Doctor Sophie Bryant

Sophie Bryant was born on this day in 1850, into a time when women did not receive much education or have too many professional options. She was lucky enough to be largely home-schooled by her father who was a math professor at the University of London, and by private governesses that he hired. She became fluent in many languages and fell in love with math and science. She was an exceptionally strong student.

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Romper Room Murder

For many people a romper room is a play room full of games and toys or a television show that they grew up watching. It evokes a carefree and silly time in childhood that is full of play, puppets, and joy. For others, particularly in the North of Ireland during the Troubles, a romper room is a place of absolute horror, torture, and death – a room that is akin to a slaughterhouse or a snuff film set. These romper rooms were usually derelict homes or businesses where drinking, dancing, torture, and killing could occur without much fear of discovery or interference. One of the more brutal murders of that era took place in a UDA-controlled romper room in the Sandy Row area of Belfast, 41 years ago today. The victim’s name was Ann Ogilby and her killers were all female members of the UDA (Ulster Defence Association). It wasn’t really a political killing even though the murderous women involved were loyalist paramilitaries – it was more of a jealous feud that ended in Ann’s horrific torture and savage beating death. The story was so repulsive and put such a spotlight on the women’s group that it resulted in the total dissolution of their unit.

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No Irish, No Catholics

While we’re on the subject of racism, sectarianism, and discrimination, here’s another tale of Anti-Irish (and Anti-Catholic) riots…not in Belfast but from right here in the United States. Back in 1844, the Protestant extremists were called Nativists, despite the fact that they were descended from immigrants and were not natives in any way. Ignoring that truth entirely, they felt that they were the established rulers of the area and were not pleased with the influx of Irish coming into the States. They began a large scale propaganda war promoting discrimination against the Irish and set out to spread their sectarian platform against Catholicism. By the time the Nativists in Philadelphia were done venting their anger, there had been riots for months, a lot of Catholic churches and businesses had been torched, over 200 people had fled their homes, and fifteen people were dead. Over fifty more people were injured by the end of the fight.
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Ian Paisley, dead

When I was much younger and more of a punk kid, I always said I’d dance a jig on the day that Ian Paisley passed away. I even had a red dress. Now that I am older, less reactionary and more educated, when I heard that he had died this morning I sprang out of bed, got a cup of coffee and started looking for the news. I may have skipped just a little to get the coffee but there was no real jig. In my opinion, Ian Paisley was a bigot, one of the leading voices of Sectarianism and a figurehead of those who would preach hate and call it faith. There are way too many people in the world like him. The most diplomatic thing I can say about him is that he was divisive and powerful…but he was also a human being with a family and no one should ever cheer or crow about another person’s death.

His pulpits were often protected by masked men with clubs or worse. His fiery language was cruel and divisive throughout the Troubles. Moderate Protestants have gone on record saying that Paisley was likely responsible for more IRA volunteers than any other person – and many agree. The byproducts of his hate were an international sympathy toward the Catholics, high recruitment in the IRA and other paramilitary groups, and support for the civil rights movement. It was quite the opposite reaction from what he was hoping for but he continued his sectarian sermons nonetheless.

That said, without him the Peace Accord and Good Friday agreement may not have come to pass.  “Dr. NO” as he was called, said yes – far later than he should have – but he finally did. Watching him stand next to Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness was a surreal and bizarre milestone, but it was one that was necessary to calm the strife in the North. I’m not sure there’s a tale of redemption in my heart for the man – but without him, things could have been much worse for much longer.

Ian Paisley passed away this morning in Belfast at age 88. Many are mourning his death, including Martin McGuinness who says they had a mutually respectful friendship even though at Paisley’s insistence, they never shook hands. In life Ian Paisley was a man who reveled in leading angry mobs, guiding immense crowds, and hogging media attention but before he died he requested a private funeral, attended only by close family. His family intends to honor that request, but has also spoken of a public memorial in the future.

Blessed are the Peacemakers

Here’s one that on the face of it, might not normally fit in my blog. I usually rail against the PUP and many loyalist factions and traditions but I always try to give credit where credit is due. David Ervine is one person who deserves that credit and I write that without hesitation, if only to show how similar both sides of the divide in the North of Ireland may be. At the end of the day, I am a firm believer in peace, empathy, and understanding. I also believe that while fundamental change is incredibly difficult, some people can accomplish it. I may be naive, hippy-ish, or simply too far removed from the first-hand experience but I believe David Ervine managed to pull it off.

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July 12th Parades

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.
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