Billy King shares his monthly thoughts
Not coining it
I confess. I am a lapsed numismatist. That doesn’t make me particularly dangerous to know, just that I used to collect coins, tokens (non-official monetary items), and medallions (non-monetary commemorative items in round form). A comparison can be drawn with philately – which may or may not get you everywhere; while the bottom has fallen out of some of the stamp collecting market now that people have other things to do with their time through gaming, streaming, TikToking and so on, there are some indications it is considered by some as retro chic and may be making a come back (I think rare stamps retained their value, others did not). Coin collecting was never as popular as stamp collecting anyway, except in Ireland and Britain around the time of currency decimalisation in 1971, so while it also may have declined it had less far to fall.
I still have retained a very modest number of coins, tokens and medallions in the form of a small exhibition on Irish history comprising a couple of dozen items and the rest I disposed off – some politically marked or ‘defaced’ coins were given to the Ulster Museum, e.g. an Irish coin stamped ‘UVF’. But I fell greatly in luck to begin with when I was a young teenager; family friends had a box full of old coins, tokens etc which had been in their possession for years and which I was given gratis, and got me well started. I never learnt their origin beyond that but I suspect they may have been rejects/throw outs from a guy living locally who did have a very valuable and world class collection of classical coins.
There was nothing particularly valuable in my collection, most were not silver or in great condition (an important point in their value) but there was lots of interest. I wasn’t trying to build up a valuable collection and in any case didn’t have the money to do so. But to hold in my hand an historical monetary token from my home town, or a political ‘Buy Irish’ medallion from the Repeal Movement in 1841 https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/50632724311/in/photolist-2k9eWVn I just find absolutely amazing. Likewise to hold a coin from the Williamite war of 1688-90, Cogadh an Dá Rí (The war of the two kings), is to hold history in your hand and wonder about the fate of those who possessed such an object long ago, and, literally, whose hands it passed through.
A fascinating detail of the ‘Gunmoney’ coinage produced on James’ side in Ireland (so called because some was made from melted down old guns) is that it was minted in base metal but includes the month as well as the year in the design. The intention was that when James won (!) the coinage would be gradually redeemed in silver coinage in monthly order; instead, when William’s side was victorious the value of this ‘Gunmoney’ was devalued – a Gunmoney shilling became worth a penny, one twelfth of its face value. But turning guns into money to help finance a war is not turning swords into ploughshares.
Coins and banknotes, physical money, are endangered species because of Covid and card/phone payments and many locations refusing to take cash. However I think physical ‘money’ will stagger on for some time to come, albeit in much reduced prominence and use. There are also many social reasons why cash should continue, not least for the cash strapped who may not have access to bank cards. And there is a fascination with something which has been in endless people’s purses and pockets.
But what nonviolent or political activist could not be fascinated by the early 18th century Irish boycott of Wood’s Halfpence? https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/50632799571/in/dateposted/ – see also https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/art-and-design/wood-s-halfpence-1724-1.1063593 To have one of those is to have an object of controversy from three hundred years ago in your hand, and the subject of a successful boycott a century and a half before the term ‘boycott’ was coined in Ireland (to coin a phrase…..) and entered the English language – and other languages as well, including Dutch.
Gunmen or Queen?
Loyalist loyalty in the North is a rather variable concept. It’s not that most people on the Protestant side of the house in Northern Ireland don’t identify as British – obviously they do – but there is a huge variation in what feeling or being British means to them. In his heyday Rev Ian Paisley could tell a British prime minister to stop interfering in Northern Ireland, for example, which is a rather strange image for someone identifying as strongly as he did in being British.
So it was intriguing to find an item about a mural in north Belfast where a picture of Queen Elizabeth replaced one of loyalist gunmen, and some people weren’t pleased. https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/sunday-life/news/hardliners-anger-as-queen-replaces-mural-of-uda-gunmen/a1342196603.html (paywall after title, photo and first sentence). “Loyalist hardliners have accused the South East Antrim (SEA) UDA of “going soft” after one of its most famous murals was replaced with an image of Queen Elizabeth II.” You can’t get more loyal to the Crown than portraying the monarch, or former monarch, and so far as I know it is not the custom for people on the island of Britain to decorate gable walls with murals of illegal gunmen. And a picture of the Queen on a gable wall in Norn Iron still strongly identifies the area as Prod and loyalist.
While disputed by some unionist commentators, I found, and find, the analysis in David Millar’s “Queen’s Rebels – Ulster Loyalism in Historical Perspective” helpful. This was published many moons ago (first edition 1978). As I remember it he portrayed unionists and loyalists as seeing themselves as having a covenant with the British Crown dating back to the Plantation of Ulster; hold ‘Ulster’ for the Crown and after that do what they like. Of course with the passage of time, and the advent of parliamentary democracy, the power of the Crown waned but loyalist allegiance was still to, their concept of, the Crown – and thus they could see themselves as loyal British subjects, and loyal to the Crown, while being intensely disloyal to the British government – and, I would say, to some of the values that British people on the island of Britain would mainly hold or (say they) subscribe to. Loyalists can try to portray themselves as misunderstood or even forgotten by inhabitants of Britain but what does that say about the reciprocity of the relationship?
I am not saying on the other side of the house that nationalist/Catholic political views are straightforward either because do they identify with a concept or a state? How are Nordies seen in De Sout? And what are the practical and financial implications of a united Ireland? How does acceptance today by many of armed struggle by the IRA in the past fit with other values they hold?
Moving forward for the North also needs people to look back, not to justify or glory in what has been done by any side but to understand the complexity and the reality of very different views. Some people have done that while others are still stuck in silos. Getting out of those silos, of all kinds, is not an easy task for any of us.
From pretty to petty – and back
Living in Norn Iron, as I do, I follow the slings and arrows of the outrageous British policies on asylum seekers and migrants. The Republic’s ‘direct provision’ system for asylum seekers is appalling too and counter-productive in helping people (who become entitled to do so) to settle. But for sheer vindictiveness the British system takes some beating.
Take the decision earlier this year, made by a British government immigration minister, to remove cartoons from the walls of of a reception centre for migrants for fear that children would feel welcomed – the walls were considered too welcoming. Repainting the walls to drab nothingness actually cost an appreciable amount of money – to make the place less welcoming to children who have probably been through quite traumatic experiences to end up there; “It later emerged that a child-friendly mural at a separate detention camp had also been painted over at a cost of £1,549.52.” This is simply inhumane and vindictive.
However many professional cartoonists weren’t taking this removal of visual signs of life and welcome lying down: “leading cartoonists have created an uplifting Welcome to Britain colouring book to be given to children arriving in the UK. The drawings reflect quintessential aspects of British culture, including the Loch Ness monster, London buses, seaside donkeys, the royal family, cake and lots of animals, including some playing football. The 62-page book has been created by the Professional Cartoonists Organisation (PCO) and will be distributed to children newly arrived in the UK via refugee charities and support groups.” Some of the most prominent British cartoonists have been involved. A second book may go on sale. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2023/sep/22/cartoonists-colouring-book-refugees-welcome-to-britain?CMP=share_btn_link
This is simple and simply brilliant, and a great example of building a positive alternative to inhumanity. Perhaps we can say that in drawing attention to a petty injustice they were illustrating just how possible it is to picture a brighter future through action, they didn’t mickey mouse around but were able to show that the writing was on the wall for inhumane approaches.
I am not sure how I end up on e-mail lists that I haven’t signed up to, at least deliberately. Is it accidental, is it someone trying to increase the size of their mailing list, have I been deliberately targetted, is it that I have inadvertently ticked something or failed to cancel an automatic inclusion on a website? I don’t know how I ended up on the mailing list for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference. Sometimes when this happens I hit the ‘stop sending’ button but often I let them come and ignore 95% but pick up the odd thing.
And one odd thing from the past, which I have told you about before, from the same source was a press release which obviously hadn’t been checked after the spell check – Archbishop Diarmuid Martin had become Dairymaid Martin and Bishop Colm O’Reilly was now Calm O’Reilly. However a recent press release spoke about a Catholic diocesan stand at the National Ploughing Championships – an important event in the Irish rural and farming calendar, and this caught my attention.
Bishop Denis Nulty of Kildare and Leighlin in whose diocese the Ploughing Championships was held (Co Laois this year) announced a quest (a competition?) to find Ireland’s favourite saint. Nominations could be made at the diocesan stall. Now I know there are plenty of saints to choose from, and all churches are struggling for relevance in today’s world, but I must say I found this a bit strange – a popularity contest for saints. They were, after all, living breathing humans who are remembered and venerated by some people. What could come next, Top of the Popes?
There were other religious offerings at the stall concerned, including the opportunity for meditation and reflection, and that I find appropriate. But sometimes in trying to appeal to people and find relevance we can take things too far and this particular quest I find fits into that category. And no, I don’t know who ‘won’ as the most popular saint, we will have to plough on without knowing.
Nation shall wage war against nation….
…..and they shall study war evermore…. The possibility of AI (i.e. Artificial Intelligence, not Artificial Insemination as someone like myself living in an agricultural country might think or have thought going back a few years) being used for weapons production is a scary prospect. Even the British government is worried. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2023/sep/25/ai-bioweapons-rishi-sunak-safety?CMP=share_btn_link Deputy UK prime minister Oliver Dowden said “Only nation states can provide reassurance that the most significant national security concerns have been allayed.” This made me think – there is possibly only one thing worse than non-state actors developing weapons through AI, and that is states, with all the resources they have at their disposal, using the results for nefarious ends. Being on the peace spectrum we don’t trust nation states with their weaponry. And the Irish government, for all its blather about commitment to disarmament, backs Irish involvement in the arms trade and cosies up to nuclear-armed NATO.
Sorry folks, that is not a very upbeat note to end on. But that’s me for now, it may be meteorological autumn but I think temperature winter arrives in October, so I wish you warmth of all kinds, Billy.