Proud to be Irish and Remembering Other Times

It’s been a rather complicated week in one regard. The matter in question being that of bring proud to be Irish. The short version is that I am proud to be Irish almost all of the time. I’m exceptionally proud to be Irish today as I type this. The complicated bit is that this week started off with my being vividly reminded of a day when I was not proud to be Irish at all.

It’s okay now though. It’s all working out. The reason it’s all working out so nice is a big one and you know all about it because it is all over the news.

Ireland voted.

Voted ‘Yes’.

“Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”

Yes.

It’s a massive thing, for many reasons. We, as a nation, finally got to show our true colours. In a popular vote on a human, moral issue, without coercion, we cheerfully and loudly said ‘Yes’. Ireland can be seen as a modern and open place where equality and freedom and love are the valued commodities. Who could fail to be proud of that? Not me, that’s for sure.

That would be enough to say about pride in one’s country on any normal day of the week. But there was more to this week. Different stuff altogether. There was the memories that came flooding back, to me at least, of the events of 27th August 1979. A day when I found myself very far from proud to be Irish.

I was sixteen years old and working out my Summer holidays in the ‘Bonne Chère’ restaurant in Sligo. Locals sometimes called it the ‘Bonnsheree’. I was a combination of barman and ‘Waitress Number 10’ because that was what was written on my order pad. It was a grand time and I was proud to work there. But my pride in most things was about to run out that day.

A bomb went off, out on the water, eighteen miles from where I was working. The noise reached the town and the news followed soon afterward. Lord Louis Mountbatten, Lady Doreen Brabourne, Paul Maxwell and Nicolas Knatchbull were killed by the explosive device which the IRA had planted on Lord Mountbatten’s boat at Mullaghmore.

When I was young, I was in a shoe shop once in Sligo with Mum and she pointed out a tallish man in an adjacent seat. “That’s Louis Mountbatten,” she said. For me, there was always a sense of the retired man being welcome and enjoyed in the locale. Here was a man who could have spent his elder years anywhere but chose to come here and spend it in our place. It was like you baked a cake and a stranger came and enjoyed a slice. There was no sense of cow-towing  or either of outrage. There was just a well-known man and his family coming to spend time here. We liked it.

The strands of web which tie me to Mullaghmore are perhaps not terribly strong but they are many and they are very sticky. Here are just some of them.

As children, Dad would drive us there on many Sunday afternoons and we would spot jellyfish bobbing in the deep water off the pier, chase rabbit-shadows among the sand dunes, and admire all the boats and summer people around the harbour.

When ‘Jaws’ (my favourite film) came out, I imagined all the action taking place out on the blue water off the shore. I would imagine Quint chugging out of the harbour under a white cloud sky. It was, in many ways, a dream place for me.

A good friend of my Dad was out on the water and only a few hundred yards away when the bomb was remotely detonated from the shore. He pulled people from the sea and saved a young life.

That sixteen year old barman in the ‘Bonne Chère’ that lunchtime was horrified beyond belief. The tallish man in the shoe shop, his family, they had not been murdered in my name. They had not been brutalised for any prize that I had ever wanted. He had come to live and rest and retire among us and we had killed him.

I was ashamed to be Irish that day and I remembered it again this week.

Many other people died on that awful day and on many other days too, on both sides of a bitter conflict. I am not writing this to belittle the awfulness and horror of each and every death. It’s just that this particular horror was embedded in my own place and thus is embedded in my own head. 

Prince Charles came to Mullaghmore this week and that’s why all these memories came rushing back to vividness. He stirred memories in me of an idyll that was spoiled by mayhem and visions of fragments of boat wood and rainbow petrol stains on the blue water. But his coming may have also made it better. Maybe the next time I stop at Mullaghmore, as I still often do, and look down from my favourite bench seat onto the harbour (which is so much smaller than when I was young), maybe then something dull will have lifted from the lovely view.

And then this weekend came and the pride came rushing back. Ireland, we have done ourselves proud, this time. We have looked out for our people.

Well done.

I would like to finish up with a note to the people who voted ‘No’. There are many of you. You are my neighbours, friends, townspeople, and just because we see things differently that doesn’t mean either of us are demons or even bad people. We are, almost universally, intrinsically good and we want only the best for ourselves and our families.

I think that we humans, regardless of creed, have evolved to have a strong moral compass embedded deep in each and every one of us. Sometimes it is hard to consult the compass on account of external noise and interference and of high pressure from outside influences. But if we can silence the voices and look deep in there, we generally know what is right. We must keep listening to our own hearts and hear what it says to us.

Finally, if your religious beliefs tell you that what happened this week is wrong, audit them carefully. Most religions, at their purest, offer a basic moral code that is hard to dispute. It is the trappings that men have adorned these simple codes with, it is those things that cloud the simple truths and basic moral goodness of what we may choose to believe in. 

I would classify myself as a sort of a cheerful agnostic. I can’t bring myself to believe with any conviction that there is any existence beyond this one but I think it would be nice if there was.

Still and all, if you should fear for me, as a ‘Yes’ voter. If you fear that God will be waiting for me when I die and will demand of me an account of my actions in this regard then please don’t be too afraid. If it is the same God that I have grown up with, the one who sent his only son to tell us to 'love our fellow men as we love ourselves,, to 'do onto others as we would have them do onto us'... 

If it’s him…

I think he might give me a hearing. 

Social Media - A Citizen of No Country

Where do I go from here with Social Media? It’s hard to know. 

I think it’s probably the same sort of a Love/Hate relationship for most people, depending on mood, world events, the weather. Certainly that’s the way it is for me and always has been. Sometimes, there’s the acknowledged joy in being in connection with people you could never otherwise meet. Sometimes there’s an almost-hatred of the passing, ultimately inconsequential, nature of the beast.

What all that means is that, whatever I write here today, I’ll probably feel different about it next week. That’s Social Media for you, or for me at least.

Still and all, the point of this blog is to reflect some aspect of the thoughts or memories which have occupied me in the previous week and, this week, it’s been Social Media. So here goes.

Social Media… this week, I could just leave, get up and go.

But we do that intermittently, we Social Media heads, don’t we? We threaten that we will leave. We threaten only ourselves with this because everybody else would get over it pretty darned sharpish if we did. We threaten to go and never come back and sometimes we even go and then quickly come back. We’re nothing if not predictable.

I think our Social Media identities age at about ten times the rate of normal ageing. After seven years of it, we are like old folk, bemoaning how everything has changed for the worse and how the whippersnappers have no respect for the world.

But maybe I’m being too self-analytical and stand-offish. The Social Media experience has changed. It has really changed, for me anyway.

Facebook is my least favourite of the two Social Media places which I regularly inhabit. This is a shame because a lot of my favourite people are most active on Facebook these days. I stay because of them. Really, more than anything else, Facebook makes me feel isolated. It makes no secret of the fact that it uses some kind of Algorithm to better improve our online experience. It effectively chooses who and what I should see and who should see me. 

My personal perception of this is that everybody is put in a cell, rather like those hexagonal ones in a beehive, and then the Facebook machine allows them only to interact freely with a few other adjoining cells that it judges will be best suited to them. What this means is that the people I have known longest on Social Media do not see what I say-and-show and I do not see what they say-and-show. Not unless I deliberately go looking for it. And, face it, nobody really ‘goes looking’ too hard for people’s updates on Social Media. That’s called ‘Stalking’. We see what we are shown and, largely, we settle for that. 

It is possible that my experience of this ‘algorithm isolation’ is greater than other people’s. I often link to my blog and I get the impression that Facebook doesn’t wish to encourage links in that particular direction.

So the Facebook effect, for me at least, is largely one of speaking and listening into a void. Not seeing and not being seen. Facebook, effectively, doesn’t ‘like’ me. That’s the logical response to what it does but, let’s call a spade a spade here, there is also a more troubling illogical response. Some dark subconscious voice occasionally nags at you, saying, “Don’t be stupid. Everybody can still see you. They can see every damn thing you do. They just don’t care any more.” That’s not real, of course, it’s not true but, if that thought can touch me, a reasonably tough and leathery old fella, then just imagine how it plays out with the lonely and vulnerable people who come and gaze into the Facebook window for some kind of solace.

So, yes, Facebook, this week I could leave you.

And what of Twitter? My beloved Twitter which has brought me so much connection and light over the years. Well, it feels like I have aged here too, again at approximately ten times the normal rate and, this week at least, that world also feels as if it is leaving me behind.

With all respect to those wonderful people who are still there these days, so many of the individuals who made it work so well for me have gone or have tapered off their presence so dramatically that they might as well be gone. In earlier years Twitter was, to quote Paul Simon, “A time of innocence, a time of confidences.” Make no mistake, everybody’s Twitter is different, formed unerringly from the people one chooses to see there. Mine, back in the day, gave the appearance of a loose cohort of individuals who were happy to bask a little in everyday minutia and common ground and old-old songs. 

These days, with notable and wonderful exceptions, my Twitter feels rather like a large wave tank that ripples constantly in reaction to whatever daily agitation is thrown upon its surface. When something larger is crashed into it, it throws great gobbets of stuff up into the air, for a short time, then quickly reverts to its default reactionary ripple until the next bit thing comes crashing down. It seems less about sharing tiny life moments than echoing and often magnifying topical events both large and small.

Slowly, slowly, it has become a thing that I never signed up for.

So this is what I have become on Social Media. A member of no particular cohort. A nomad between two poor oases. A citizen of no country. 

Yes, this week at least, I feel that I could leave Twitter and Facebook and all this Social Media thing behind.

But I won’t, will I?

The truth is, I need something. Life has become very insular. Good friends of old are now spread wide to the four winds. Outside of work and wonderful invaluable family, there is nowhere to go and nobody to talk to. Here at least, on Social Media, there is a window onto the world, even if the glass has become somewhat mildewed on the inside and frosted over on the outside.

The answer, for me, is what it always has been. I need to write more. Social Media always works best for me when I don’t lean too heavily on it. The past four months of my life, looking back, have been a time of barely controlled chaos. This is something you will not find reflected anywhere in my Social Media interactions because that’s largely how I roll. In that melee, the writing has continued to an extent but it has also suffered something too. It is time to go back to the depths of the writing. The place where solace truly lies, for me at least.

I suppose I shall continue to do what I do, here on my ageing Social Media, but I’ll do more of that other thing too. The thing that actually makes me most happy. I shall arise and go, back to my own ‘Un-social Media’. To the small worlds that reside here inside my own head. I’ll try to set them down coherently so that, someday, I might be able share more of them with you.

I’ll still see you on the Twitter and on the Facebook, if you are there.

I’ve just got to get back to sorting some other things too.