“How many school yards now ring out to nationalist or republican songs like ours did?”

One of the most striking things about Barry Flynn’s great evocation of the IRA’s 1950’s border campaign was the degree to which the shooting of IRA volunteers Sean South and Fergal O’Hanlon seemed to galvanise pro Republic sentiment south of the border. That was reprised with the death of the ten hunger strikers of the early 80s.

But in the absence of conflict and death from Northern Ireland the south has simply presumed all is well and settled and has moved on to its own, more immediate preoccupations. Even the leadership of the largest “Republican” party on the island as recast the relationship between the two parts of the island in striking terms.

Brian Cowen saying earlier this year what I suspect Margaret Ritchie meant to say on The Politics Show this week:

“The genius of all of these agreements is that we are all on a common journey together where we have not decided on the destination. The problem with our ideologies in the past was that we had this idea about where we were going but we had no idea how anyone was going to come with us on the journey.

“We have now all decided: let’s go on a journey and forget about the destination – the destination isn’t really important in that respect. We can all work for what it is we would like ideally to see, but this is not something that can be forced or imposed upon people on either side of the island.”

And he was only following the lead of the boul Bertie before him:

“That can only happen in the long term future. How long that will be I don’t know. If it is done by any means of coercion, or divisiveness, or threats, it will never happen. We’ll stay at a very peaceful Ireland and I think time will be the healer providing people, in a dedicated way, work for the better good of everyone on the island. If it doesn’t prove possible, then it stays the way it is under the Good Friday Agreement, and people will just have to be tolerant of that if it’s not possible to bring it any further.”

In today’s Irish Times, Clare man Brian McConnell notes (highly anecdotally) what he felt has been a change in the outlook of Northern Irish nationalists:

During previous visits to nationalist communities in the North I have always felt something of an inherent tension. Many felt abandoned by the South, and questioned how true our republican aspirations were.

I remember once being tackled for buying the Guardian newspaper, and this from a republican sympathiser who never missed a Manchester United match on television.

This time, though, those tensions had eased. There was a realisation and acceptance from many I spoke to that the notion of a united Ireland, while still something of an obscure political ideal in the Republic, is logistically impossible now. It was refreshing to be able to have an honest dialogue without feeling pangs of guilt for not rowing in behind the green agenda.

The logistics of the post-1994 reality have caught up on century-old definitions of nationalism and republicanism. How many school yards now ring out to nationalist or republican songs like ours did?

That last is a very good question…

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