Last night in St Mary’s


Last evening, with the sleet sheeting down and the ground filled with damp squirrelling  into your shoes, I made my way to St Mary’s University College…No, Virginia, I am not going to start arguing the case for the continuation of St Mary’s. I mention it only because it was the venue for the re-launch of Danny Morrison’s 25-year-old novel, West Belfast. It was a thoroughly enjoyable occasion despite the foul weather; I met a number of old friends from real life and some new friends from readers of this blogsite. But it was particularly interesting because of the discussion afterwards.

The guest of honour was a friend of Danny Morrison’s,  Ronan Bennett. If you haven’t read Bennett (or Morrison, for that matter), then hurry to Amazon and repent of your literary sins. Bennett has written a number of novels and screenplays. He lives in London, is enormously gifted, and I’d urge you to start by reading Overthrown by Strangers and/or The Catastrophist and you’ll know what I mean.

Among the points raised during the discussion afterwards was the fascinating one of how a writer who is politically committed, something that requires certainty, can write fiction, which demands ambiguity and doubt. If you read either Morrison or Bennett’s novels, you’ll see it can be done. But it requires a breadth of feeling and understanding that doesn’t confront the politics-free writer.

It was Bennett who made the point of the night. He was recalling the demonisation of West Belfast in the 1980s and 1990s, and particularly the demonisation  of republicans, and particularly particularly (yes I know I’ve used the same word twice in succession, Virginia) the demonisation of Gerry Adams, which continues to this day. A man of violence, a community which harbours violence, people of violence addicted to their foul deeds, as incapable of abandoning their foul habits as a drug addict. You get the idea? Republican violence and republican violence alone stood condemned.

Bennett made the point that one question must always be asked: where did this violence come from? It didn’t materialise out of nothing: it was prompted into existence by other forces and other circumstances. He instanced a contemporary parallel:  the recent killings in Paris.Cruel and vicious as those killings at Charlie Hebdo were, we owe it to the dead and  ourselves to ask the question: where did this violence come from? What drove the killers to commit such an act? Only when we see the wider context will we properly understand and judge actions, particularly violent actions.

I couldn’t agree more. The propensity of the Irish and British media to present political violence in a vacuum is both stupid and misleading. If we’re not prepared to ask the question ‘What was the context?’ then we shouldn’t be commenting on such matters at all.

Two final points. What Bennett said is perfectly right, but it extends beyond a demand that the media see the context of West Belfast in the 1980s and 1990s. It demands that nationalists and republicans make the difficult leap of imagination and see the context beyond the context: that is, the context for unionism, and what it is that prompts it to take the position it does so fiercely and unquestioningly. That’s hard. It’s also necessary.

And my final point? The last person I heard talking about context, and the need to judge words and actions in context, was a unionist politician. He wasn’t talking about nationalists and republicans, he was talking about himself. But while his point narrowed down to the personal, he was still right, just as Bennett was right. His name? You’ll be surprised. Gregory Campbell.

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21 Responses to Last night in St Mary’s

  1. Norma wilson January 30, 2015 at 10:30 am #

    So what exactly did prompt the men and women for that matter to cause so much HATE violence mayhem destruction.

    As a protestant and unionist I have never been able to finalise the conclusion.

    The people of Andersonstown were not disadvantaged my Mother tells me in the 1957 she used to push us in a pram when it was being built, my parents would go for long walks. (From Sandy Row).
    What made those very same people commit the heinous crime Fourty years later on those two soldiers in the car.
    Yes I do include the majority because it reflexes in the polls who they vote for.
    No matter where I go I will always tell the truth about the troubles, I refuse to let anybody twist it, we could have taken another route, without the loss of so many lives.
    I am sorry we disagree on this subject, I come from a family not involved in anything, who grew up through the troubles and was lucky enough not to have been effected.
    So I am looking at this from another prospective.
    I always likened cathokics to sheep, yes and I am married to one. Open the gate and one goes they all follow, and like I have said on this blog so often. Ryan’s Daughter sums you all up beautifully.

  2. Iolar January 30, 2015 at 12:11 pm #

    Back to the future

    Maurice Morrow’s Freudian slip was on full display today with his reference to a unionist polling station. Our barren region cannot even aspire to the dizzy heights of a dreary consensus currently being manufactured about the forthcoming election. We have entered the realm of uncontested speculation, with sham fights to entertain and beguile the unsuspecting public about the reality of ongoing Tory inspired cuts masquerading as reforms to health and welfare services.

    On a day that featured industrial action by health service staff, the Minister for Health appeared on ‘The View’. His response to the Donaldson Review was akin to watching a dentist extract teeth, unlike the health professional who knew what he was talking about and could articulate the need for appropriate services in a cogent manner. That is leadership. Staff in caring professions should not have to resort to industrial action at a time when a lack of clear leadership from managers is rewarded by the prospect of significant salary increases.

    A shared violent past does not have to be replaced by a foreboding future generated by inadequately funded services and unemployment. That is the legacy of the type of policies pursued by the Tories in England and Fine Gael in the south of Ireland. We could learn a lot from our Scandinavian neighbours about peaceful coexistence, fair taxation and quality services for all citizens.

  3. Perkin Warbeck January 30, 2015 at 12:58 pm #

    Context is all, as you say, Esteemed Blogmeister, and also as the kangaroo said when he found himself up in court, much to his surprise. On a charge of causing cars driven by learner drivers to adopt the tactic marsupial: hop, skip and jump. For some reason Skippy (for it is he!) found himself being gloated over, out of context.

    Whereas St. Mary’s is mentioned in today’s blog as the context in which the question of context was discussed, down here in the Free Southern Stateen another educational establishment was in the news. And things don’t get much more taken out of context than a school in a media studio. Even more than a kangaroo in court.

    That would be Colaiste Eoin in Stigh Locrcain (or, as those whose linguistic o’tool is inert, prefer to call it: Sillorgan). Seems like some flying column, as noisy as they are obscure, called ‘Shout Out’ were due to conduct a workshop (not to be confused with Worksop) on the tropical topic of (gulp) ‘homophobic bullying’.

    When the Worksop (oops, there one goes !) was cancelled at eleven o’clock, five minutes before Showtime, within another five minutes the wind-breaking news was all over the media shop. Smelling of roses as it tripped gaily along.

    Now, as some of your blogtrotters have perceptively pointed out, Esteemed Blogmeister, while it took the shouting out which was directed at El Presidente five days to make the journey from Finglas to Donnybrook, Dublin 4 it took this epoch-making, water-closet Colaiste Eoin story just five minutes to make its journey. (Oops, meant to tap, ‘water-shed’).

    Importance, of course, and timing are not inconsiderable components of the c for context word. Goddesses, of both genders, make their own media importance.

    Does one or does one not smell a cat here?

    One does, indeed, one Una Mullally-cat of The Unionist Times no less. And hear one as well as said tabby cat has been meowing with all the gusto but none of the must-listen-to of an Eartha Kitt ever since.

    Turns out – iontas na n-iontas, mirabile dictu, quel surprise, well whaddya know all rolled into una ! – that the freedom-of-meow loving Ms. Mullally-cat has in a previous existence been a ‘captaen an ranga’/ head gal in the sister school of Colaiste Eoin. In much more recent times, i.e, this very month, in fact, the same liberty-to-purr person was declaring as one of her her bewhiskered wishes for the New Year that, erm, the Shinners be silenced. And all expressed in Cordelia-like tones: ‘her voice is ever sweet, gentle and low, an excellent thing in a woman’.

    Section 31 ways to leave your cover.

    Some straight-laced bully-boyos,typically anonymous,(and they should know !) have the Gall-hating gall to suggest that the real bullying here was actually conducted by the homily-delivering homophiles and other quare fellahs who shouted out themselves and other abusive terms from the closet of Wireless Land.

    But, naturellement, Perkie’s inner purr-fectionist is not amongst them.

    For he recognises that the request of the Shout Outs was the calm and reasonable one to have ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ be replaced as the Shakespeare text of choice in the school and to have it replaced with the far more conciliatory ‘Romeo and Julian’.

    With the simple proviso: that the following objectionable line from the star-crossed lovers’ tale be vivisectioned out: ‘These sudden joys have sudden ends: they burn up in victory like f.a.g’. Incidentally, when Barred of Avon refers to f.a.g. here he means the bowdlerised ‘fire and brimstone’.

    Colaiste Eoin is not exactly your typical South Dublin dort-speaking school roysh? Buiochas le Dia ar an Aoine cheasta seo /TFIF. For starters it is a Gaelscoil which means it pays homage to the myth of the leprechaun and so, conducts its business through the lingua franca of those cunning stunts, the small of stature and the small of mind.

    This is not surprising as it was originally a (gulp) Christian Brother school before those black and soutanes were Dachaued out of out existence by the daschunds of erm, diversity. Once the happy campers of Hibernia had concentrated properly on their removal.

    Regrettably, their original games of choice still compulsorily prevail, bogball and stickfighting ; their malady lingers on.

    Indeed, once, in the thankfully long ago and farce away, when the peculiar black stripe in the football gansey of Colaiste Eoin was pointed out to a CB in the school, he snortingly retorted and not in a voice which was even vaguely Cordelia-like in its texture, soft and gentle and low:

    ‘By Haysus Hotel, a chara, as long as one corner of Ireland remains under the jackboot of John Bull, that black stripe in Colaiste Eoin’s gansey will remain !’.

    But that is to put in in context, all of which was in a Gaelic past that has now been blessedly annexed by the enlightened English-tweaking present.

    Mind, there are those bully boyos (see above, still anoynmous) who will sneer and jeer and claim that the boys in Colaiste Eoin whom Father Nature has named ‘Sue’ will find it much better prepared for the b. bad world once they leave school.

    For then they will have to decide whether to come out of the comfort zone of their cofra and announce themselves as……Gaelic. There will be no guarantee of a soothing squaw by the name of Little Miriam to hold their lamh and to whisper ‘Be brave, my Brave’.

    Rather is the context more likely to be in the Johnny Cash-flow territory of dort-speaking Dublin South:

    ‘He came up with a knife and cut off a piece of my ear
    But I brished a chair and knocked out his teeth
    And we crashed through the wall and into the street
    Kicking and a gouging in the mud and the blood and the beer’.

    ‘Brished’ in line two, in the context of leprechaun, is the focal / word for ‘broke’.

    • Jude Collins January 30, 2015 at 3:15 pm #

      I was talking to a fellow-admirer of your prose at the launch last night, Perkie. We both sang your praises to the rafters. My own most treasured bon mots today: ˇSection 31 ways to leave your cover.’ Bless you, my son, and may your hand never lose its cunning…

      • Perkin Warbeck January 30, 2015 at 6:17 pm #

        GRMA, Esteemed Blogmeister.

        Coming from the author of ‘Booing the Bishop’ is all the imprimatur this blogtrotter requires.

        PS Self-correction being the only correction: bron orm, but ‘Skippy’ is not the name of the kangaroo in q. (see above). Rather is it ‘Rolf’. Though no relation.

        Repeat, NO relation.

        A message which might well justify booking a gig on the roof of Independent House for the noted cabaret act, The Shout Outs, the better to get this message out, out, out.

  4. Randall Stephen Hall January 30, 2015 at 1:25 pm #

    Where did all this violence come from? I agree and hear the question. I’m one of those fine examples, a man from north Belfast who didn’t go to West Belfast because of how it was portrayed, for years. You would have thought that a neon sign, saying “This guy’s a PROD” shone from me, if I crossed the line from North to West. (According to the media.)

    The day I did go, in 1998, I went with quite a lot of caution and genuine ignorance. I went with my family. My wife and my two young daughters. I was working on a project called “The Peace Blanket”. (The word “blanket” is there for us all). This was challenging enough, but through my work at the Art College, I learned of an Culturlann and decided to go there.

    We arrived for my appointment and headed in to the café and there, sitting having a cup of tea was Gerry Adams. “There’s a man I’d like to talk to.” about my project. Fergus who was there to help me said he would see what he could do. So, in a short while, we went and had a quiet conversation, the four of us, in a side room for about 15 minutes. I explained what I was at. “Fair play to you”, he said.

    My natural response, from then and to now was to just reach out your hand and to explain yourself. I’ll be first to admit that I’m probably a bit eccentric, or at least 20 years ahead of myself. I’ve met and talked to other nationalists and other unionists/loyalists, through my work. Most of the time my response is the same. I reach out my hand and begin to speak with an open heart and an open mind. (At least as open as I can be at the time).

    I’ll never forget that day. Unexpected events, like the sun (the bonnie buis), on an overcast day. Did I do the right thing? Have I done the right thing since? For me, the answer is yes, I did. For peace can only come if you carry it in your heart first.

    I still feel uncomfortable, and vulnerable, sharing this now for the first time after 16 years, other than with friends, but as I said in my poem called “The Waiting”, yesterday.”I don’t want to wait anymore” . . . for peace. In the ghost of Broadway Presbyterian Church (an Culturlann), I was only doing what any right minded radical Presbyterian would have done in the 1790s.

    The violent response to America from countries who have been unduly influenced by America is there to be understood. The other side of the story needs to be explained and seen clearly. You can’t go out around the world, building empires from other people’s countries in the 1700s and 1800s and not expect some response. It seems like total double standards to me, to invade other people’s lives, take their goods, kill their children, wives and relations and not expect a response.

    Equally so, I don’t agree with violence. I don’t agree with terrorism but I can clearly see how it has come to be.

    I’ve worked in St. Mary’s as a storyteller and in quite a few of the schools in West Belfast, over the years. I never planned to be doing this, it just happened. Culturally, I’m the richer for it as I now see what I didn’t receive as a primary school child.

    I’ve talked to Danny too, as a writer. Talking breaks down the barriers between people. It’s easy to just say nothing and keep your head down. The hard thing to do is to see beyond yourself and beyond the violence. For it’s the first step to change.

    • Sherdy January 30, 2015 at 6:37 pm #

      Randall, you seem to think you’re 20 years ahead of yourself.
      But then 16 years ago you were doing what any right minded radical Presbyterian would have done in 1790.
      So does that not indicate that rather than 20 years ahead, you are actually 200 years behind yourself?
      But then you’re still well ahead of the ‘remember 1690’ types.
      Not a criticism – just an observation.

  5. Randall Stephen Hall January 30, 2015 at 1:31 pm #

    PS. I must learn the correct context for “too” as opposed to “to”. Well then, that’s me told off then . . . RSH.

  6. neill January 30, 2015 at 4:17 pm #

    Danny Morrison an author now thats a best joke I have heard all day.

    It was Bennett who made the point of the night. He was recalling the demonisation of West Belfast in the 1980s and 1990s, and particularly the demonisation of republicans, and particularly particularly (yes I know I’ve used the same word twice in succession, Virginia) the demonisation of Gerry Adams, which continues to this day. A man of violence, a community which harbours violence, people of violence addicted to their foul deeds, as incapable of abandoning their foul habits as a drug addict. You get the idea? Republican violence and republican violence alone stood condemned.

    Nobody complained about Loyalist violence at all Jude good grief man your mopery is getting worse every day.

    • Jude Collins January 30, 2015 at 6:12 pm #

      Well now Neill – I don’t feel a bit mopery. But I’ll bet you £50 that if we check, say, the News Letter in any given month during the 1970s or 1980s, the finger in editorials will point at least twice as often (OK, three times as often) at the IRA/republicans as it does at loyalist paramilitaries. Bet?

      • neill January 30, 2015 at 7:26 pm #

        I suppose I should be glad at least now you conceed that people did condemn loyalist violence

        • Jude Collins January 31, 2015 at 11:14 am #

          I’ll take that as a No, then, Neill. Btw – small point – ‘concede’, not ‘conceed’. Let’s keep standards up on this site…

          • Neill January 31, 2015 at 5:42 pm #

            Jude I can’t help you if you backtrack all the time you said Loyallist violence was never condemned then you conceded it was then you wanted me to place a spurious bet look at yourself and wonder if you are willing to backtrack so quickly does it mean you do any research about your arguments?

          • Jude Collins January 31, 2015 at 7:30 pm #

            So right, Neill – that’s a confirmed No, then.

  7. michael c January 30, 2015 at 4:46 pm #

    Jude,you are in no position to talk .You’re only a “keyboard warrior” as “soldier” Jeffrey Donaldson told you today! (even the UDR must have laughed when Jeff arrived to sign up for “active service”. Something like when Prince Edward joined the marines and his colleagues called him “Mavis” !)

    • Jude Collins January 30, 2015 at 6:08 pm #

      I know, Michael. I was kicking myself for not asking him how a convinced Christian like him could boast of toting a gun…Don’t remember Jesus talking about joining that respected regiment the UDR…

  8. Patrick Fahy January 30, 2015 at 7:00 pm #

    Jude, you describe the propensity of British and Irish establishment politicians to present political violence in a vacuum as “stupid’. Depends what you mean by stupid. If nonsensical, certainly is. If stupid as in unknowing or unaware, far from it. They know that what they are doing. To admit the truth would be to deny their pasts, and in the case of the British its present as well. Thus, the British must continue to ignore the pivotal role of partition in the institutionalisation of sectarianism and it’s inevitable consequences inthe north of Ireland. The Irish government cannot admit the truth that the violence of the last forty years is no different than that which led to the creation of the 26 county state. So, they peddle the infantile lie that political violence is mindless and psychopathic. In this, they are, of course, not alone, as we know from looking elsewhere in the world.

    • Jude Collins January 30, 2015 at 7:08 pm #

      Good to hear your finger-tap, Pat. You’re right – ‘stupid’ was too kind an adjective. It is stupid in that it runs counter to even common sense; but it is of course calculated. That way you make the violence “mindless” and there are no embarrassing threads running back to link you. But yes indeed – I stand corrected. Keep your eye on me, Pat…

  9. RJC January 31, 2015 at 1:08 pm #

    That propensity of the Irish and British media to present political violence in a vacuum is not merely stupid and misleading, it’s also incredibly dangerous.

    I find those late 60s years in the north very interesting, particularly with regard to NICRA, People’s Democracy etc. I think there can be a tendency to gloss over what happened during those years, presumably given what came after.

    Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary there does seem to be the odd person out there of the ‘Sure, everything was fine and then the IRA just started shooting people’ mindset. There does seem a propensity amongst certain sections of Unionism (on both sides of the border) to gloss over the years 1921-72. I wonder why that could be?

  10. neill February 1, 2015 at 6:56 am #

    Well now Neill – I don’t feel a bit mopery. But I’ll bet you £50 that if we check, say, the News Letter in any given month during the 1970s or 1980s, the finger in editorials will point at least twice as often (OK, three times as often) at the IRA/republicans as it does at loyalist paramilitaries. Bet?

    Could it have been the case that the IRA killed a lot more people than any other group in Northern Ireland so deserved to be criticised more?

    But since you have a sneaky sympathy with what the IRA and its cohorts did i suspect you wouldnt make that argument would you?

    • Jude Collins February 1, 2015 at 2:33 pm #

      When have I expressed a ‘sneaky sympathy with what the IRA and its cohorts did’? Watch your language, neill.