“Money has been a great balm.”

Andersonstown News Belfast Media Group managing director Máirtín Ó Muilleoir has pointed to Guardian journalist Ian Jack’s appearance at a public meeting in St Mary’s University College on Thursday – “I told the truth, what else was I to do” – part of the Sinn Féin organised “Gibraltar/Milltown Martyrs Anniversary”.. but it’s always worthwhile going to the source. Ian Jack has posted his account of the meeting at the Guardian’s CommentisFree blog

“The intention – the bomb stored in Spain – has by now almost vanished from republican memories and I didn’t raise it with the audience on Thursday night. They were polite and attentive and they had come to remember and grieve; Niall, Séamus and Mary were there, and many others who had known the dead. My silence came only partly out of cowardice and respect. The truth was that there was hardly time.”

Ian Jack goes on to make some other interesting observations

In such a situation, the attractions of republicanism are easy to see. Sinn Féin is “the movement” and therefore confidently going forward; a partner in government; on the front foot and not the back. In West Belfast, especially, it runs the show through webs of old and often military connections. The seats at St Mary’s College were filled by families who knew one another well enough to make jokes about each other, suggesting the kind of intimate city life that has vanished in England. The Irish language is popular in schools and evening classes; there may now be more Gaelic speakers in West Belfast than Dublin. Money has been a great balm. The local paper, the Andersonstown News, was founded as a radical sheet in 1972 by the Andersonstown Central Civic Resistance Committee. Today, after considerable and controversial government investment, it’s a thick bi-weekly brimming with property ads for terraced houses off the Falls Road for around £200,000.

All this, and yet Belfast remains an introverted city split into “nationalist” and “loyalist” settlements by “peace walls”, where in the west you can make a pilgrimage to martyrs monuments and murals like inspecting the Stations of the Cross. Daniel, a young Sinn Féin activist, took me round the circuit – Milltown, Bombay Street, the gable end showing Bobby Sands – and displayed a lively and informed knowledge of every death. Fascinating, but the theme of grievance and injury stretching back to 1798 was also claustrophobic, like looking down a long tunnel of woe.

We went for some supper and I asked Daniel if the organising committee for the Gibraltar-Milltown Martyrs Anniversary had ever considered extending an invitation to the friends and relations of the British corporals Woods and Howe, whose deaths ended the cycle of March, 1988. Might not reconciliation be a more forward-looking programme than martyrdom? He said, “Yes, we could have done. Maybe we should have done.” Perhaps next time they will.

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  • Granni Trixie

    I found Ian Jack’s account of his visit to St Marys (my alma mater) very insightful – and helps me understand why he appeared to be joining in SFs propaganda (for I did wonder). I had read his piece in Granta all those years ago and considered that, given the circumstances, he showed great courage (if my memory serves me well Roger Bolton suffered also because he made a film about “Death on the Rock”).The only part where Jack is not accurate concerns numbers of people who speak Irish in West Belfast – they definately don’t ‘the gaeltact quarter’ is a myth of republicans strategic making.