If Tuesday’s [05/17] news of the British Queen visiting Ireland’s Croke Park stadium did not seem unusual, then like me, you need a refresher on ‘The Troubles.’
Opening lyrics to the U2 song, Sunday Bloody Sunday:
I can’t believe the news today
Oh, I can’t close my eyes and make it go away
How long, how long must we sing this song?
How long? How long?
‘Cause tonight we can be as one, tonight
Those lyrics are about an incident in Northern Ireland where British troops shot and killed Catholic civil rights marchers in 1972. There was some closure to that incident in 2010 when an inquiry [Bloody Sunday] begun in 1998 by the British government culminated in a statement of apology from British prime minister David Cameron in the House of Commons. The reaction from U2 lead singer, Bono, in a New York Times Op-ed at the time:
Thirty-eight years did not disappear in an 11-minute speech — how could they, no matter how eloquent or heartfelt the words? But they changed and morphed, as did David Cameron, who suddenly looked like the leader he believed he would be. From prime minister to statesman.
Joy was the mood in the crowd. A group of women sang “We Shall Overcome.” There was a surprising absence of spleen — this was a community that had been through more than most anyone could understand, showing a restraint no one could imagine. This was a dignified joy, with some well-rehearsed theatrics to underscore the moment.
Figures I had learned to loathe as a self-righteous student of nonviolence in the ’70s and ’80s behaved with a grace that left me embarrassed over my vitriol. For a moment, the other life that Martin McGuinness could have had seemed to appear in his face: a commander of the Irish Republican Army that day in 1972, he looked last week like the fly fisherman he is, not the gunman he became … a school teacher, not a terrorist … a first-class deputy first minister.
The best way I can summarize what happened, for those of us who don’t know much about the history there, is to compare it to an event in U.S. history. Suppose the US Marshals and federal law enforcement sent to ensure that James Meredith could attend the University of Mississippi had ended up attacking civil rights workers. This from Bloody Sunday Inquiry Report:
2.1 Londonderry in January 1972 was a troubled city with a divided society, in a troubled and divided country. Throughout much of Northern Ireland there were deep and seemingly irreconcilable divisions between nationalists (predominantly Roman Catholic and a majority in the city) and unionists (generally Protestant and a majority in Northern Ireland as a whole). In general terms the nationalists wanted Northern Ireland to leave the United Kingdom and unite with the rest of Ireland, while the unionists wanted it to remain part of the United Kingdom.
2.2 This sectarian divide, as it was called, had existed for a long time. Among other things, it had led in the years preceding Bloody Sunday to many violent clashes between the two communities and with the police, then the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). The police had become regarded by many in the nationalist community not as impartial keepers of the peace and upholders of the law, but rather as agents of the unionist Northern Ireland Government, employed in their view to keep the nationalist community subjugated, often by the use of unjustifiable and brutal force.
2.3 On 14th August 1969, after there had been particularly violent clashes between civilians and the police in Londonderry, the authorities brought into the city units of the British Army as an aid to the civil power, in other words to restore law and order. The British Army was in the city in this role on Bloody Sunday.
Now it wouldn’t take much imagination for those of us with a Cuban background to identify with the U2 lyrics above. After taking the time to learn about ‘the troubles‘ in Northern Ireland with more of a historical perspective — provided mainly by Norman Davies amazing book on Europe — I wouldn’t attempt to make that comparison. Cuba is fortunate compare with Northern Ireland. Why? Cuba’s problem is communism, a terror-based totalitarian form of government with an impressive string of failures to its credit. Norman Davies on the mother of all Commie collapses:
The Soviet Union was not, like ancient Rome, invaded by barbarians or, like the Polish Commonwealth, partitioned by rapacious neighbours, or, like the Habsberg Empire, overwhelmed by the strains of a great war. It was not, like the Nazi Reich, defeated in a fight to the death. It died because it had to, because the grotesque organs of its internal structure were incapable of providing the essentials of life. In a nuclear age, it could not, like its tsarist predecessor, solve its internal problems by expansion. Nor could it suck more benefit from the nations whom it had captured. It could not tolerate partnership with China which once promised a global future for communism; it could not stand the oxygen of reform; so it imploded. It was struck down by the political equivalent of a coronary, more massive than anything history affords.
The generation who advocated and in whose interests it remains to perpetuate communism in Cuba are about to die off. The Raul Castro era represents bypass surgery. Thankfully — in keeping with the analogy — strokes, heart attacks, graft failures, and serious bleeding are likely to follow. So Cuba will likely get a chance to hit a reset button in the not so distant future, while Northern Ireland can only dream of that type of opportunity. Their struggles run much deeper.
I look forward to the day when I will be ‘embarrassed over my vitriol towards those I’ve learned to loathe.’ To quote another U2 lyric, “a change of heart comes slow.” For now, being aware that my faith asks for much more than that, is where I’m at. Learning about the strife which affects their homeland, adds to my appreciation and understanding of the people behind U2. It also means that I now know where I want to see them in concert next. The day they play in Cuba, the day they play Bloody Sunday in Cuba, their thoughts will likely run to Londonderry and ‘The Troubles,’ I know mine will.
In case there are others whose knowledge of the Northern Ireland issue resembles mine, I’ve outlined what I learned about the history of Ireland and Northern Ireland from the Davies book at the end of the post. Please click on the “read more” below to see the outline.
History of Ireland excerpted from the Norman Davies book on Europe:
- 432 – Ireland was evangelized by St Patrick, a Roman citizen from western Britain and disciple of St Germanus. At Tara in Meath he confronted the High King, Laoghaire, kindled the paschal fire on the hill of Slane [in case you too think you’ve heard of Slane before, you have, so prepare to be elevated — by the way if you think Edge is wearing a Mickey Mantle shirt, you’re an ol’ piece of … — JC] and silenced the Druids.
- 563 – Irish missions, a counter-measure to combat the inroads of barbarians, began with the arrival of St Columba on Iona. Irish monks followed practices which were out of step with Rome. Major problems were to arise in reconciling Celtic and Latin traditions.
- Tenth century – While the English battled the Danes, the rest of the British Isles witnessed a long, complex struggle between Vikings and Celts. Irish end up ruling the whole of Ireland for 150 years.
- 1534 – Henry VIII declared himself ‘King Of Ireland.’
- 1598 -The Kingdom of England was targeted for reconversion in a campaign that spawned the Forty Catholic martyrs led by St Edmund Campion. Ireland was confirmed in Catholicism, especially after the brutal Elizabethan expedition.
- 1602 – Cormack McCarthy, Lord of Blarney in County Cork repeatedly delayed the surrender of his castle to the English through an endless series of parleys, queries, and time-wasting speeches. With McCarthy’s act of defiance, ‘Blarney’ passed into common parlance as a synonym for the ‘gift of gab.’
- 1611 – Planting of a Scottish Presbyterian colony in Ulster.
- 1641 – A Scots army arrived in Ireland to protect their Protestant co-religionists; multi-sided warfare proceeded unchecked during the ‘English Civil War.’
- 1649-51 – Ireland brutally conquered and annexed by Cromwell.
- 1691 – Protestant supremacy was bolstered within the British Isles by draconian laws which denied Catholics the right to office, property, education, and intermarriage.
- 1707 – Ireland was excluded from the Union of the Kingdoms of England and Scotland. The two were previously separate states but with the same monarch. That created the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain.’ While Ireland retained its own Parliament, it was still subject to the king’s ministers in London.
Davies details the effect that exclusion had on Ireland:
Unlike Scotland, Ireland was not allowed to benefit from free trade with England. Unlike Wales, it did not experience any any sort of national or cultural revival. With the sole exception of Protestant Ulster, where Huguenot refugees started the prosperous linen industry, it did not participate directly in Britian’s industrial revolution. A rising population made rural distress a fact of life. The famines of 1726-9 and 1739-41 foreshadowed the disaster of the 1840s.
- 1761 – Ferocious ‘Whiteboy’ gangs made their appearance in the countryside.
- 1798 – Reform movement led by Henry Flood and Henry Grattan failed.
- 1801 – Ireland forcibly incorporated into the United Kingdom through the second Act of Union. Promised Catholic emancipations are postponed for thirty years.
- 1829 – The Catholic Association of Daniel O’Connell achieved religious toleration, e.g. allowed to buy land.
- 1845 through 1849 – Irish potato famine caused one million deaths and drove another million to emigrate. Reduced population of the island of 8.2 million by 25%. Sufferings of the Famine included witnessing corpses in the field and children dying in the workhouse, while grain continued to be exported to England under guard.
- 1858 – Irish Republican Brotherhood formed.
- 1879 – Land League formed to protect rebellious tenants from government -backed landlords. Absentee landlords had typically used the military to enforce evictions. The military customarily razed or ‘tumbled’ the houses of defaulters.
- 1880 through 1912 – Irish Home Rule was supported by Gladstones ruling Liberal Party at various stages, but three different efforts were blocked in the House of Commons.
- 1890s – Cultural awakening of the Irish was evidenced by the founding of the Irish Literary Theatre, the Gaelic Athletic Association and the Gaelic League.
- 1905 – Sinn Fein formed.
- 1914 – Onset of World War I pushes back determination on Irish Home Rule. Millions of Irish serve in the British army.
- 1920 – Ulster turned into autonomous province of the UK.
- 1922 – Irish Free State formed after Irish defeat British paramilitary group, the ‘Black and Tans.’ The dominant personality, and many times Premier, Eamon de Valera, was a half-Cuban Catholic born of an Irish mother in New York City [hey Grady, how do ya like dem apples].
- 1937 – The Free State, a national republic, declared itself the Republic of Eire.
- 1949 – Ireland severed all ties with Great Britain. The Irish Constitution treated the counties of British Ulster as an integral part of the Republic. But the IRA was regarded as an illegal organization on both sides of the border.