So what did I miss while I’ve been away? On Easter Sunday around about midday I was tooling down the near-clear motorway, airport -bound, while in Dublin there was a veritable stew of marching and half-hearted speechifying about a history that no-one can agree on. There was a fractured conversation as to the why and the wherefore of the Rising of 1916. Were its aims supported or not ? Were they moral or not? What did it really achieve ? Are the Irish really a lovely race of malcontented poets or a bunch of money-grabbing gombeen men?
Who or what are all these worthies trying to kid? The rest of the world maybe? There seemed no consensus across the Irish nation at all and the imaginary world of Norneverland ,only some few miles away to the north, was all but forgotten about and all but written out of the story. It’s like I’ve always claimed ; we are an imaginary little world which is ungovernable and as much a figment of the universal imagination as the Jabberwocky. Look at the mess that’s left unswept , raddled and unkempt that remains of the united and independant Irish dream. Few in the Republic of Ireland know of our existence at all. Ireland is all about the twenty -six counties that they clawed back from Britain and the stain of the abandonment of Norneverland cannot be removed, so it is simply never going to be talked about ever again .It has taken just one hundred years to forget . We have been abandoned for dead, like some faery -tale princess sleeping an uneasy, slumberous, cold dream, in some petrified forest far away in the cold north.
As I sped down the road towards my awaiting aeroplane ,across on the other side of the motorway at least a dozen well-armed and armoured police-jeeps were bustling in a neat, well-spaced convoy in the opposite direction, doubtless hurrying to also celebrate the Rising in their own way or possibly to keep some over -enthusiastic celebrants in check.Some of the Irish are not expected to celebrate the Birth Of A Nation at all.They are not expected to ever believe that they are even Irish at all.They still cling to the debris of the original dream, surrounded by unionist neighbours who don’t apparently know who or what they are or really want to be.
My mind was elsewhere in any case .I knew deep down in my heart that this flummery would all be over when I returned and within a fortnight people would ask “What was all that fuss about? Why did we spend all that money?” The T-Shirt and memorabilia hucksters would have made another killing …just as though the Rolling Stones had rolled into town with one of their touring extravaganzas. They were actually too busy playing in Cuba for the first time in history. Times had changed elsewhere in the world ….and time doesn’t stand still after all.
We were bound for a meet with the Golden Granddaughter in Liverpool once again ; the ties that bind, holding more importance than any half-hearted celebration of a nation’s rewritten “history” or even the consummate launch of our own John O’Connor Writing School with local lad, Pulitzer prize- winning poet Paul Muldoon attending as patron.Both these momentous events happening in this same Easter week, I had forfeited . My grand-daughter,a little Irish /Welsh hybrid, born in an English city some three years ago , was where part of my own historical story seeds had blown for the future. Those were the real ties that bind.
Does it matter where you are born?
I think it matters a great deal. It is the forge wherein your sense of yourself and your identity as a human being begins.The house and family you first draw breath within ; possibly the adequacy or otherwise of the hospital where you might utter your first infant squalls and howls when your tender bluish arse is first tapped.Your life or immediate death might depend on how well that hospital is run.On the other hand , you might be born in a doorway or a grubby room anywhere in the world .
Tne bonds of loyalty that develop within a family , a home , a street a school, friends ,sports teams, a university ,a workplace ,a country begin at the moment of birth. Your place in the world is set at that point.
Those bonds are what eventually deliver those radical groups who go on to bomb train stations or airports in Belgium. Many who are radicilised are brothers in arms . That sense of social and family cohesion is what caused entire towns and villages to become cannon fodder at the Somme in World War 1 or what caused someone to take their life in a plane crashing into the Twin Towers of New York.On a more prosaic scale that locality and accident of place are what makes you who you become . They define your identity, your culture and even your designated nationality.
Imagine how you would think had you been born in a little French or English village instead of a street in Belfast or Dublin. You’d have an entirely different sense of yourself. Your life’s history would take an entirely different course as a Frenchman or woman or an Englishman or woman.
On the streets of Norneverland we have inherited and been born into a very odd sense of ourselves because of the place in time we happened to arrive into by birth .Approximately half of the population see themselves as purely Irish , while the remainder are ambivalent about their “nationality” or “nationhood” They prefer to see themselves as “british” which isn’t actually a nationality at all, but it’s a simple self-deceit ,preferred simply to distinguish themselves politically from their neighbours. In their minds they are not English, Welsh, Scottish or Irish at all. They are “British”. It’s a cultural chimera.Politics are a transient thing though and even identity can change within lifetimes. One hundred years ago in 1916 everyone in Ireland knew exactly that they were Irish. From one tip of the island of Ireland in the north to the most southern tip in the south , everyone was an irishman or an Irishwoman. There was no question about it .They may have all been under the jurisdiction of the Westminster government across the irish sea in London , but they knew they were Irish for all of that..Now some of them don’t feel so Irish at all, even though everyone else in the wide world sees them that way.
That sense of themselves begins at birth …in their family home …in their schools…in their churches and eventually in their political outlook on the street. it’s a curious thing to think that if someone like Gerry Adams or the late Ian Paisley had been born somewhere else in another country or into completely different circumstances that the history of Ireland would be completely different . If Mr Adams had been born into a protestant unionist family situation his life would have been very different or if Paisley had been born to a nationalist mother and father, would we have had the Troubles for thirty years?
There is a tussle of identity and even a sense of culture from the moment of birth .
My grand-daughter is by now fully -formed in her personality, precocious in her communication and wilfully determined in her childish ambition. She knows how to work a room and manipulate everyone in it…grandpappy, “Happy”, included. She is also a little English girl whom both her Welsh and Irish grandparents dote on.She will grow up in the knowledge that she has a rich and mixed history stretching across two neighbouring islands.
There was, of course , another wee job to complete besides the baby-sitting which was akin to herding two troops of boisterous bonobo monkeys into separate cages . I also had to fit a wooden floor too within that timeframe with those same two troops of monkeys “helping” all the way. Needless to say we arrived back to Norneverland with these old bones and muscles aching like they were never designed to ache at my age .The rain was falling much as expected and apparently it had hosed down incessantly during our absence from the little green island . In England few appeared to be aware that there had been a centenary celebration of anything, much less a Rising against a long -forgotten and long-lost empire. The world had not rocked one degree on its axis and brand new election posters for the tribal political parties had already begun to appear on any available post or pillar as we left the airport.These were neatly fastened tightly with black cable ties .It was obviously back to business as usual .
Another entirely different kind of tie that binds in Norneverland.