Ten years on from the Good Friday Agreement and there are few retrospectives. The reading of the list of in Dublin’s Unitarian Church remains a poignant reminder of the utter pointlessness of the thirty years of conflict, Paisley finally conceded in 2007 the very things he had opposed from the 1960s onwards.
The list of the dead in Lost Lives includes a friend who was beaten to death by a Loyalist gang for being gay. Often diffident and always extremely private, he gave away nothing about his personal life. He always gave the impression that his nursing home-bound mother was confused. It was 9 pm on the eve of his funeral that the telephone rang and a quiet, coherent and articulate lady said that I wouldn’t know her, but she just wanted to talk to someone who had known her son.
The peace had been a long time in coming and was built block by block by the people of Northern Ireland. The ceasefires had come in 1994, and although the IRA ceasefire had broken down it was reinstated during the administration of John Major. To listen to the spin now, one would think that it was Blair and Clinton who brought the light of peace to our benighted country. Mrs Clinton’s contribution is remembered by one person I know as having tea with some ladies in Belfast.
Perhaps the problem was that we failed to create a mythology, allowing the masters of public relations to stake their own claims. We lacked a WB Yeats, who gave the disastrous events in Dublin in 1916 a mythological status. His Easter 1916 takes the Rising from its prosaic bleakness and elevates it to a poetic heroism. The first verse asserts that this slaughter has given birth to beauty.
I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
Perhaps no mythology was possible because after a civil war no mythology can be agreed upon. Even now in this state, there remains no agreement about the legacy of de Valera.
My friend’s mother died soon after I moved to Dublin. In the times I called with her at the nursing home, we never discussed his death.
Refusing to talk about things is a great tradition here.