive factor in moving ever so slightly away from concepts of ‘us’ and ‘them’ meaning Catholics and Protestants but unfortunately that division is still very real even if it is a cultural-political division of which religious background or community is an indicator.

What has been interesting to see for me recently is the reaction of some progressive people, North and South of the border, to the Downpatrick Declaration https://www.downpatrickdeclaration.com/ This was intentionally written not as a Christian document but calling on the cultural relevance of Downpatrick and the three Christian saints associated with it, Patrick, Brigid, and Colmcille and their relationship to peace. It was backed at its launch by Afri, INNATE and StoP/Swords to Ploughshares.

The interesting reaction from the people I am referring to is in seeing it as a ‘Christian’ document because it refers to a Christian context. The Declaration is available to sign on the website but the people concerned felt they couldn’t sign it because of its Christian connotations, that it was a ‘Christian’ document not open to non-Christians.

So does it come across as a Christian document to you? Is it latently, de facto Christian? If so, how could it have been done differently? Would it have meant giving up the reference to Downpatrick and its interred saints? It raises interesting questions about religious, cultural and secular identity and about inclusivity – and individual sensitivities. I hasten to add that by ‘sensitivities’ I am not saying that the people concerned are being too sensitive, they may well be correct in their assessment.

However it does raise questions about how we relate, if we relate at all, to the ‘Christian’ heritage of Ireland, good, bad and indifferent. And, if we are able, to take pride in the ‘good’ parts of that heritage without feeling compromised. But this is all work in progress.

Proudly made in Belfast

Thales arms company (Castlereagh, Belfast, part of a French owned multinational) was proudly basking in the news that their shoulder mounted missiles, a type of bazooka, developed jointly by UK and Sweden, may have been partly instrumental in stopping the Russian column of tanks and armoured vehicles coming towards Kyiv in the Russian war on Ukraine. It is named ‘NLAW’, “Next generation Light Anti-tank Weapons”. What Thales wasn’t quite so keen to publicise, but INNATE did at their St Patrick’s Day demonstration, was that Thales weapons were fighting on both sides. Thales’ Damocles weapons targetting system is in Russian military planes, and they also have two types of thermal imaging/heat-detecting cameras (which may pinpoint humans) in Russian tanks.

Isn’t it wonderful when you can make a profit from both sides. See e.g. https://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/Thales-Key-Role-in-Russias-Defense-Industry-04994/ and https://disclose.ngo/en/article/war-in-ukraine-how-france-delivered-weapons-to-russia-until-2020 The first of these refers to a quote from 2008 that ““Few Western companies can boast of the same experience of broad and productive cooperation with Russian aerospace and defense enterprises as the Thales Group of France.”

Thales’ the arms company is pronounced ‘Talis’ (they say, rhyming with ‘Alice’) whereas the ancient Greek guy Thales that the firm is named after, regarded as a founder of western science, can be pronounced ‘Thay-lees’. https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/2899262954/in/album-72177720297420924/ portrays the contradiction in the arms company’s name.

Oh, and here is what that NLAW bazooka does: “The weapon can either be fired directly at a tank or just over the top where the armour is weakest. The missile can discharge an armour penetrating, superheated copper cone down into the tank as it passes overhead. This melts through the armour, “splattering” around the inside and setting off any explosives. The shockwave and shrapnel will kill any crew……” What a wonderful use of Belfast engineering skill! https://www.newsletter.co.uk/business/ni-built-missiles-may-have-halted-40-mile-long-russian-convoy-3594143

Thales is also corrupt – a fact that the media in Ireland have been reluctant to state because of their fear of libel laws. However it is well established. Former South African President Jacob Zuma’s trial for corruption involving Thales resumes in April. A former financial advisor to him when vice-president was convicted of taking bribes from Thales but pardoned by Zuma when he came to be president. Thales have also been implicated in major, and very shady, corruption cases in Malaysia and Taiwan; details are given in Andrew Feinstein’s “The Shadow World: Inside the global arms trade”, pages 509-510 in my Penguin edition (you can check the index anyway). The Malaysian incident also involved the murder of a translator for the illegal deal after he threatened to spill the beans.

Thales in Belfast is now developing laser/energy field weapons for the Ministry of Defence in London so that the enemy can be fried, well, there may be no oil used so ‘fried’ may not be strictly speaking true but you know what I mean.

Thus we can report that the Northern Ireland war process is indeed progressing and that profits are well up. A peace process? What’s that?

Well, we had a beautifully warm week or ten days there when it might have been a fine Irish summer (notice the lowering of expectations there). Now we are back to the norm for the time of year. I am always sad to see the daffodils go, perhaps more than any other flower, because their departure signals the end of the pleasant longing for spring and into the reality. I wish you well for the coming month and I’ll see you again very soon, Billy.

Billy King: Rites Again

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

If it happens to me that I am waking up in the night and thinking of the war in Ukraine and what people are going through, I cannot imagine what it is like to actually be in Ukraine. War – an offence against humanity. And yet so many people around the world are still facing it and the terror of the prospect of war. Homo sapiens has a lot of learning to do.

Keeping our hopes up

It is hard sometimes, often, to keep up our hopes of building peace when there is so much war, violence, and rumours of war around, even on the continent of Europe which saw the worst military conflagrations of the last century. And who is paying attention to what is happening in – for example – Yemen where people face not only devastating war but death from malnutrition and lack of medical aid.

There was a great piece in the Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2022/feb/23/is-the-world-listening-the-poets-challenging-myanmars-military about the use of poetry by Rohingya people as a form of resistance. In a piece by Mayyu Ali there is a brief statement of the plight of Rohingya refugees:

There are more than a million Rohingya now living in the world’s largest refugee camp complex in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. They also face a desperate situation; living in overcrowded conditions and lacking freedom of movement or access to formal education. Deadly fires are frequent, and in early January a blaze left thousands homeless. Over the past two years, the Bangladeshi government has also relocated more than 20,000 Rohingya refugees to the flood-prone Bhasan Char island, in many cases without gaining their informed consent

Some of the poetry quoted is about the terrible violence inflicted on them by the Myanmar military. But a couple of pieces are about hope for themselves and Myanmar – and we can take that hope and apply it to the world. I will just quote one poem:

Hope

We choose hope, that’s our virtue

We believe in peace, that’s our mantra

See the stars through this darkness

We’ll rise and rise, and smile again in colours

– By Thida Shania, on her wishes for a future Myanmar.

If a Rohingya person in exile from their homeland, in the grips of a vicious military dictatorship and in an exceedingly precarious position can express that wish, how joyful should our hope be?

Global warming – the (micro) proof

You’ve seen all the statistics and worried over them. You’ve looked at the horrific wildfires of last year. You have wondered what the future is going to bring for you and your children or grandchildren if you have them or may have them. You have probably realised that, as always, it is the poor of the world who are the ones who will suffer most; but all of us will be more at risk in terms of our lives, livelihoods and wellbeing.

But some still wonder how fast things are changing. As a common or garden gardener for around forty years in Belfast and thus the north of this island, admittedly in a city and a couple of miles from the sea, (with the north of this island tending to be a couple of degrees colder than the south) I can tell you directly. Forty years ago you could rely on there being a hard frost by the end of October; now it could be Christmas, the New Year, or not at all. This last winter might not feel ‘warm’, and in the wind and damp or rain of the Irish environment that is not surprising. But I have a very reliable plant thermometer which indicates when there has been a ‘hard’ frost (one where the temperature dips to -2° or -3°C or below); nasturtiums. These go to mush when the temperature dips this low. This year most of our nasturtiums from last year are still looking happy though they don’’t flower in lower temperatures; they even survived briefly lying snow in late February.

We also have a few varieties of marigolds; these have continued flowering throughout the winter, admittedly not very expansively but a few flowers nonetheless. And I have also noticed how summer and autumn flowering plants now hang on in flower, again not expansively, until the spring flowers begin their colour.

Of course winter can have a sting in its tail but I have noticed a big difference in just a few decades. And if you go back further, and admittedly it was extreme even for then, March 1937 was completely frozen so that daffodils were only in full flower around 20th April [You remember it well? – Ed] [A photo in a paper told me – Billy.] This year daffodils are coming into bloom, almost two months in advance of 1937. A survey in England has shown that flowers are blooming on average a month earlier than a few decades ago, and I imagine that the situation in Ireland is very similar.

These are big changes in climate and its effects in such a short period of time. Ireland may not run short of water, and some parts may be getting wetter, but storms and floods will increasingly wreak major damage. We still have our heads in the sand – though many beaches may disappear with higher sea levels.

Telling

Peace News is an excellent British peace magazine https://peacenews.info/ which, as well as news from peace doings across the eastern waters has plenty of informative and challenging features. One such piece, in the February-March 2022 issue is a centre page spread featuring a map of the world, “How the world appears to China”. The details include nuclear strategic warheads and US military bases with the latter indicated by different size US flags.

A large Stars and Stripes indicates lots of US military bases, a medium US flag a medium US military base, and a small US flag a small US military base. So guess what is plonked on top of Ireland because of Shannon Airport? Yes. It’s a small US flag. This accurately depicts Ireland’s Shannon Airport as a “Small U.S. military base”. No ifs, no buts. Oh no, in Irish government speak it isn’t, it is just US military forces passing through (…..to wars and military operations all over the place…) but this succinctly names what Shannon is; a US military base. The truth should be told, and the Irish government should be told by voters – who overwhelmingly support Irish neutrality – that it is not acceptable, not then, not now, and not in the future.

Behind the scenes

Some people ensure they are always visible and that their good work and deeds are on view, and they cultivate their image. There are others who are totally different; people who do the work, no matter how hard or how long it takes, often the boring donkey work or financial affairs which would drive others to distraction. They know their organisations inside out, they carry the administration and sometimes the collective memory. They are always busy but they are the people to ask if you need something done, and they will squeeze it in. Usually calm, always efficient, their organisations depend on their organisational acumen and dedication.

And yet outsiders may not know they even exist. They are not necessarily backward at coming forward but what is important to them is that the work is done, the goals achieved, and not that their face is in the photo for the project record or the media. If it helps then they are prepared to be visible but they don’t need it. They may be at the top, the middle or the bottom, if the organisation has rungs, but they pull more than their weight.

These people are often women and they are the backbone of an organisation. Women can have big egos as well as men, though not usually as dominantly, but these women, and men, know that egotism is a detraction from the work and an obstacle to everyone’s wellbeing and getting the job done. They may not be visible but if they disappeared then civil society, and many other sectors, would be limping along.

They may be next to invisible in many instances but they are irreplaceable.

This piece has been written following the death of Marilyn Hyndman in Belfast, aged 68, and as a tribute to her.

Chips on their shoulders

The new album on the INNATE photo and documentary site https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/albums/72177720296995989 about newspaper coverage of the 1994 ceasefires, Good Friday Agreement and the DUP coming into the power-carving-up fold in 2007 made me think about propaganda in the Troubles. There were periodic propaganda or PR efforts by all armed groups during the Troubles in Norn Iron. For paramilitaries this included photos or videos of the group ‘on patrol’, brandishing weapons, or practising firing their weapons – and of course firing over the grave of killed comrades was a big set piece ritual. The government had many different campaigns including their “7 years [of the Troubles] is enough” posters after the emergence of the Peace People in 1976; republicans changed these to “700 years [of British involvement in Ireland] is enough”. For the British Army, efforts were varied, including an annual proclamation of how ‘Irish’ British army Irish regiments were on St Patrick’s Day (which I would consider cultural appropriation).

But the most bizarre British army PR stunt that I am aware of was when a photo was published about the new ‘healthy eating’ kick for soldiers stationed in the North; larger potato chips. Yes, a photo appeared, I think in the Belfast Telegraph, detailing the fact that the army was now serving larger chips so they didn’t have so much fat. Really. I can imagine a conversation in the British army PR department:

Person 1; Things are a bit quiet, I’m bored, let’s stir things up and create something really bizarre, off the wall, and see if we can get it into the media.

Person 2: Like what?

Person 1; Oh, something really crazy, like news about how the army is now making bigger chips for the sake of soldiers’ health, you know, with less fat.

Person 2; That’s ridiculous. Bet you a tenner you couldn’t get that into any of the media….

Person 1; You’re on. Some papers will take any old rubbish from us, you’re going to owe me…..

Person 2: You’ll never do it but if you do I’ll lose a tenner and have a chip on my shoulder….

And the most stupid and exploitative advert I saw was one in a magazine for a camera where it showed a reporter with said camera stepping onto the ground in Northern Ireland…out of a helicopter. Eh no, Northern Ireland was a violent place but it wasn’t the Vietnam war and reporters at least didn’t need to use helicopters.

Speaking of helicopters and the Vietnam war, the most tone deaf film propaganda/advertisement I saw was for joining the RUC, as it then was, where it showed helicopters swooping while Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries was played. Eh, was this an unconscious mirroring of Francis Ford Coppola’s film Apocalypse Now where there is the massacre of a Vietnamese village from helicopters with the Ride of the Valkyries blaring? Or how did this RUC ad get made. I have no idea how or why this happened but as befits the era concerned, I can say – answers on a postcard please. You are still allowed send postcards but they are now an endangered species or will they make a comeback? But we don’t need a comeback by any of the above.

Well, I hope early springtime is treating you well and you are not too depressed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine – as they say, don’t mourn/moan, organise. And there is a lot of organising to do as militarists try to use the invasion of Ukraine as a reason to be more militarist and inflict more militarisation on the world – which is sad and will not end well. Take care until we meet again, Billy.

Billy King: Rites Again

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

I am going to spread myself a bit thinly this month – as my first piece will reveal.

A vegan spreads spread

Whether you are a vegan or a veggie or flexitarian trying to reduce your dairy (cheese) input, for dietary or ecological reasons, what savoury materials to put on your daily bread is a question you may ask, or want to explore. For some, there may also be a question of cost as vegan alternatives can be expensive but there are plenty which you can prepare yourself, and many combinations of reasonably priced products that you can experiment with.

Hummus is of course a great stand by and making your own is quite easy; since it freezes well you can make a load and then take out what you need when you need it. One tip here, however, to avoid wastage unless you eat prodigious amounts, is to freeze it in ice cube containers and then you can take out exactly the amount you want rather than a whole container – and it thaws faster too. Recipes for hummus are readily available online but allowing it time in your food processor (along with enough oil and water or aqua faba – the water chick peas are cooked in) is key to getting a smooth result.

Bottled, longer life tapenade is not always great and fresh tapenade in delis and elsewhere tends to be expensive. Some tapenades can also have anchovies which doesn’t make it veggie let alone vegan. You can easily make your own very cheaply with supermarket green pitted olives (I avoid the small black ones which you get on bought pizzas which I don’t like). Simply drain and then liquidise the olives well – I use a hand blender; you can process a small jar, probably less than 200g of well drained green olives, with a dessert spoon or two of olive oil; you can put it back in the same jar and it will keep for some time, a week or possibly more, in the fridge. You can of course add garlic, lemon juice etc for flavour but for me the salt of the brine that the olives were in is sufficient and I don’t go with the caper of adding capers. If you can get better, larger, softer olives at what you consider a reasonable price then making tapenade with these will of course give you a superior product.

Guacamole is easily made with lots of recipes online however mockamole’ is a guacamole substitute or spread using frozen peas as the base. It is worth exploring even if the cost (financial or water use) of avocados doesn’t particularly worry you. It may look like guacamole and have the same consistency but it isn’t going to taste the same but deserves to be thought of as its own thing – perhaps as ‘legumeole’ – rather than a poor substitute for guacamole.

The recipe for this mockamole/legumeole will need refinement by yourself to get a taste you like. One possibility is; a mug of frozen peas (brought to the boil and chilled in cold water and drained), a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, a tablespoon or two of tahini, one or two garlic cloves, a small amount of chopped fresh or dried chilli (amount according to your taste), a couple of tablespoons of chopped red onion (or white if you don’t have red), a teaspoon of ground cumin, a teaspoon or two of ground methi/fenugreek, a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice, and salt and pepper as desired. Blend well until quite smooth. Experiment with different combinations of ingredients and amounts until you get what you really like. You need to use a reasonable amount of oil or tahini to give it the umami (“”Uuuuuuuu, Mammy, this tastes great!”) sensation of guacamole. [Words never fail you, Billy, you flail them instead – Ed] [My word, you are taking an interest in my writing! – Billy]

Mayonnaise is not one that I have cracked as a home made vegan recipe; (no eggs cracked either) using aqua faba (chick pea water) it tasted all right but turned out very liquidy and it would need more of a thickener. However whether you use egg based mayonnaise or a vegan one, and bought or home made, mayonnaise and salad vegetables or a chopped salad are a great combination on bread – though lettuce and green salad veg in a vinaigrette dressing quickly die a death. I no longer bother growing lettuce – the slugs like it too much – and instead grow my own rocket and land cress, with perhaps three sowings in the year; a late sowing in August or early September may over-winter well and give you an early crop. Chopped radishes can of course be great on bread.

Combining different things is also very much part of the game. One easily made spread is ‘Tahini-Tamari’ mix; stir in a couple of dessert spoons of proper soya sauce (natural, not the forced, cheaper varieties) into half a jar of tahini; I usually use a spoon or two of olive oil to make it less solid. If you have concerns about sesame allergies you could try it with other nut butters, and while tamari is gluten free, other soya sauces probably aren’t.

You can allow peanut butter on your bread to be shared with any manner of other products; pickles, chutneys etc; I particularly like peanut butter with Patak’s garlic pickle or chilli pickle. Making your own pickles and chutneys is quite easy and you shouldn’t end up in a pickle yourself. Something like apple chutney can be relatively inexpensive with bought cooking apples, or a mixture of cooking and eating ones. For a sweeter chutney (you can still make it as spicy hot as you like) I make a banana and date chutney, perhaps picking up riper bananas that are being sold off more cheaply to clear. And if you have your own garden produce the sky is the limit. However my advice with chutneys is to use a good cider vinegar to avoid too much harshness but that can add to the cost.

Marmite is just one brand of spreadable yeast extract which people tend to adore or detest; you can try others if you find them. But again the flavoured saltiness of these products can be combined with something else to give you a more complex taste. And there are many different kinds of mustards which you can explore. If you want something stronger to knock your socks off, the sky is the limit with horseradish though supermarket horseradish sauce is unlikely to be vegan; you can buy vegan horseradish sauce in specialist stores or you can make your own – there are recipes online..

So there you have a range of vegan possibilities for putting on your daily bread. There are some things you may not really go for but with an added twist or another product added, e.g. tomatoes, they can quickly become a favourite.

Buddies not bullies

The violence of bullying exerts a terrible cost, sometimes extending so far as young people taking their own life. Such a case was recently publicised in Co Cavan where there was also a possible sectarian element in the case of 18-year old Eden Heaslip (his father is Protestant). Though the family were uncertain whether the sectarian element was just another taunt to throw at the young man in question, it and the other long term bullying was reprehensible and ended in the taking of his life.

But families in such cases often rise to the challenge of addressing the problem which led to their tragedy. The Heaslip family have been fundraising to work against bullying and working under the slogan of Be Buddies Not Bullies, ( Buddies not Bullies is also the name of a USA anti-bullying campaign.https://www.buddiesnotbullies.org/ ).Most bullying is a form of violence at an age when young people can have great vulnerabilities although workplace bullying can be common too. While there is more awareness of its destructive nature than there was, there is a long way to go in eradicating, as far as possible, this common practice, with social media having opened up new ways to torment those being bullied.

Anti-bullying campaigns include https://www.antibullyingcampaign.ie/ http://stopthebully.ie/ https://www.sticksandstones.ie/ and the Northern Ireland Anti-Bullying Forum is at http://www.endbullying.org.uk/ An Addressing Bullying in Schools Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 came into force in September 2021; you can word search for information on this. For bullying in the Republic, both in school and at work, the Citizens Information website has a run down at https://www.citizensinformation.ie and search for ‘bullying’.

The mystique of royalty and non-royal ‘royalty’….

Although it may be obvious from what I say, I wanted (using a naval and militarist term) to ‘nail my colours to the mast’ at the start of this piece by saying I am not, and never have been, a believer in monarchy, or even in moanarchy. I consider royalty to be the opposite of any kind of egalitarian principles, and indeed the natural upholders or at least standard bearers of an inequitable status quo. It is a long time ago [And that is even an understatement – Ed] that I did an ‘A’ level in economics and UK politics in Norn Iron but at that stage I was the only person in the class, in my Protestant school, to argue against having a monarchy when it came to the essay on that topic. I do of course recognise that there are many for whom royalty of any sort are seen as inspirational and figures of admiration, but I am not among them.

Now that Prince Andrew is in the bad books over allegations concerning sexual activities with a teenager (or rape in more specific language), he has been stripped of his royal (‘HRH’) and military titles to try to protect the institution that is the British monarchy. But why did he have all those titles in the first place? Just looking at senior male royals, on ceremonial occasions with enough medals and colours on their chest to sink a battleship, makes me wonder about how the mystique of royalty props up institutions like the military and militarism, and vice versa. They give each other a leg up.

I would say that the mystique of royalty is that there are no magical mysteries worth knowing about. Queen Elizabeth and, for example, her daughter Princess Anne have been hard-working members of the institution and clearly highly dedicated to a certain version of public service and Britishness. But what is it about ordinary people looking up in awe to a hereditary ‘firm’? What and where is the mystique? (Or, in the case of the late Princess Margaret, the Mustique.) To me they are another ordinary family stuck in extraordinary circumstances and, like most families, they consist of the good, the bad, and the muggley (cf JK Rowling though the word ‘muggle’ predates her writing and has different meanings).

I have told you before about how I once received my gardening order delivered wrapped in offcuts from a Masonic Order rule book. It made fascinating reading but it clearly illustrated that the assorted made up procedures were not worth the wasted paper they were written on. The secret was that there were no secrets worth knowing. It is somewhat similar with the British royalty – although there are actually quite a few secrets about their wealth, and power (e.g. to influence government dealings which may affect them) which are worth knowing and which they are not keen to publicise.

Their position and influence is because many ordinary people cede that position and influence to them. The classic understanding of nonviolence regarding power applies here; rulers can rule because they are accorded the right to rule and if the people take that away then the rulers are in trouble and can even be ‘ruled out’. If royalty are shielded from too much public gaze then they can get away with more of that royal mystique. Expose them to the light, as has been happening with Prince Andrew, and it is clear they have feet of clay like the rest of us, or worse.

There is an infamous occasion in the interaction between the British public and the royals when they engaged in a televised It’s A Royal Knockout, which was not considered to show them at their best and, while attempting to show them as full of fun actually showed them as full of nothing special. But why I mention this is that the recently deceased Meat Loaf (born Marvin Lee Aday) reminisced about participating in this event. Meat Loaf said that Prince Andrew seemed jealous about his interaction with his (Andrew’s) then wife, ‘Fergie’, and tried to push Meat Loaf into the water. When Meat Loaf turned around to retaliate, Andrew said “You can’t touch me, I’m royal”, which entreaty Meat Loaf ignored. But this perhaps illustrates the sense of entitlement which goes with being ‘royal’. And, boy (or prince), has Andrew shown entitlement, and Princess Margaret was the same.

Of course being accorded ‘royal’ status, or feeling entitled, is not restricted to actually being royal. Putting anyone on a pedestal is a dangerous process, so I am not just talking about royalty here. Yes, looking up to people you admire and can learn from is good and natural but you still need to retain your critical faculties. Not (m)any of us are saints, and if you examine the lives of religious or secular ‘saints’ there may be many things that are not admirable. Putting people on a pedestal in any way has dangers; look what happened to some of the priesthood in Ireland, or someone like Jimmie Saville in Britain. The same thing applies to nonviolent ‘saints’ like Mohandas Gandhi or Martin Luther King; yes, they can provide inspiration and learning but they were certainly not perfect, in their private lives or otherwise, and we are foolish if we give them an impenetrable aura of sainthood. Not only is this misplaced but it can diminish and disempower us and our realisation of who we are and what we can do.

Seeing the wood for the trees

It has been mentioned in these pages before ( see NN https://www.innatenonviolence.org/news/285nn.shtml ) but I thought it was worth revisiting; Afri’s Alphabet Avenue project. The reason is because it is so simple and yet so profound. The Irish alphabet was/is marked out by the names of trees and shrubs, listed below, and therefore you can ‘plant’ the whole alphabet, or a name or initial, if you have the space to do so.

The ‘tree letters’ are: Ailm (Elm), Beith (Birch), Coll (Hazel), Dair (Oak), Eadha (Aspen), Fearn (Alder), Gath (Ivy), Huath (Hawthorn), ĺodha (Yew), Luis (Rowan), Muin (Blackberry), Nuin (Ash), Oir (Broom), Peith (Birch), Ruis (Elder), Suil (Willow), Teithne (Furze) and Ur (Heather). There are 18 letters in the Irish alphabet.

If you look it all up online there is plenty of other information, and even books you can buy, but the information on the Afri website is sufficient for you to take it forward,; you can download the leaflet at https://www.afri.ie/category/the-celtic-alphabet-tree-planting-project/ Space permitting, you can plant something to celebrate or remember a loved one, or to even spell a simple message. Using it provides a direct link between the land of today and the past. It can also give a whole new meaning to a phrase like ‘reading the landscape’. No swear words though, please, that would be too bizarre. Though that reminds me of the story of the 5 primary school pupils, each holding a letter to say ‘HELLO’ at the start of a school event….except the holder of ‘O’ went to the wrong side……so be careful how you plan your planting!

A tea shop in Sligo

I was reminded of the following story by Garreth Byrne’s piece on a wholefood shop in Sligo and developments in organic farming and gardening in the north-west. It goes back in time to when Ireland perhaps deserved the title “l’île derrière l’île “ (‘the island behind the island’, in French) and knowledge about Ireland was phenomenally lacking not just on the mainland of Europe but in its nearest neighbour, Britain – I am not saying it is adequate today but certainly of a different order.

I am not sure who the speaker was, it was presumably an MP on the nationalist side of the house in Norn Iron at the end of the 1960s, it could even have been Gerry Fitt, who referred in the British House of Commons to “a speech made by the Taoiseach in Sligo”. This was reported in Hansard, the official parliamentary record, as “a speech made in a tea shop in Sligo”…. Today even British newsreaders can get their tongues around referring to “the Irish Taoiseach”. However I await a speech by the Taoiseach in a tea shop in Sligo….or maybe I should await such an event in Teemore – though this is just north of the border, in Fermanagh, but maybe it is a big house (‘An Tigh Mór‘) and will fit everyone to a T who wants to be there (to misuse that phrase).

I hope 2022 is treating you well and you can still intone ‘Om’ (or your favourite religious or secular mantra) in the ‘om’icron period – which we all very much hope is the start of the end of the Covid Era. However I always feel by the end of January that the increased light in the afternoon in our northern hemisphere is a harbinger of better things to come; may it be so. For us gardeners it is time to go to seed again. Until next time, Billy.