So whilst we’ve been indulging in the usual northern recriminations over St Patricks Day, and getting hot under the collar over the Alliance Party Euro candidate making a pitch for the liberal nationalist vote, southern audiences were treated to some great content on St Paddy’s Day in We Need to Talk About Ireland.
I was particularly struck by this contribution from the playwright Bryan Delaney on the critical importance of storytelling and why it matters to the future of Ireland:
I believe that story is extraordinarily potent. All of life is lived through story the stories we internalize about ourselves, our self-worth or lack of it. Story is how we make meaning of our lives.
Every waking minute we’re bombarded by story when we go to sleep we’re flooded by the stories in our dreams, stories about our deeper selves told to us by profound and master storyteller deep within us that we don’t even know.
Religion is based on story. Genocide is based on story love is based on story. And recovery in this country emotional, psychological and spiritual recovery will also be based on story.
The writer Ben Okri has said that people are as healthy and confident as the stories they tell themselves but he also said that sick storytellers make nations sick.
As a story telling people we’re at a crossroads in this country we need to be extremely vigilant about the stories we choose to tell ourselves.
We need to make a choice between the stories that shrink life and the stories that expand it and allow us to breath and to grow and to flourish.
It it’s worth quoting Abbot Mark Patrick Hederman from Glenstall Abbey waxing on the pressing matter of the future:
We all know that the last year, that the last decade, that the last century has been traumatic for many of us and there is little point in trying to blame, name or tame what we have been through.
The past will have to be dealt with, certainly. Oblivion is not an option. But there is no future in the past as we have experienced it. The solution lies in a shared vision for an inclusive future.
Building a platform towards that future requires imagination rather than memory.
We need to do more than talk about Ireland. We need to get over it, get on with it. The future is not something out there which we step into as an already design space.
The future does not exist until we make it happen. The future is what we build together what we create together.
And that can be and ugly vulgar extension of what we already are. Or it can be an invitation to the reality of what we might become.
It’s probably not fair to directly compare the experiences of the electorates north and south. The political experience that gives rise to this kind of outpouring is conditioned by a rather different trauma to the one Northern Ireland has gone through.
But if there’s one takeaway for me it might that the kind of top down processes we’ve seen north of the border, like Haass and even the Belfast Agreement itself, it has to be met with something concrete coming up the other way.
A polity is made up of more than just two bundles of mandates. The stories we tell ourselves may be too important just to leave to politicians alone, but our politicians also might take note of that insight from Ben Okri, that “sick storytellers make nations sick.”
People ultimately choose their own narratives, not historians or bureaucratic processes. It does not have to be an “ugly vulgar extension of what we already are.” If you want some idea of what kind of stories we have been telling about ourselves, try these Hollywood movie plots?