Saturday, 12 November 2011
The day partition died
Sometimes it's easy to believe that the partition of Ireland has worked. In the north for fifty years, it allowed unionists to discriminate and gerrymander at will; in the south, Fianna Fail became so used to power, cronyism and corruption, they rotted the state. And as if that weren't bad enough, there were nominal nationalists in the north who not-so-secretly adopted a, what will we say, an attitude of superiority to the people in the south. They don't have our quality of education, they tend to be more devious than we straight-talking northerners, they aren't as hard-working or reliable as we are. That's so-called nationalists, remember. In the recent presidential election, the south returned the compliment in spades, Mary McAleese was an intruder from 'up there' but somehow she'd turned out to be the exception that proved the rule and really was pure gold. Martin McGuinness, however, was definitely from 'up there' and he was just bringing his northern 'baggage' of violence and division, the man can't even tell the truth, we want no part of him - or any of yez. Go back up where yez belong. The border might not be visible when you drive from Derry to Buncrana or Belfast to Dublin, but the sense of difference is alive and kicking and hoping to grow stronger every day.
Or so it can seem, until a day like yesterday comes along. I still have reservations about Michael D Higgins - far from being humble, as Enda Kenny suggested, he obviously is a small man with a very big opinion of himself - but there was no doubt in yesterday's inauguration ceremonies that he was indeed the President of Ireland. Peter Robinson, Martin McGuinness, Alasdair McDonnell, Tom Elliot - they were all there, and there was a sense of rejoicing in the Irishness that unites us all. A good day, for all its dampness.
And then, to round things off, there was last night in Estonia. The team may call itself the Republic of Ireland, but it could save space and ink by calling itself simply 'Ireland'. They were cheered on by thousands of southern suppporters and northern supporters who'd made a 17-hour journey together to get there; they were cheered again by tens of thousands of Irish people north and south here at home, who punched the air and kicked imaginary balls around the living-room and woke the baby with off-key choruses of 'The Fields of Athenry'. Was this our team? You bet it was. Were we not uneasy about supporting the team from the south? Not for a moment. Just as players from anywhere on the island of Ireland are eligible to play for Trappatoni's team, so supporters from anywhere and everywhere on the island of Ireland were so filled with delight and pride and anticipation of even better things to come, they could have floated to the ceiling and stuck there.
That's sport for you, particularly team sports. It draws us all in, and the divisions that some politicians and a considerable section of the media would like to nurture between north and south - they melt like morning mist in a strong sun, like the glorious sun that's shining in my wet garden as I type these words.
They say the very basis of logic is that a thing can't be true and not be true at the same time. True. But life is sometimes larger than logic. Yes, partition exists; at the same time and on glorious, golden occasions like yesterday, it doesn't.
OK, the temptation's too strong - I'll say it. Wouldn't it be great if it was like this all the time?