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