After a pretty heavy engagement on Slugger last weekend on the role of republicans, loyalists and the state regarding the troubles and its many victims, I was left feeling a little hopeless about how to overcome the barriers on the road to reconciliation. However, when I saw this article in the Belfast Telegraph, I have to admit my spirits were lifted somewhat.
It is only in recent years that the Irish state has moved to lift the blanket of collective amnesia that for decades smothered any official recognition of the involvement of Irish men and women in the great world conflicts of the last century. Many young Irish gave up their lives fighting in the British Army during the First and Second World Wars. These soldiers, nurses and others came from both traditions on the island and left their differences behind to confront what they regarded as a common enemy. As such it is only right and proper that their sacrifice should be remembered and that their names be preserved forever as a testament to their bravery and selfless determination.
For those of us who truly want to see reconciliation between the two traditions on this Island, seeing the Irish Tricolour and the Union flag side by side in Derry during a ceremony to commemorate those fallen heroes at Messines, lends hope that the future might not be so bleak. Attended by Sinn Fein’s Mitchell McLaughlin, Derry’s Mayor Elisha McCallion, and Glenn Barr; one of the founders of the Messines peace project.
The BBC quoted McLaughlin –
“The event itself that is being commemorated, I do think is an issue that republicans should study more, should understand better, should become involved in and I hope giving a lead that is what will happen in the future.”
For me, McLaughlin’s words and the sight of both flags flying together is particularly poignant given my own personal family circumstances. There appears to have been no discord or protest due to the appearance of either flag and the crowd that gathered seemed far more concerned with respecting the memory of those who had died in the battle of Messines rather than getting hot under the collar at the two traditions uniting for the occasion. In other words, the sky didn’t fall in and a baby step forward was made in the process of reconciliation. A positive step forward and an encouraging example of what we can do when we really put our minds to it.