I was at two events last night. The first was the launch of yet another book about Belfast cemeteries by Tom Hartley. St Dominic’s on the Falls Road was bunged with the great and the good – Maurice Hayes, Rev John Dunlop, Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and many, many more. I would have given my left foot (the one I kick with) to have had that kind of support at a book launch of mine, good though some of them were. Anyway, Tom was introduced by Danny Morrison and it was interesting to see how excited grown men become when something as thoughtful and worthwhile as Tom’s musings on the dead crystallise in an event like that. I also had the delight of seeing some people I’d taught years ’n’ years ago, and how they stay young I don’t know – drink? Drugs? The other? I also ran into at least one person whom I’d criticised in one of my blogs (no name, no pack-drill) and two thoughts hit me: how easy it is to hurt people with your public words, and how some people, as in this case, show the grace to rise above holding grudges. An informative launch.
The second event was just down the road at St Mary’s University College, where Martin McGuinness was talking alongside Colin Parry, whose 12-year-old son was killed in the Warrington bomb. They’re both excellent public speakers, but it was probably the nature of the two men’s history, and the terrible event that in a sense brought them together, that made the occasion unforgettable. Colin Parry and his wife are people who, as Martin McGuinness pointed out, had seized an event that could have given them every excuse for being bitter and filled with hatred, and instead had made it into something positive, through their peace work in Warrington and elsewhere. As the Deputy First Minister noted, the DUP see fit to refuse to acknowledge the presence of republicans in Stormont or to utter a single word of encouragement for the peace process that was won with such patience and focus and hard work. It goes to show you: some people, faced with the worst calamity imaginable – Colin Parry’s 12-year-old son had gone that Saturday to buy a pair of Everton shorts – manage to transform it into something good and work with those like Martin McGuinness whom they could easily have hated and rejected. Other people, many of whom have never suffered as Colin Parry has suffered, stay stuck in their sullen yesterday, corroding themselves as well as doing everything possible to prevent the development of a better tomorrow. We can be on the devil’s side or the angels’ side: Colin Parry, great and good man that he is, chose the side of the angels. It was a privilege to listen to him and the Deputy First Minister.