Here’s the back of the motor. An ‘IRL’ sticker. An Irish > English (language) sticker. An anti-partition sticker – 26 + 6 = 1. Twenty-six counties in the Republic, and six counties in The North, make one United Ireland. And a school sticker (not relevant).
Watching a few episodes of ‘Derry Girls’ got me thinking. One episode was with The Orangemen. Another where Clare has a Union Jack dress on. Same episode where the poor wee Protestant fella thinks he’s gonna be killed.
People one street over from me were flying the flag of Northern Ireland last 12th. I believe I called it a rag in my Facebook post last year. And today I thought to myself “Would it be nuts to bring them cookies next 12th? Would that be batshit crazy?” They’d probably think they were poisonous.
I still have a visceral reaction to that flag and the Union Jack. Whatever country (Republic or Britain) you identify with, it is a fact that Catholics were discriminated by the establishment of Britain and the a Protestant establishment of Northern Ireland for years.
Am I being petty with my 26 + 6 sticker? How much of a right do I have to spew about who owns N.I. when I grew up in the safety of The South. The last time there was a serious attack in my hometown was in 1974, with the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. At the same time I cannot ignore the fact that part of my country is still occupied by a foreign power. That I watched from birth bomb after bomb after bomb kill ‘my side’. That my grandfather fought in the Civil War as an I.R.A. man. I remember a bomb on The Shankhill Road, a staunchly Loyalist area. It was in a butcher shop and killed several Protestants. The I.R.A had carried it out. * It’s the first time I remember thinking “That’s not okay.”.
I remember at the age of about ten we were evacuated from school. These were not a common occurrence in The South. None of the kids seemed surprised though. We all knew inside and out that this was a normal occurrence up North and sure we’d be grand. I do remember thinking that our playground was really close to the building, but not really worrying. We were grand and we all went back to class, mad that we hadn’t been to stay outside a bit longer.
I grew up knowing that the Unionists and Loyalists were bad. That Nationalists and Republicans were good. There was great debate over how right it was to respect Gerry and Martin and the boys. It varied depending how many Catholics had been killed recently. How many imprisoned unlawfully.
And bringing things the issues of the today. Israel-Palestine. The Muslim-Christian abomination. Immigration-racism in America. All of these are accidents of birth. Generally people (singularly and as a group) think that their viewpoint is the correct viewpoint. Everybody cannot be right. Sometimes, maybe most of the time, there is no right and no wrong. Maybe all the beliefs in these conflicts are varying shades of grey. Maybe those of us living in the midst of conflicts, or like me are safely armchairing, need to lean just a little bit towards the other side.
The Unionists, Ian Paisley in particular, used to say “Ulster Says NO.” Now I loved this. Northern Ireland, with its six counties, is completely within Ulster. The other three counties are within the Republic. In Northern Ireland, Protestants made up roughly 65% of the population. So instead of Ulster saying no, 2/3 of 2/3 of Ulster said no. Of course it was futile for me to wander around ‘knowing’ 4/9 of Ulster said no, but some days it was enough to allay my bitterness.
I would love to end this on a slogan of each side. All I can come up with on ‘our’ side is “Tiocfaidh ár Lá.” I think it’s a beautiful phrase. I love how it sounds, and its meaning “Our Day Will Come.” It’s implication is that a day will come when Ireland is one again. It’s a Republican phrase though. An I.R.A one. In my teens this was my country and fuck anyone who said otherwise. Through many events and my maturing, I am not a ‘RA head’ any more.
Circling back to my original pondering…. I probably won’t bake cookies for my Unionist neighbors. I’m not ready for that… Yet. I think I’ll walk past the house. Look at the flag. Maybe calm my gut reaction a little. They’re Unionists because they were likely born in Northern Ireland to Protestant parents. I’m Nationalist because I was born to two Nationalist (one with some Republican leaning) in Dublin. They are the reasons why we’re on opposite sides of a barbed wire fence.
* The Shankhill bomb was in October 1993. It killed 10 people including the bomber and two children. I was fifteen years of age.