Jude Collins

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Louis and Julie

There's a major spread in today's 'Sunday Tribune' - and in quite a few other newspapers - recalling the death of Lord Mountbatten at the hands of the IRA on 27 August, 1979. Mountbatten was holidaying in Mullaghmore, Co Donegal, when the IRA blew up the boat containing him and a number of other people. He was 79 when he died.

Mountbatten was the son of Prince Louis of Battenberg and his wife Princess Victoria of Hesse; when Prince Louis in 1917 changed his name to Louis Mountbatten (less German-sounding), his son got the same new name. He was a cousin of Queen Elizabeth and was much admired by Prince Charles, who was deeply upset by his death.

Mountbatten had a long military career. He masterminded the infamous Dieppe raid during the Second World War, which resulted in the loss of 106 Allied aircraft and the killing, wounding or capturing of nearly 60% of the Allied forces. He was also the last British Viceroy in India, and much of the loss of life that followed partition of that country is laid at Mountbatten's door. His personal life was notorious for the affairs both he and his wife enjoyed, with Mountbatten widely rumoured to have had liaisons with lovers of both sexes. His killing is commonly referred to as his 'murder' and 23 November 1979, Thomas McMahon was convicted for his part in the explosion that killed Mountbatten. A memorial service was held for him shortly after his death in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. It was attended by many prominent personalities, including the president of Ireland, Patrick Hillery and the Taoiseach, Jack Lynch.

Julie Livingstone was from Lenadoon in West Belfast. She was the youngest of a family of thirteen and on 13 May 1981 she was on the way to the local shops with her friend Norah. She was killed when a plastic bullet fired from a distance of five metres by a member of the British Army's Prince of Wales Regiment struck her on the head.Eye-witnesses say there was no rioting going on. She was 14 at the time. Her friend Norah said Julie had planned to go to America when she was 18 and that she had planned to go with her. No one was charged with Julie's killing and neither the president of Ireland nor the Taoiseach attended her funeral or any memorial service for her.

There are unkind people who say that Lord Louis Mountbatten received at the hands of the IRA no more than he had meted out to thousands of others throughout his life. There are even unkinder people who will tell you that in terms of our Troubles, there is no hierarchy of victims.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Say The Word

When I'm feeling in need of a laugh (and some people who've read my blog recently tell me I'm in serious need) I turn my thoughts to the response of some unionists when you murmur the word 'Irish-America'. Whoooooo. They don't like that compound word one lil bit. Or the reality behind it. The most recent incarnation of this steam-through-the-ears has swirled around Hillary Clinton's move on being/not being the US peace envoy to Ireland. Check the comments on the net - some unionists can't stand Hillary and they can't stand Niall O'Dowd, who had the nerve to suggest that Irish-America is still a formidable constituency in the whole Irish question. I remember when the Kennedys, including Teddy Kennedy, were more involved with the situation here than they currently are. Ordinary muesli-eating unionists would go apoplectic at the mention of the Kennedy name. It has to do with having their king trumped, I think. Unionists like to think that they are a forward-looking people (stop that sniggering at the back, please) linked to the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-talented, multi-wunnerful big state directly to the east of us. Then what happens? Nationalists and republicans produce their link to a state about one hundred times more multi-ethnic, multi-cultural etc. etc. Worse still, there's the possibility - yes, Virginia, even possibilities leave some unionists reaching for the Alka-Seltzer - that Irish-America might lever the US government into squeezing Britain towards a teensily more pro-reunited Ireland than its current (pretend) neutral stance. It's like that little hammer the doctor uses to tap your knee and watch the reflex: say 'Irish-America' and watch as they start climbing the curtains, rolling their eyes and dripping little bits of foam on the carpet...Try it sometime. It's ten times the fun of the Tall Ships...

Monday, 17 August 2009

Left left high and dry?

I've just read an article in the Guardian by Andy Beckett - 'Has the Left Blown its Big Chance of Success (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/aug/17/left-politics-capitalism-recession). He notes the fact that not just in Britain but in countries throughout Europe, with capitalism wobbling at or on its knees, the voters don't appear to be listening to any alternative message from the left. It's odd, really - all the things that lefties were saying for so long - banks make obscene profits, wars are waged in the interests of big companies - and were laughed for saying, have now become accepted as mainstream commonsense. But while everybody goes blue in the face at the way the Celtic Tiger, for example, has been put down, leaving less than nothing to show for all those years of roaring and clawing, nobody seems prepared to act or even vote in a way that will make encourage real change. You remember when Michael McDowell gave Gerry Adams that lesson in economics on TV during the election debate? Strange to tell, I haven't come on a single instance of a commentator saying 'We got it all wrong, lads - McDowell was the economic illiterate, much of what Adams warned against has come to pass'. More importantly, there's been no signs of more votes coming the Shinners' way in the wake of the collapse of McDowell and all he stood for. It's hard to say why. The easy answer would be that life and its problems, including the economic, go beyond rational analysis. The slightly less easy answer would be to say that the left, including Sinn Fein, have completely failed to put forward a convincing case for organising society and the economics on which it is based differently. Or maybe the left has got convincing alternative policies and people who can articulate those policies, but they just don't have a platform from which to deliver them. That's true of Sinn Fein in the south certainly. In the past two days I've seen at least three articles in southern newspapers mocking Sinn Fein and declaring they were on the road to nowhere. I've read no detailed statement by republicans of where they are heading and how they plan to get there - because republicans don't have a newspaper, a radio station, an organ that can deliver that message to the people of the twenty-six counties. Or, come to that, to the people of the six counties. The Andersonstown News is a lonely voice and once it reaches the outer limits of West Belfast, its message grows thin and is scarcely heard. It's time republicans learnt that while the medium may not quite be the message, you need a medium if your message is to get through. Or was the short-lived Daily Ireland it?

Flat Lake

We visited the Flat Lake Festival in Co Monaghan on Saturday, and while the event has a lot of positives, there were two negatives that irritated. When we went to get our tickets, we asked for the five-euro reduction as advertised on the website for the festival. "Yes I know it says that on the net, but we're not able to do anything about that here - you'd have to take that up with them". The choice was obvious: start insisting that the festival should be a joined-up affair or fork out the extra five euro. The heart said scream and shout, the head said shaddap and pay. Mercifully and with an effort, the head won out. Then later in the day, we lined up to get some 'Organic lamb burger'. As we did so, the burger proprietor chap - a Trinity graduate, as it happens, in his handsome late-30s - came down the line with paper cups and a bottle of wine. 'Would you like some wine while you're waiting?' So naturally Maureen said yes, thank you very much. Chap gives her the paper cup, fills it and says 'That'll be three euro, don't forget to pay'. Were we naive to think he was offering it as a kind and free add-on? Or was he a con-artist who needed a punch in the Trinity-graduate teeth? Alas, again the head won out.

That's the negatives. The positives were that it's a unique sort of mix of rock music and country humour with quality arts - they had karaoke sheep as well as Stephen Rea reading from a new play and Shane MacGowan and Eoin MacNamee and...Last year they had Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley, Edna O'Brien and Paul Muldoon. Oh, and Paul Brady, if you like that kind of thing. It's also an interesting setting - much of the action takes place in barns where you sit on bales of hay. So it spans the generations. I thought the attendance and the major billings were a bit down on last year (although Patrick McCabe of 'The Butcher Boy' fame is one of the major organisers and performers). One final little vignette: as I queue for my lamb burger, the queue inches forward and the large, crop-haired guy (late thirties again) in front of me is wrapped in chat with guy alongside him, so there's a gap after him until the queue resumes. Not wanting to be caught out, I ask him 'Excuse me, are you in this queue?' 'Oh yes, we are' quoth he, or words to that effect. Five mins later Phoebe came back and showed me a text she'd sent to Patrick, urging me not to read it aloud. 'Dad has just asked McNulty of 'The Wire' if he's in the queue for burgers'. And indeed it was he. I'm busy polishing the incident so I tap him on the shoulder, eye-ball him from close-up and demand to know whether he's in the mother-fucking queue or not... If you've watched 'The Wire', you'll see how much more appropriate the imagined response was than the dreary real-life one.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

My Country, 'Tis of Thee...

Language is the cement that holds our thoughts together, which is why I get twitchy when I hear it being misused, especially for political purposes. When Peter Robinson talks about ‘across the Province’ when he means ‘across Northern Ireland’ or when Sammy Wilson talks about the Mainland when he means the other island, it’s obvious what they’re trying to do. It flies in the face of the geographical facts but you kind of expect it from them. It’s a bit harder to take when you go to other sources and find the same thing. Wendy Austin of BBC Radio Ulster ( see what I mean? NI =Ulster) is still remembered with much mirth for her statement about the occasion on which she ‘drove into Ireland’. If you listen to RTE or read any of the 26-counties papers, you’ll get lots of references, often from southern politicians, to ‘the country’ or ‘the nation’, when in fact they mean the southern state (assuming that they recognize those of us living north of the border as Irish). But when I listened to a six-minute interview on RTE radio last week, I felt like giving up. It was with Gerry Adams, and he more than once referred to the economic problems of the 26 counties as those of ‘the country’. And no, he didn’t mean the entire country/island – he was definitely referring to the state south of the border. At a time when commentators are lining up to try to put the boot into Sinn Fein and in particular into Gerry Adams, I’m reluctant to be negative; but language moulds and makes thought, and Gerry should know that better than most.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

BBC Psychobabble

I was part of a discussion panel on 'Seven Days', BBC Radio Ulster this afternoon. We did some fluffy topics, like what do you do when the boss is off on hols and what would you like to find in your attic (the head of Alfredo Garcia?). But two topics were interesting – the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster’s pronouncement about the dangers of Facebook and having loadsa friends who aren’t really friends, and the Romanians in Belfast. In both, Raman Kapur, the CEO of Threshold, a mental health charity, took a view I totally rejected.

In the case of the internet and Facebook, he stressed the importance of face-to-face communication. Which fitted into his area of expertise, of course, since he was able to urge the importance of body language. It also missed completely the importance of Facebook and the internet and texting and playback and big screens at sporting occasions and all the virtual world’s developing part of our lives as an adjunct and sometime alternative to face-to-face. If psychologists don’t see that humans can communicate other ways than face-to-face (telephone? Letter? Book? Newspaper? Radio, fer Gawd's sake), then there’s little hope for progressive thinking.

On the Romanian intimidation case, Kapur stressed even more strongly the need for the immigrant community to reach out and link with the host community – they shared the responsibility, he felt. He talked critically of immigrant groups in England playing 'the race card' - even though he underlined the fact that he himself had a brown face, which sounded a bit like playing the race card as well. But the dangerous part of what he urged was that it neatly placed partial responsibility for the moron intimidation on the shoulders of the victims. I expect if Sammy Wilson was listening he was bobbing up and down with pleasure but nobody else on the panel was. And quite right too. We got quite a bit of that line here during the Troubles - everybody got along fine until the civil rights agitation/the IRA were to blame/ don’t speak Irish or you’ll annoy unionism … It sounds good if you see the world as a series of nicely balanced groups who must accommodate each other; only sometimes it’s innocent people or victims versus nasty triumphalist groups who want to keep sitting in the box seat flicking the whip. Which reminds me – the 10,000 culture-expressing Apprentice Boys got to march through Derry with little or no interference yesterday. Was that good, then? Were the nationalist population doing the Kapur thing by accepting an invasion of people who feel the annual urge to celebrate their culture by getting as close as possible to people who reject it? Answers on a postage-stamp, please…

Friday, 7 August 2009

West Belfast Talks Back

As I've been doing for the last ten years approximately, I went to West Belfast Talks Back at the Feile An Phobail last Wednesday. I was a little late getting there and all of the audience was in place. At the door of the hall the chairman - William Crawley of BBC fame - stood, with the panel members. William as is his way wrung my hand warmly, said he hadn't seen me in some time, where had I been, missed you...That sort of thing. I think part of it was his normal nervous energy and the rest of it was the extra nervous energy he was feeling, getting ready to march into the hall and do his thing. It's funny how you can broadcast to tens of thousands of people, but when you have to face 'em live it can put pressure on even the most seasoned.

The debate itself was...let's be honest...mediocre. I can't remember a milder discussion. No one from the audience spoke with passion, with the exception of a woman with an English accent who acted as spokesperson for about half-a-dozen people wearing campaigning t-shirts who were giving panel member Bishop Donal McKeown a hard time because they'd had babies years ago and they'd been buried God knows where. NO doubt to do with the prevalent doctrine of LImbo and all that then. The DUP man on the panel was Simon Hamilton, the proverbial young rising star in the DUP. He was educated, polite, almost non-controvrsial. Admirable human qualities I'm sure, but not good ingredients if you want to spark debate and lively comment. I was asked - as usual again - to go to the green room afterwards - asked by three people separately - but I couldn't summon up the will and besides I was knackered and due to set out for Rosbeg first thing in the morning. I went home feeling tired and...morose. It's a bit like coming out of a class that you thought would go a lot better than it did.