Have fun storming the castle

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Standing where kings have trod since 1690, with the castle across the harbor.

 

With my daughter Sarah here for a few days, I’m taking a bit of a break from research responsibilities to play a little tourist and amateur tour guide. So while I still have phone calls to make and interviews to line up for the end of this week and in to next, we are going to get out of town and see a bit of the country.

Yesterday we took the train north to Carrickfergus, toured the castle, then stood on the spot where King Billy himself landed in 1690 on his way to everlasting glory and Protestant dominion over these lands at the Battle of the Boyne.* The castle itself is the best preserved Anglo-Norman castle still standing in the North, and the town itself, while more than a little down on its heels, is still pleasant to walk around. Or it would be when it’s not freezing cold, damp, and windy.

If you find yourself here, check out the free museum maintained by the Borough Council. It’s worth stopping in. Then walk around the churchyard at St. Nicholas Parish. And the pints at the Great Northern are much cheaper than in Belfast, so take advantage of that too.

Tomorrow we are up early to catch the train to Derry, to walk the walls, see the Bogside murals, stand at Free Derry Corner, and perhaps tour the Bloody Sunday museum. Going to mix business with pleasure.

*Remember what I said about these links. Do as I say, not as I do …

Too much practice

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The Queen enters St. Paul’s.

 

I’m watching the BBC’s live broadcast of the national service of commemoration at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, honoring those who fought and those who died in Britain’s most recent military campaign in Afghanistan. Everything about the service conveys the appropriate tone of solemnity, honor, and respect, from the choices of music, to the scripture readings, to the prayers. It is a stunning spectacle of vestments, dress uniforms, and royalty.

The Brits do these things so much better than we do in the States. It’s a pity they’ve had so much practice.

And yet there’s hope

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Welcome to Loyalist East Belfast, where paramilitary murals still proudly adorn the walls.

I walked away from my conversations yesterday with a sense of pessimism about the future of Northern Ireland. The people I met had experienced so much pain, and expected so much more yet to come, that I could not help but be touched by their perspective. They firmly believed that the war had only paused. That they had been prevented from winning by politicians unwilling to approve the necessary measures that would make shoot-to-kill an across-the-board reality. And that as a consequence, the resumption of the war was inevitable. More blood would be shed, and more people would die.

And that worried me. Because in every trip I’ve made here beginning in 2008, the feeling of fragility, of the bandage covering deep unhealed wounds unraveling at the edges, has only intensified.

I spent my afternoon today interviewing a former member of the Red Hand Commando*, one of the most effective, or notorious, depending on your perspective Loyalist paramilitary organizations. I walked away from that interview with a sense of hope, not dread, for the future.

Yesterday was about fear and an expectation of the worst. Fear that the IRA had not gone away, that the relative calm was only a facade, that the turmoil along the border would explode. Expectation that things would “kick off” again, and when they did it would be a brutal, bloody mess.

Today was different. My contact was unapologetic about his past, but recognized the awfulness of what it meant to go to war and to be at war in a place where people know each other, recognize each other, live next to each other, and were killing each other. And he was determined that the current generation, and future generations, should not have to go through that hell again.

He did not apologize for his politics. And he recognized the reality of poverty, of joblessness, of educational failure, of non-existent opportunities, of feelings of being abandoned by a Unionist political elite that only seems to acknowledge and turn to his community when it needs someone to do the dirty work. And yet the last thing he said to me, when I asked him what he saw for the future, was this:

This is no longer about us. For future generations, we can’t be selfish. The world will be a better place. We can only focus on our wee bit first. Hope, hope, hope. Give hope, and keep hope.

And so I hope for the future of this place, for the people I have come to know and respect and have real affection for across the numerous sectarian, political, and class divides, and for those that I haven’t yet met. Hope.

*I hate myself for continuing to link to Wikipedia, but hey, this is a different kind of media. Students, do not let yourselves think that this is a substitute for actual, scholarly, research.

Nothing is over

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At the office of FAIR, Markethill, County Armagh.

 

I spent the day in South Armagh and I need some time to process what I heard and saw. But look closely at the memorial monument above. What do you notice?

That’s right. There are no end dates.

I asked my guide if that meant what I thought it did. He said: “The conflict here is not finished.”

If you step closely and look, you can read the inscription at the foot of the monument. It says:

There are no names of individuals on this memorial as a poignant reminder that many more soldiers and police officers may die in their fight against oppression as the war against tyranny is not over.

There is unfinished business here.