I can’t seem to focus on my regular, historical content these days and I apologize for the sporadic nature of the last couple of months. My state of mind can be summed up in a brilliantly tragic tweet by a certain Tim Grierson who says: “Being angry all the time is exhausting and corrosive. Not being angry all the time feels morally irresponsible.” He’s right – this is life in America (and other places too I’m sure) these days. But before I attempt to return to my regularly scheduled Irish history program, I have to publicly lose my mind for a minute so that my little corner of international readers understands one very important thing. Americans are not OK.
The newly revamped Museum of Free Derry has been mired in controversy since before its doors reopened. At issue is an exhibit that includes the names of all the people who were killed in the area during the Troubles. This seems harmless except that the names of British soldiers and police officers are also there, right alongside many innocent victims who were killed by those very same squads. The decision to include those names may seem reasonable from a purely educational viewpoint but the Museum underestimated the emotional response from locals who lost friends and family members during the conflict. For some of them, the inclusion of these government contingents is an affront to the memories of their loved ones and a blatant disregard for their own feelings and their continuing fight for answers and justice.
On this day in 1975, John ‘Sean’ Doherty and Denis McAuley were murdered by a bomb that was thrown into the Harp Bar in Belfast. Given the giant explosions of the time period, it was a relatively small attack but it resulted in two deaths and multiple injuries. It was also the second attack on the centrally-located Harp in only ten days.
Patrick Rooney was a good kid. It was 1969 and he had just moved into Divis Flats on the Falls Road in Belfast with the rest of his family. I say kid because he was only nine years old when his life came to an abrupt end forty-eight years ago today. On that fateful night, Patrick became the first child victim in the long struggle that came to be known as Ireland’s Troubles.
Ireland has many tragic love stories in its history and one of them is the tale of Kitty Kiernan and Michael Collins. Kitty was desperately in love with Collins and more than eager to marry him. They planned a double wedding with Kitty’s sister and her groom, but fate intervened and Collins was assassinated before the wedding could take place. A few months later on what would have been her wedding day, Kitty arrived at her sister’s celebration wearing black from head to toe. Collins’s death would affect Miss Kiernan for the rest of her life.
Humans are animals. It’s not something we like to admit, but it is true. Our animalistic instincts come out when we are hurting and angry, when we need to protect ourselves or our loved ones, or when we are desperate and afraid. Over time we learn to control them, not letting that dark side rear its ugly head just because our toy was taken away at the playground and if we’re lucky that animal fades into the background of our minds, never needing to come out.
When James Martin Pacelli McGuinness was growing up in Derry a lot was wrong in his world. The boy who would come to be known as Martin was partially named after a pope in a society that was violently sectarian and discriminatory against Catholic communities like his. He saw things most of us thankfully never will. War raged in the streets as he grew up. He witnessed friends being mowed down by soldiers without consequence. He saw authorities break the law over and over without punishment. That animal inside him grew and raged, like many others in the region and Martin found his way into the Irish Republican Army at a relatively young age. He stayed for a heavily disputed amount of time. Let’s just call it many years.
The world lost a giant a few moments ago. Former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was a warrior, a peacemaker, and so much more. It’s not shocking news, but it is devastating. It is safe to say that without Martin McGuinness, the IRA ceasefire(s) and the Good Friday Agreement would probably have never happened. He is remembered by some as a modern Michael Collins and any Irish historian would probably agree that there’s a good deal of truth in that comparison.
McGuinness shaped politics in the North for decades and this evening the region lost much more than a single man. My thoughts and condolences go out to his friends and family and I hope that they can find the comfort they need in the days to come. My candles are lit and there is nothing else I can say at the moment as I try to form my own thoughts into words and to process the passing of such a vital and important person in modern Irish history.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam