For anyone who did not live and grow up as a teenager or young adult in the 1960’s {especially the late 1960’s } it is very difficult to get across the hidebound conservative and almost fascist world people in Northern Ireland and the Republic lived in.
For one thing all the information was being gleaned mostly through two television channels which broadcast for only a few hours daily. There were many fewer radio channels too. Other than that there were a handful of newspapers feeding into two very separate communities . Even in rural towns there would be a newspaper aimed at the nationalist population and one aimed at the unionists.I dare say it’s similar today.News items are still avidly censored to promote a viewpoint. They had usually some political bias too as they would have been owned by political figures.. Outside of that there was word- of- mouth, gossip and your own eyes and ears.There was no world -spanning internet communications nor handy video evidence on your pocket phone to flag up any criminality on the streets.
Not to put too fine a point on it , people and politicians literally got away with murder.{ well, if not murder, certainly law-breaking}
On the streets there were “civil rights ” marches , mostly based on Martin Luther King’s example in the USA. the background was discrimination locally,the Vietnam War , apartheid in South Africa , women’s liberation, the riots in Paris and of course the ongoing worldwide youthful counter-culture.None of that was going to cut any ice with the very conservative elements in Northern Ireland who were quite happy in their neat little closed -off mindset of ” children’s swings closed on a Sunday “..
Equally conservative was the mindset of the Catholic church who also had a problem with all things sexual and got themselves into an uproar about the corrupting influence of literature such as “the Ginger Man”, Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint” and anything written by Edna O’Brien. The establishment was under attack both north and south.
Try explaining all that to a bunch of guys who were being told at a rally or in some country Orange Hall that these civil rights marchers were really another republican plot …the old enemy in a different guise ..and the spawn of the Pope , to boot!!
They just didn’t get it at all and they over-reacted …leading to batoning on the streets, stoning, burning out homes and eventually shooting off the streets. They were whipped up into a paranoia by people like Ian Paisley who , equally conservative , had ideas on seizing power in a fascistic way. Who the hell was Gerry Adams? He didn’t exist in all of this .
When a bunch of us students marched from Newry to Dublin on a civil rights march in 1969 , it was a bit of an overnight adventure, involving eating free sandwiches and from a personal viewpoint, getting sunstroke and sleeping on a tabletop in a hall overnight, but it was mostly about censorship and discrimination in the North and South by the Establishment. It was a youthful  cry against the bullshit.
The likes of the Provos were given their very life by the people that burnt out their homes and families in Belfast and Derry. People left the cities in droves and ended up in Lurgan, Armagh and Newry because of those street attacks. That killed the civil rights movement too and polarised the situation even further. Prior to that , thinking people from right across the board knew what morality was. .People should have known the difference between right and wrong , but when the streets burst into flames, nobody thinks about those fine details .That’s a luxury reserved for people well away from the heat and for politicians who can lie easily to themselves and the world.
Our southern neighbours have no real idea what happened in Northern ireland…no more idea than some of our bloggers here who never lived in those times . They may as well be standing in Bantry Bay gazing out towards America.

They’d be as close and would know as much about the fear.


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