WHO WON THE WAR by Harry McAvinchey

first prize 1

“If you smile at me, I will understand

‘Cause that is something everybody everywhere does

In the same language

I can see by your coat, my friend

You’re from the other side

There’s just one thing I got to know

Can you tell me please, who won the war ?”

“Wooden Ships” by Jefferson Airplane/Crosby,Stills and  Nash {1968}

There’s a television  documentary  about to be screened ,asking the question:Who won the war at the finish of the Troubles in Ireland ?. You might find that an odd question. I never really thought too much about it .I was only too glad for the whole sorry mess to end . Asking the question begs us to see the whole ruckus as some kind of competition like “Game for a Laugh”  or ” the Chase”. It’s as if everyone in Ireland was actually taking part in a kind of Olympic Games where medals were handed out to the winners. It’s a daft one really when you consider that one “side ” has decided that there wasn’t even a competition in the first place. Some will argue that there wasn’t even a “war” so how could anyone win it anyway?

The question reduces all our lives to a schoolboy game of conkers where the biggest and hardest chestnut wins and the owner of said nut  can strut about as king of the walk. Well, look around .Do you see anyone with a Big Gold Medal pinned to their puffed up chest.? I don’t see anyone saying “We won”. If they have won anything, what is it?

I think we’ll all agree there was a “conflict” of interests. Some might have reasons for putting another label ….like “war” on it. I’m not one of those. Did anyone win? Well let’s see. When the whole thing kicked off in the late 1960s , the  unionists seemed to be of the opinion that they were already living in a Golden State of Bliss and that nothing needed changing in their world -view . Any kind of change in the status quo was anathema to them . They were seemingly perfectly happy with the state of play , even though many of them  lived in  as squalid conditions as their Nationalist counterparts. There were problems with housing and  there was obvious chicanery afoot in the political sphere.They didn’t seem to value the idea of “One Man One vote ” and saw the Civil Rights Movement as an affront to their vision of a perfect society.  That might have a lot of people scratching their collective heads , but there you have it .Unionism generally was perfectly happy with their lot and that was that . There didn’t appear to be any real social movement for improvement  that caught the popular voice in their community.

Nationalists weren’t happy with their lot  and wanted some social changes that might make it a better society for everyone across the board  and make Northern Ireland a more equitable place to live in.  That was the nub of the conflict at that moment in time. It seems very simple, really …and it was. Everything that followed began with those simple differences of opinion. Of course, when the state’s police force and military were used against only the Nationalists it was bound to spawn a more violent answering response from those most affected.Those who were interned without trial might have thought that the system needed some radical changes that no amount of political tweaking would ever fix. It gave violent force  Republicanism a raison d’etre. Before that moment , they had no  real traction in the Nationalist society and really hadn’t  throughout the conflict until Sinn Fein disavowed violence . Nobody will lie down and be kicked forever, though. No one will respond to being locked up without a trial by simply complying.  Something was bound to happen then.

The Civil Rights Movement was asking for that fairer deal and was answered by Paisley’s vocal thuggery which in turn inflamed the dry tinder of Unionism’s latent fears and encroaching bigotry.It’s hard to argue with any of that if you actually lived through it all and saw it in front of your face, on the streets.Especially when the Civil Rights Movement was attempting to be  a cross-community movement. They were  only asking for a fairer deal for everyone, even if not everyone knew they needed a fairer deal. Paisley’s mad power- cult  almost single-handedly put paid to that. He had his own reasons and all the pundits are still arguing about the effects of his power-playing and eventual volte face, on both sides of the community. He was loved and loathed in equal measure and not just by one side.

Many talk of war or conflict as if there is some glamour attached to it .You can even see that in the stylings of uniforms and the decorative “salad”, braid and trim on the epaulettes  or the medals designed to bestow “winner” on some act of soldiery. I would not be of that school. War and conflict is about killing . The end result of our own little conflict was that at the furthest reaches of society it gave a carte blanche to every psychopath with a grudge to indulge their goriest kill-fantasies  . Many went beyond any cause they may have espoused  with their  hate-filled gore-fests of stabbings and slashings, never mind the bombing and shooting that was almost taken as the norm. Both sides have many closed rooms full of horrors. They all have things to bury. It all finally juddered to an impasse when it was realised by all sides that a  stratum  of violence could be maintained by every side at a low level…. forever, without any solution. Its time had run out and anyone with an ear to the ground could see that . Some , as usual , were slow to learn..The result was a strange hybrid of governance that so far has become as unweildy as a car without power-steering. Anyone remember those ? …Enough said.

So who won, after all that?  Well , certainly, if judged by the standards of 1968 , we are all winners in that we did get most of  those Civil Rights eventually . Nationalism got a better say in their collective political future, which is what they originally wanted  .Unionism retained their  Union, even though that union is a radically different beast to its 1968 version which everyone, even themselves,  suffered under.Nationalism did gain the possibility of equality and  future change which it didn’t have back in 1968.  There is always the possibility that at some future date in  even more changed circumstances we may have a United Ireland {If everyone in Ireland can agree on what that might look like}, a Federal United Islands of Ireland and Britain possibly, or even a Federal version of a United Europe, uniting all of those aspects across the world .We don’t know , just as we were’t sure a few weeks ago whether or not Scotland would float off into the wide blue yonder, forever waving goodbye…… or not.

Unionism still clings to an unwarranted inferiority complex which has it putting much store in  parading and flying flags .To anyone outside of that community, it’s a case of “The lady doth protest too much”. ….way too much , really! That ostentation is taken by most  as a profound weakness and it is sad to see.There is no need for it. If they want to feel British , it is thought, why do they not act a little more like our English and Welsh neighbours and be satisfied with a little less flag- flying and parading. If they really felt “British” with a capital  “B”, then maybe they’d act a little more like the British in the rest of Britain…. Then maybe we could all get along a little easier.Then we really could all act like grown-ups and all really feel like winners.

24 Responses to WHO WON THE WAR by Harry McAvinchey

  1. ANOTHER JUDE September 27, 2014 at 12:02 pm #

    Excellent summary of the north`s problems although it is a bit unfair for anyone to blame the Unionists for their anti Catholic paranoia when the great democracy across the water still has bigoted laws forbidding Catholics from becoming the Head of State.Why don`t the British lead by example and scrap that hateful law? There WAS a war, there were soldiers, guns, armoured vehicles, shootings, bombings, POW camps and black propaganda. One way around the Unionists understandable ( from their viewpoint) reluctance to admit to the war is for people to use the terms Revolutionaries (IRA, INLA,) and Counter Revolutionaries (RUC, UDA, UDR, UVF etc) Everyone should be able to agree about that at least.

    • William Fay September 28, 2014 at 7:04 pm #

      Jude, there was NO war in Northern Ireland, there was a dirty sectarian squabble, where both sides regularly shot each other in the back. The IRA rarely faced the British in combat, did not wear a uniform, did not take prisoners and were not a signatory to the Geneva Convention. You can turn this anyway you want in your head but a war it was not.

      • paddykool September 28, 2014 at 8:27 pm #

        Pay attention, William….

  2. giordanobruno September 27, 2014 at 1:10 pm #

    I broadly agree.
    However although Nationalists or at least those involved in the Civil Rights movement were looking for a fairer deal, republicans, don’t forget, were most definitely looking for Brits Out.
    In that they failed and that is why you never hear it mentioned anymore.

    • paddykool September 27, 2014 at 2:06 pm #

      You see Gio….If you were around back then and involved in the very idea of “Civil Rights”,even in a small peripheral way , the idea of Irish Republicanism was largely an irrelevance in those years from 1968 until internment. There was no real support for the IRA who at that time were a tiny “Official”, probably no more than a few old families …. grouping that were largely scoffed at within nationalist society. The provos certainly did not exist and only really came to the fore quite a bit later and were very young men seizing that moment in isolated areas in Belfast and Derry where small communities were under physical threat.

      The likes of Paisley and the response of the RuC and the British Army literally made the provos valid in front of their community’s collective eyes. they were their own sons and daughters after all and saw themselves as fighting back a corruption.Before Paisley started his rantings at the Civil Rights marchers there was literally nothing of physical force republicanism to be seen.The only violence on the streets was coming from Paisley and his followers. The idea was for the civil Rights marchers to emulate their American non-violent counter-parts..In doing this initially , they gained a higher moral ground in face of thuggery. obviously some were not going to take this treatment lying down forever and decided to go all-out to completely change the foundations of the state and overturn the problem completely. That’s how we ended with that split in nationalism of the SDLP and Republicanism. The SDLP led the way until Sinn Fein decided to disavow the gun in one hand . It was seen that the violence had won more concessions from the British government but that any further progress for the idea of a complete republic could only ever come through political persuasion .

      • giordanobruno September 27, 2014 at 5:08 pm #

        And of course the IRA actions gave legitimacy to the loyalist groupings in the eyes of their community.
        But none of that changes my point that there was a very definite ‘Brits Out’ objective, unless I dreamed it all. So in a discussion about who won the ‘war’ it is worth noting that physical force republicanism failed in that objective Not only failed but their leaders now administer British rule.

        • Jude Collins September 27, 2014 at 5:27 pm #

          Gee, gio, I just love your modern twist on ‘Croppies lie down”

          • giordanobruno September 27, 2014 at 6:49 pm #

            No idea what you mean.

          • Jude Collins September 27, 2014 at 9:06 pm #

            probably just as well

        • paddykool September 28, 2014 at 10:09 am #

          Well Gio ..If it was a “war”…which we can all debate until next Wednesday…a war over territory…the British still have us as their possession. That is true and I assume that is not what the republican movement really wants. I assume they have re-set their sights on a longer time-scale for their project, after realising anything was impossible militarily for anyone …themselves, the loyalists and the British {that is the British Government}…There would simply be stasis.

          .It ‘s all perspective though. What unionism ..or loyalism was fighting for was to retain the same state of “well-being” that they felt secure with pre-1968. That place where they thought they had control over the levers of their own personal destiny.That place where they had their own little police force and it’s own little flying force , the B specials.That was their security blanket .

          Well they had to lose all that if we were to have anything like a balanced society. I think anyone with any insight could see that, but loyalism took it as an affront. They had to lose that , though.They now don’t have that same sense of security, I suppose , otherwise we would not have the demonstration of the thousands of flags nor the fact that there are even more marches of demonstration and insecurity than there ever were before…There is the fact that they don’t want to fly the union flag like everyone else in the UK. They want a different deal. You’ll still see the odd flag that some poor bugger has put up in the middle of the night…even after all the summer marching. Who would be bothered to do that?

          So to them , losing what they had pre- 1968 appears to be a defeat for them. It’s not, of course , but there you have it.

          If you feel secure in your own skin , you’ll have no problem keeping your own quietude. It’s the noisy ones who are insecure…. right?…The ones that just have to put that flag up every day…Sad , really.

          So we are still being governed by Westminster and each “side” is certainly in a better place socially and , financially than they were in 1968…Well ..I assume that with all the cellphones and satellite televisions, they’ve all also now got indoor toilets and maybe oil-fired central heating , which nobody had back in 1968 !! ..If they had decent houses at all..

          We’ve also just come to the realisation in recent days that we are not much good at this “governing” thing ourselves , anyway .All of us….We haven’t yet developed the necessary skillsets and our local administration is in a right old mess.If it goes on much longer and the Creationists attempt to impose any more of their nonsense I’d say there’ll be a responsive “No” from the fifty per cent of the population who are presently politically asleep..{ That would be both nationalists and unionists} That might change things a bit.
          So who won the war? We’re still all fighting that mad conservative rump of backwoodsmen.They beat us off the streets with blackthorn sticks back then.Now they who want time to run backwards ..;they want to tell us that dinosaurs never existed…that Darwin got it wrong …that gay blood is bad blood…that black is white.. Some of them cannot even construct a sentence in English , never mind Ulster Scotch or Irish. ..In that respect , the real “war” is still being fought.

          • giordanobruno September 28, 2014 at 2:01 pm #

            Perhaps we need to establish who was fighting the ‘war ‘ before we can say who won it, if indeed we want an answer to that question.
            Was it Unionism v Nationalism?If so I think the Nationalist community has certainly won something, in terms of civil rights and acceptance of the possibility at least of a United Ireland. But at a very high price.
            Is that me saying “croppies lie down” again? Who knows.
            If it was war in the more literal sense between physical force republicanism and loyalist groups/ British forces then once again, I point out that the objective of Brits Out failed. As did the objective of defeating the IRA. So no winner in that scenario.
            Or was it more accurately a 3 sided war since the British forces when it suited them fought against loyalist terrorists as well as the republican ones. Hard to untangle that one. Though I don’t see loyalism as having won much and they certainly don’t act with the confidence of winners

        • William Fay September 28, 2014 at 7:08 pm #

          Gio, what jude means is that he disagrees with you and reverts to the norm

          • Jude Collins September 28, 2014 at 7:12 pm #

            By gum, sweet William – I didn’t know you could see inside my head. Jeez – best watch what I think from now on…

  3. Mick Early September 27, 2014 at 1:14 pm #

    Lovely article Jude. I love the ending on particular, “why don’t they act more British”?

    • Jude Collins September 27, 2014 at 1:40 pm #

      Not guilty, m’lud, All Harry’s work…

  4. neill September 27, 2014 at 5:50 pm #

    If they really felt “British” with a capital “B”, then maybe they’d act a little more like the British in the rest of Britain…. Then maybe we could all get along a little easier.Then we really could all act like grown-ups and all really feel like winners

    Of course if Nationalists really felt Irish and acted a little more Irish like our close neighbours across the border things would be a little easier….

    • paddykool September 28, 2014 at 3:26 pm #

      Neill: I think you missed the point again …and not for the first time. Step outside the box for a moment and look at it cooly. This isn’t a competition.It’s a learning curve.

      I don’t know how nationalists in the north could better emulate their southern neighbours or in what context…You don’t give any examples to add to the conversation…so I literally don’t know what you actually mean and how they could better behave…. but I don’t see too many Welshmen or Englishmen stamping their little feet and barracking their government to allow them to fly the union flag every day of the year. Rather than when protocol dictates already….Especially when they know that some half of the community they live in …those people they walk past every day ….. feels that it is a slight on their own identity that has never been properly considered.

      Ask yourself why anyone would even be remotely interested or why those in the rest of the UK or want to do such a thing.. Most people don’t really have that kind of attachment to the union flag. or any bloody flag for that matter…..certainly not in the non-ironic way that loyalism here clings to it. You’ll not find any kind of flag in my home , for example…nor in any of my friends’ homes. they are simply not interested and would find it a crass thing to fly one.. Here it has been used too long as a weapon to make it fully inclusive so instead of being loyal to it it is constantly raggedly desecrated by trivialising it like a poorly wrought graffito…. left to founder on every lamp post.

      Show me where the Welsh or the English behave in such an errant way and then maybe I’ll understand what you might mean.

      • neill September 28, 2014 at 8:48 pm #

        For a start Nationalists in the North could be likeable and easy going something that people in the south have in spades….and perhaps they could take the hint that the south is no longer really interested in them….and before anybody says anything yes this the case with unionists and the mainland as well.

        • paddykool September 29, 2014 at 6:41 pm #

          I think you’re thinking of the stereotype Oirishmen you might see in the “filums” there Neill. “The Quiet Man” and all that…. There are plenty of gombeen men, carpetbaggers , “Cute Hoors” and blaggards south of the border too. Just like everywhere else , really. Easy going is a bit of a myth really.Outside of Ireland as a whole , many people have this rose-tinted version of us all…but you know and i know the real truth about us Irish….we’re a very varied bunch and a wee imaginary line running through the land doesn’t change any of that…

  5. Norma wilson September 27, 2014 at 9:04 pm #


    I am looking forward to seeing this program, I believe the PIRA lost. I also believe there was wrong done to the Catholics.
    Church and state should never be mixed. There definitely should have been more interaction with both communities.
    We got a little glimpse of the old terrorism when GA was arrested, threatening shouting the odds.
    As I am sure you have all seen Hong Kong on the news tonight, if you were to ask these people would they like the British back they would say YES!
    The Scots have changed everything, I don’t feel victorious, I feel sad. The last sixty years have been great, I have had my Queen, who has more years behind her, than in front. I have been Irish, belonging to the UK. I will be sad when all this changes, but I know in my heart there will be millions joining me.

    • paddykool September 28, 2014 at 6:16 pm #

      Well, Norma , I have nothing against the Queen per se…it’s just that i could get along without her very well. She seems a decent enough human being.Who really knows anyway? She is a human being living in a very odd situation though. She was born into a strange family cult if you like ..unlike anyone else’s experience of life.Her family has obviously gathered some wealth in the past .Who knows how they came across it. Most kings get it by theft and murder usually…. She is obviously admired by a lot of people like yourself and her grand-children certainly help sell a lot more magazines than you or I do. I could pick through it for the rest of my life though and never figure out why that is some kind of “special” quality. They seem to be an”odd” family in a very odd 21st century situation. which involves travelling about a lot and saying hello to a lot of people..That’s just how it appears.

      They are unusual in that.Some human beings are I suppose.In their case they were born into it.
      I’m not sure which other qualities there are to admire though. I have great admiration for the size of a person’s imagination , for example,, rather than the size of their bank account…That’s just me , I know ..I admire creativity in people so I could admire a great film maker, musician or a painter like Picasso. I’m just not sure what it is I’m supposed to feel grateful for or admire in a family who appear to be very rich. I find myself thinking ….Well okay….and what else can they do? …and why should it matter to me?

      Like i say, that’s just me….now if the Queen could play some really good country blues or a mean bit of jazz……well I might perk up and listen,….. but I’m still waiting for that light bulb to go off…. .

  6. Norma wilson September 28, 2014 at 7:59 pm #

    Hi Paddykool

    Have been away all day at county Meath. The Queen is very well versed in almost everything, including Art.
    I think because we come from different sides here in the “North” we tend to have been nurtured with opposing views.
    Paddy when I was quite young, one of my first memories of this woman, was her riding side saddle on her horse, she was so majestic. Since I have been heavily influenced by my late Father, who would have made you stand, at the first note of God Save The Queen, she has been a huge part of my life. I think it must be in the blood.
    I understand most no that’s wrong some Catholics don’t like her, but I suppose they are still blaming her for Elizabeth 1st actions.
    I never could understand, as a young child why anyone would want to throw a breeze block at her car, as it approached Shaftsbury Square, back in 1966.
    Now I appreciate your point of view, and as you know I always enjoy reading your blogs, I find you. “Easy on the ear”, so I am going to retort by asking you nicely. Why does the Pope, a man of God need an army, and a bank??? Now I know you are not religious and maybe presenting that question to you is unfair.

    • paddykool September 29, 2014 at 6:34 pm #

      Yep..Same goes for the pope , i’m afraid..People can admire and adore who they like.

    • Wolfe tone October 2, 2014 at 5:38 pm #

      It’s not the only thing the queen and a pope had in common….they both were/are fond of Jimmy savile ; ). They both gave him a medal. Two cheeks of the same ass? Pardon the pun.