Peace. It’s an elusive concept to many countries, tribes, and populations. The idea that there will ever be a time without war is a dream. It is one that everyone claims to hope for but in reality, hundreds of thousands of politicians, economists, religious leaders, generals, neighbors, soldiers, and contractors work against the concept every day. A world without war is a type of idealism that can sum up the beliefs of bleeding heart liberals, traumatized veterans, moderate conservatives, and true libertarians alike…but it has no place in this world that we live in today, outside of philosophy and imagination. As Robert Heinlein said, “You can have peace. Or you can have freedom. Don’t ever count on having both at once.”
My body is rebelling against being thrown back into the States and I caught a vicious cold on the flight back from Ireland. This cold, on top of the jet lag, culture shock, and come down after such a mind-blowing holiday has left me quite speechless. I have a lot of catching up to do for sure and a lot of processing to do as well.
And now for a modern day Irish woman. Mairead Maguire was born in Belfast, 71 years ago today. Her entry into the world of political protest did not come without a price. A family tragedy in 1976 fueled her desire to bring change to her war torn community. Her nephews and niece were hit by a car when the driver (a (P)IRA paramilitary) lost control of it after being shot by the authorities. Betty Williams, a witness to the accident, capitalized on the tragedy using it to gather women in the community to march in protest of the ongoing violence and paramilitary activity in their neighborhoods. Mairead joined her. It was a surprising success and “Women for Peace” was spontaneously born. The second march that went to the graves of the children took place only a few days later and it included over 10,000 women—both Catholic and Protestant—an unusual feat in such a polarized place and time. It was attacked by the paramilitaries which only brought the women more press and support for the next march and the movement continued to grow. Mairead and Betty changed the name of their group to the gender-neutral “Peace People” and they continued to parade for peace between Republican and Loyalist factions.
Everyone likes a parade. I get it. They’re all pomp and circumstance – people showing off their heritage, their music, their flags. There are parades worldwide for what seems like every single little excuse that anyone can find. Some are big, some are small, some are downright silly, and some threaten a fragile balance.
The marching season in the North of Ireland falls into the last category. July 12th is a day that roughly half of the population celebrates the victory of William of Orange (a Dutch King, by the way) over the English King James II. It’s a huge holiday which is steeped in irony, when you think about it. This is a bunch of people who violently insist on being considered British that take to the streets to celebrate a Dutch victory over their own historical ruler. Label that one for storage in the “Things that make you go hmmmm” file.
The truth is, they are really celebrating the defeat of Catholicism. James II was a Catholic and when the Dutch king defeated him, Protestants were granted great wealth and positions of power. It opened the door for instant change – one that Protestants in the area have enjoyed for centuries.