There is more to flutes than meets the eye.Flutes aren’t simply fancy- sounding , elaborate tin whistles .They have other connotations as well. Some ships were called “flutes” too.Back in the 1600’s and on, the Dutch made these ships and they sometimes carried possibly a dozen nine- pounder cannons . The English, the Dutch and the Portugese had a right old time blasting the bejasus out of each other with this kind of artillery and turning each other’s ships into lethal splinters of matchwood. The cannons would poke out of a row of holes in the ship’s side like…..well …just like the fingerholes in a flute , I suppose….
Flutist, flautist , flutismist or “flute player”, as Sir James Galway would rather plainly and unpretentiously have it, never once said he was a republican at any time, but he expressed the view that he considered himself an Irishman and would prefer that Ireland was a united whole country . He believed that it had been invaded by force some eight hundred years ago and was still , in effect , under occupation, in part ,by another nation.In doing so he unwittingly touched- off his own cannonade and delivered a broadside across the bows of the old ship” Norneverland”. To the likes of East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson , that statement automatically made him a republican. Does that mean that a Welshman , an Englishman or a Scotsman who calls himself Welsh, English or Scottish is automatically a republican too?
Some of the things James Galway, the acclaimed local- boy- made- good, said in interview ,may have been unformed and possibly politically naive or maybe he just forgot how he was supposed to think and where someone like him who came from the Protestant streets of Belfast was supposedly pre-programmed to think. Is the man guilty of tearing up his roots and chucking them on a bonfire? It’s a bit like our own other local boy ,Van Morrison embracing whole-heartedly the Devil’s Music when he imbibed the gaudy liquor of blues and jazz along with the Green Fairy absinthe of James Joyce, Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud,. I’m sure gospel hall doors closed to him across the land too….and then that album he made with the Chieftains? That must have been the final straw for the likes of the Willie McCrea’s of this world.The Devil totally embraced,at the crossroads, finally.
All this is understandable when it’s considered that Mr Galway has chosen to live in Switzerland for most of his life.He has his own reasons for doing this , possibly financial,but he still considers himself an” Irishman” as opposed to a “Northern Irishman”.That is unsurprising too , given that Northern Ireland is not actually a nation nor an actual national identity.It is not acountry , but rather a part of a country .It is also a place of many displaced identities. That is especially so when possibly half … and very likely, even more than that figure, consider themselves to be part of the Irish nation that shares the island of Ireland and is also variously spread as a diaspora throughout the countries of the world; that will also include many newer ethnicities born here such as the Poles, Chinese, Russians and whatnot whose children are currently growing up in their new place of birth….Ireland . Mum and Dad might be Polish or Chinese , but these new arrivals are wholly new Irishmen and Irishwomen in the making.They might share some of their folks old traditions and carry them with them, but they will be Irish nonetheless. Unusually , they can all also buy an Irish passport or if they are feeling flush, they can buy a British one too .Of course buying a british one will not make them Welsh, Scottish or even English, just as it will not change a Scotsman into a Welshman.
James Galway has been given something that many living in the tight Norneverland social milieu have never had the gift of. That magical thing is not necessarily his undoubted talent , which he claims is nothing more than the result of really hard, daily work, exercises and repetition. He also calls that ” a gift from God” because he doesn’t like to believe that it is not wholly through his own dedicated effort, nor a mixture of genealogy that has made him what he is….a consummate musician.
The real gift he has been granted …..is perspective.
Not to put a fine tooth on it . He escaped ….He got away. It may not have taken that kind of distance to see clearly.In fact the situation in Ireland and especially in this small corner of the island may have been a huge motivating factor in his final choice of permanent habitat. He is lucky that his talent can travel , in that respect.He would have been aware of the background of the Irish Troubles and would have had a bird’s eye view of their origins.He learned to play in one of those little loyalist marching bands in the narrow Belfast streets, so he would have been privy to the everyday conversations , paranoias, slang, slander and prejudices that largely poison Norneverland society to this day .He would have his own close perspective on how things developed here. He would have seen the effigies burning on bonfires , much like the blacks would have seen their kith and kin hanging, tarred and feathered from the Strange Fruit trees of 1950’s Alabama.
It is for such reasons that he could develop his opinion on Ian Paisley.Some might enjoy the fantasy that Ian Paisley was a hugely benign influence on life in Norneverland , but anyone with eyes to see and a mnd in full working order will know otherwise.A film really should be made of the man’s life to encapsulate the very minutiae of paranoia that he engendered throughout the land in the 1960’s and the violence that was inspired by his outrageous oratory.In death he was all but sanctified but that is only a tiny part of his story. Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher were also sainted in death, so that is no recommendation, given their own divisive life-stories.
No ..James Galway didn’t say anything that was a shock to anyone with eyes and ears. We all saw how Ian Paisley’s rude and guldering oratory perfectly suited those who delighted in fanning the fears of a unionist regime in fear of losing even a dram of its power.His speeches perfectly articulated a protestant / unionist worldview that stoked up hatred of anything Irish, Roman Catholic and certainly anything vaguely republican. It didn’t matter a jot to him that there were inequalities within society that crossed the divides .The scourge of poverty and poor housing …the nepotism and the “fear of the other”. All of this he stirred up into a vile stinking brew whose fumes blew across the face of demonised Civil Rights Marchers as CS Gas. He made those struggling for equality appear to be enemies and his words brought men and women onto the streets to oppose the very things that they themselves needed. He fooled the loyalist/ protestant people into seeing that their own neighbours were somehow villainous subversives for demanding a better life for everyone. He had such a powerful hold over their emotions that many took up arms and violence which eventually landed many of them in the gaols of the land. Many , later , said as much themselves. They’d been duped.
….Then Ian Paisley had his Road to Damascus moment and shocked to the core many of those he’d led. He went into shared governance with the hated Sinn Fein whom he’d claimed to be a bete noire. All that the entire “Troubles” had delivered , in terms of political gains is that it legitimised the very aspiration of voting for a republican ideal that had previously been denied, while working the levers of power together. Is it any wonder his followers were confused…and still are. That’s not to say that the private and the public personas were not two separate things. In private conversation, Paisley may have been a personable and loving individual , a dear and doting family -man and friend but there’s no doubting that his theatrical , public side caused mayhem in the rough streets which were translated into violent action by easily influenced opportunists and in some cases outright psychopaths..
So what are the likes of Sammy Wilson and Arleen Foster talking about ? What are they seeing that we cannot see? What are they seeing that Sir James Galway obviously didn’t see?What is it that they and sections of their unionist family find “offensive, inaccurate and downright disgraceful”…It’s very easy to say those words and it is in Sammy Wilson’s gift that he is the DUP’s attack dog and attack is expected of him like Pavlov’s canine, but has he really given his words any thought at all? They say it is bad to speak ill of the dead, but the dead cannot feel pain even the truth sometimes hurts.
How does Sammy and Arleen think we got to the situation we now find ourselves in ? How do they think Paisley aquired the powerful , emotional position that he had ? Where do they think he got the wherewithal to build his own church and also the DUP party iteself ? What origin story are they telling themselves? It ‘s certainly not the one that James Galway sees. He may have been “out of touch and incoherent” on some level in that he did not have chapter and verse on the political intrigues and day to day shenanigans of what passes for political life in Norneverland ,but he plainly saw more clearly than they do .