NI Troubles were grotesque, not glorious

I was, quite unexpectedly and at the last minute, given the opportunity on Saturday to address the Sinn Fein National Youth Congress on the subject of “reconciliation”. I was received warmly and genuinely generously, but what I had to say was, I hope, challenging.

My own father had two attempts on his life by the IRA. One killed his photographer, aged just 19 but already a father of a baby just months old, in Derry in 1974. What I take from his recollections of it all, however, is not a thirst for any kind of revenge but rather a constant reminder of the grotesqueness of conflict – regardless of which side you are on. The Troubles were both inhuman and de-humanising – some of what took place was perhaps on occasions necessary but there was nothing, nothing “glorious” about them.

No young person in Ireland should be in any doubt about that. Young impressionable men were tossed into a conflict, largely not of their own making, and the result was utterly horrible and inglorious. The best anyone could expect was severe restrictions on their personal liberty and economic prospects for a generation; the worst was of course the painful visit heralding news of the sudden death or injury of a loved one. In the midst of it all there were small, often individual acts of astonishing kindness or heroism – but there was nothing glorious about that period in our history.

There are still impressionable young men who reckon they were willing to go to “war” for “the cause of Ireland” or to get a criminal record to “defend British Ulster”. No civic or political leader should delay their advice to such young men for one second – there is nothing glorious about that attitude. It will only result in pain – for self and others. Not only is no “cause” worth it, but no “cause” is served by it.

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2 thoughts on “NI Troubles were grotesque, not glorious

  1. A prescient post IJP, hope you enjoyed your presentation and speech/talk at the conference.

    If I may add something or tease something out, I would perhaps draw a difference between wallowing in some so-called glory of the troubles, mis-placed clearly, and what may be sometimes communal pride in overcoming adversity of some kind, and by communal I don’t necessarily mean in the republican vs unionist sense, but in a lot more of a local sense. Let’s take an example, my family (both sides) are from the Lower Falls Rd and I know that many family members have expressed massive pride in their dealings with the RUC or Army whenever they would come and essentially man handle my family members and an RUC officer or Soldier would get their come uppance with some form of particularly funny and droll put down and if worst comes to worst physical violence (a punch or something, never a weapon btw) against the Security forces which they (a family member) have subsequently evaded capture or arrest. It’s my opinion that young people (a group I’m fast leaving) piece these stories together and paint a picture which is wholly unrepresentative of what actually happened.

    I know for instance, that my family members mentioned this not as some kind of way of saying how ‘glorious’ times were, but how awful they were where, in fact these stories act as one of the light reliefs they had against the security forces in a god awful time. If I wanted to know how bad things for my Mum’s family and how they viewed life in Belfast at that, I need only look at where our four families (my Mum and her siblings) are based, one in Belfast, we moved to the States and then the South for nearly a decade, another to Munster and the last to Australia and all during the mid to late 70s; it was anything but a glorious time.

  2. There’s no doubt that there is something in human nature which makes us all view the past with slightly rose tinted glasses (for example, I can’t ever remember it raining when I lived in Northern Ireland!). But there is something immensely worrying and dangerous about this growing Cult of Glory which is developing in Northern Ireland today.

    I can remember the CDs being passed around school with the lambeg beating loyalist songs. But, I think my generation (born in the 80s) was old enough to not just remember, but to still actively feel the effects of much of the Troubles. There were those who had lost relatives, those who had family serving in the security forces and right down to all of us who were affected by regular road closures and general inconveniences caused by the unique security and political picture of NI in the 90s and early 00s.

    What troubles me, is the next generation coming up. Those born in the 90s and 00s, who are soaking up the stories of perceived honour and glory. Those who are taught and sing the songs without knowing the truth. Those who hear the folly of political leaders like Robinson, Nesbitt and Allister who would seek to build those emotions of patriotism on an unstable foundation just for their short term political gain. It is precisely these ill-defined notions of patriotism combined with an embarrassingly high level of youth unemployment that leads to damaging behaviours such that we say in the flags riots. And it will be precisely this combination which could, if left unchecked, could see the next escalation of violence in our country.

    Don’t get me wrong, patriotism or nationalism (in the true sense of the word) are not bad things. Catch me on the last night of the proms and you’ll think I’m going to pop from singing! But it’s the way in which it is being nurtured and exploited by some which is both deeply damaging to individuals and also deeply dangerous to the population of NI.

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