Peter Taylor: “Gradually I got used to reporting death. But I never became insensitive to it.”

In advance of the broadcast on BBC Radio 4 tonight, 8pm, of Peter Taylor’s documentary, Fifty Years Behind the Headlines – Reflections on Terror, the renowned journalist has written an article on the subject for the BBC website.  Most revealing, on many levels, is the part in which he recounts the “interview [which] affected [him] personally above all others.”

The blanket protest by the IRA prisoners in the Maze started in 1977. They refused to wear prison uniform, insisting they were political prisoners and not criminals. The protesters resorted to wearing only a blanket to try and force the issue.

To try and understand the situation from the other side of the cell doors, I met Desmond Irvine, the secretary of the Northern Ireland Prison Officers Association.

As a unionist prison officer, what he said came as a surprise. He agreed to do an interview despite the Northern Ireland Office advising him against it. I felt he wanted to get his message across.

I asked if he respected the prisoners for their protest. “I don’t think they just do it mainly for publicity but because it’s their belief. I suppose one could say a person who believes sincerely in what he is doing, and is prepared to suffer for it, [deserves] a certain measure of respect which you give to him.”

After transmission, he wrote me a letter saying how pleased he was with the positive reaction he had had to the interview.

Then a few days later, the IRA shot him dead.

Deeply shocked, I felt sick. At his funeral I cried. And I remember the prison governor telling me not to blame myself, saying he was murdered because he was a prison officer and not because I had interviewed him.

But I’m still haunted by what happened. I was called by a Belfast journalist who asked how it felt to have blood on my hands. Death had come too close to home and I seriously considered stopping reporting Northern Ireland. In the end, I decided to carry on.

Read the whole thing.

The documentary, Fifty Years Behind the Headlines – Reflections on Terror, will be available on the BBC iPlayer.

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  • If anyone is interested, Peter Taylor recorded an interview for the Prisoner Memory Archive, where he discussed the death of Desmond Irvine and the impact it had on him personally, at

    (it is also available from http://prisonsmemoryarchive.com/update-full-interveiws/, but for some reason, the privacy settings were changed yesterday, and you have to view on Vimeo).

    The relevant section is starts at 1:11:55, but I would strongly encourage you to view interview in its entirety. Just one of the many fascinating interviews available from the PMA.

  • Thanks for that useful addition, Andy.

    Particularly the additional information on Irvine’s optimism for the future situation in the prison given the positive reaction to his interview from both staff and prisoners.

    As well as Taylor’s description of the Belfast journalist’s phone call as “cruel and nasty”.

    As for the account of the Provisional IRA’s ‘explanation’ for murdering Irvine – despite it being counter-productive, in Taylor’s terms… Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they.

  • the rich get richer

    What an insane place Northern Ireland was in those days . Lets hope it never goes to such a place again……..

  • Indeed. Taylor’s description of the death of Desmond Irvine, and other killings that have been recently discussed (the murder of James and Ellen Sefton, Frank Hegarty and Lisa Dorrian) reminded me again of how deeply cruel and vindictive so many of the killings were. For all the talk of fighting for their respective countries and communities from the killers and their apologists, it was often mired in petty revenge and greed.

  • I would suggest that in the case of Desmond Irvine it may have been much more calculated than that.

  • AntrimGael

    Brilliant documentary but no less than you would expect from Peter Taylor. He is a rare species, a British journalist who came into the North with no agenda and who tried to understand and explain the reasoning of ALL of the different combatants.
    The interviews with Joan Wilson, Desmond Irvine, Billy Giles and Sean were powerful. Mrs Wilson is a remarkable lady who never let bitterness and hate rule her life. However I always find Billy Giles’s interview haunting and sad.
    Here was a young man who came from a most respectable family and who pulled the trigger on a young Catholic workmate. He said himself he lost something he could never get back and people never looked at him in the same light again especially his family who he felt were so disappointed.
    I think Billy Giles’s story reminds us that not everyone who got involved with paramilitaries was an evil, heartless, unfeeling animal.

  • Jimmyz

    We owe it to people like this that history never forgets them and that revisionist accounts, regardless of hue, do not distort the true reality of what happened.

    The bravery of these ordinary working people should never be eclipsed by twisted narratives and notions of some brave “freedom fighters” that we have been recently subjected to.

    The gunman in the shadows had a choice, their victim rarely did.

  • In Mr Irvine’s case, the IRA were definitely sending a message that no prisoner officer was untouchable. But I would be surprised if there wasn’t an element of revenge as well, for the rough treatment of Republican prisoners by other prison staff.

  • Jimmyz

    Just watched Billy Giles interview on YouTube there.

    I fear for the future, I really do, and one of the main reasons is how celebrating people like Billy Giles has become a “norm” in our society.

    How could our Deputy First Minister honour IRA Terrorists by stating

    “They responded in defence of their community and also of their country.
    “They never went looking for war, but it came to them.”

    History is perversely being rewritten before our very eyes, and while I accept Billy did indeed seem genuinely remorseful, as is often the case, we lose sight of the REAL victims, in this case an innocent Catholic who got a bullet in his head.

    It is in this context I find Michelle O’Neill’s recent comments particularly sickening – “They never went looking for war, but it came to them.”……..Sorry Michelle, they did go looking for trouble and found it in spades in the form of the SAS.

    SF in particular are trying to blur the lines between the real innocent victims and the perpetrators, with their vile statement of “There can be no hierarchy of victims”

    Actually there IS a hierarchy of victims when children and babies were butchered by people who made the wrong choice. The very concept SF is trying to push is nauseating, as is the concept it was a “War”.

    No wonder we are witnessing a new generation, who knew nothing of the troubles being brought up to believe in these “heroes” and their actions as legitimate.

    We all need to remember and learn from Billy’s mistakes, but as I said, I really do fear.

  • AntrimGael

    Did you not say on another thread that it OK for the Glenanne gang, Mount Vernon crowd, Brian Nelson to operate ……..because they were…..fighting a war??? How does this square with tbe above?

  • Jimmyz

    Why do you take comments out of context ?

    Just like you said

    “The Nationalist community watched as the British Army/RUC/UDR carried out 100’s of terrorist murders, killed dozens of children with rubber/plastic bullets: colluded, armed and protected their Loyalist satellite death squads and NEVER see the inside of a prison cell”

    There really is no hope for this country

  • Jimmyz

    Why are you being so selective about the “actors on the stage” ?

  • Jimmyz

    Not as crazy as if you think that when these despicable acts were being carried out that someday some of those who carried out these very same acts would be in government and those that died would be eulogised as heroes.

    It’s hard to get your head around

  • mickfealty

    Didn’t you feel sick when you read that?

  • AntrimGael

    I’m not with you, could you enlighten me?

  • mickfealty

    Bloke gets zeroed a week after acknowledging the integrity of protesters, by the vicarious supporters of said protesters. It suggests a deeper transgression, does it not?

  • AntrimGael

    I’m not Jimmy. The actors were all culpable but responsibility cannot be heaped on to one side. If we are to move on we have to learn to walk in each others shoes and acknowledge that ‘we’ inflicted and ‘they’ suffered too.

  • mickfealty

    For all the post hoc rationalisations, a lot of cops and prison officers were actually targeted for pretty rank personal reasons. The cops, for one, certainly knew this.

    The wiser of them them knew how to dodge the bullet, just by being (unreasonably) polite to known Provisionals in the field when they had to stop them on the road.

    But I think this smacks of the same deep coldness that sent Edgar Graham to his grave, whom the IRA suspected of certain class of corrosive liberalism.

  • mickfealty

    Everyone is culpable for what they did, and nothing more. Or less. The sooner we get to that reckoning the better.

  • AntrimGael

    I believe Gerry Adams will acknowledge that in a SKY NEWS interview tomorrow morning.

  • mickfealty

    I look forward to that. Wiping out a prison guard found guilty of making prison guards looking like real human beings will be some admission.

  • AntrimGael

    They were horrific times and horrific things were done. As I said before in 2017 with the benefit of hindsight you cannot justify the death of Desmond Irvine. The 70’s had no rules of morality, humanity or justice. It was a blur of inhumane events begetting inhumane events. The Shankill Butchers were the epitome of that.

  • Jimmyz

    What is a child in a pram culpable of ?

    And for me that is the crux of the problem, SF want to portray every gunman alongside every victim equally as “actors”, as if in some macabre play.

    We must not accept this twisted narrative.

    ONE example, Ann Travers saw her sister murdered in cold blood as well as her father being shot, the gunmen attempted to shoot her mother in the face, she was only saved by the gun jamming.

    I find it hard to believe there are “POLITICIANS” of high rank in this country, sitting in Government who portray the person who pulled the trigger as some “equal” to the unfortunate soul who was on the receiving end of their unjustified actions.

  • Jimmyz

    For starters may one reccomend a blanket statement…………

    “They were horrific times and horrific things were done.”

    Followed by dollops of blurring the lines

    “The 70’s had no rules of morality, humanity or justice. It was a blur of inhumane events begetting inhumane events.”

    Finished with a “them’uns were worse”

    “The Shankill Butchers were the epitome of that.”

  • AntrimGael

    Not at all, I could with equal justification say that the Shankill Butchers and La Mon were the epitome of that. I have NO problem in acknowledging the hurt and legacy Republicans caused and left. Will Unionists and the British State equally try to understand that the Nationalist population suffered as well? I don’t think they do.

  • mickfealty

    Ah, come on, they did. Most people at the time buried themselves in good deeds. Be it the Gaeilgeoiri of Shaws Road who persistently focused on a higher aim, or the ma and da who passed through the UDA check points to tend patients, or to serve customers.

    Relatively few of us spent our time calculating how to do our neighbours of good will to death.

  • Jimmyz

    “I have NO problem in acknowledging the hurt and legacy Republicans caused and left.”

    Is this a comment or a Sinn Fein press release ?

    You simply can’t help yourself.

    PS you can program modern keyboards with the COPY/PASTE functions………..it’s such a time saver.

  • Jimmyz

    Just reading these comments below, and it strikes me how much as a society are we like Billy Giles.

    As a society, something has reached inside our collective selves and ripped our soul out as a society.

    Some of the comments on here are reduced to INTEGERS, as in numbers of deaths which one faction has exacted on the other, what next ? a mathematical proof of who the bad guys were ?

    I fear our collective minds are simply too far gone, too distorted to make rational or more importantly conciliatory decisions.

    I regularly travel the world with work, and it now depresses me to come “home”, and If I am honest I envy some pretty bad countries right now.

    I am not a pessimist but I do fear this country is marching towards the precipice…….and doing so with great pride.

    Signing off.

  • Jake Mac Siacais

    Bíodh rud beag céille agat mick. Ní raibh baint ar bith ag an bhású Seo le hagallamh Taylor. Úrlabharbhaí de chuid na bairdéirí a bhí In Irvine. Glacann sé am Le duine a aimsiú. Tá barraíocht de róainilís ar bun agat anseo.

  • Jimmyz

    I never heard of Edgar Graham until I read an article on here a few weeks ago.

    They say the pen is mightier than the sword, anyone who studies Ireland in a few hundred years time may reach a different conclusion ?

  • Jimmyz

    In the Interests of equality, can you please provide an English and Ulster Scots translation.

    Thank you.

  • AntrimGael

    Attempting to pass judgement on that era is very easy in the here and now. You are old enough to know that many intelligent, rational people got involved in those times because of ‘events’.
    Say you are an 18 year old in Ballymurphy or Ardoyne in 1971. A Scottish regiment comes into the district, kicks doors down, batters people, spits on and destroys Holy Statues/Pictures, calls you a Fenian so and so and laughs at screaming kids hiding behind your mother. Last week in the area another British regiment killed a youth with a rubber bullet, no one is held accountable.
    In 1972 you are a young Protestant in East Belfast, Tyrone, Fermanagh; your friend/neighbour is shot, Belfast is being bombed daily, you don’t think the State is protecting you.
    WHAT happens when human emotion takes over and sense goes out the window? You do irrational things.
    Peter Taylor himself acknowledged this in the Radio 4 programme. He categorically stated that MANY young Catholics got involved with the IRA BECAUSE of Bloody Sunday. People like Bishop Edward Daly, John Hume and Dennis Bradley have also said this too.
    I cannot and will not stereotype EVERY Republican, Loyalist, soldier or policeman as bad, it’s too easy and a cop out.

  • Jake Mac Siacais

    Hae a titter a’ wit Mick. Thar wasnae a Hait a’ compluthur twain tha killin an Taylor’s bletherin wi Irvine. Irvine wuz a heich hied yo fur tha turnkeys. Hit taks time tae pit thegither thon sort of daeins. Yer Gavin awa muckle thought tae it aa.

  • mickfealty

    Nil amhras ar bith orainne faoi sin Jake. Agus fós, fuair sé bás in aghaidh na seachtaine tar éis an craoladh.

    Ní raibh an ‘RA’ eagraíochta is oscailte nó trédhearcach. Ach nach féidir linn a thabhairt i gcrích le réasún go raibh siad ag cosaint a leas anseo?

    Go háirithe ós rud é go bhfuil a chuid oifigigh nios shinsearach fós i gceannas?

  • Jake Mac Siacais

    English: have some sense Mick. There was patently no connection with the killing and Taylor’s interview. Irvine was the key spokesperson for the screws. These things take some planning. You are in engaged in over analysis. ( hope that’s helpful for you Jimmyz. Whoever you really are.)

  • mickfealty

    Don’t be lazy. Google translate will get you the gist. Both Irish and English have equal status on Slugger.

  • mickfealty

    Don’t pander to the monoglots Jake. 😉

  • mickfealty

    It was not as easy living through, I can promise you.

  • Jake Mac Siacais

    Thig cinnte. Ach dúirt bean liom gur dhúirt bean léí.

  • AntrimGael

    I know Mick, I grew up in North Belfast in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. A few of my fellow pupils in St. Malachy’s ended up in jail at a time when you had to have real intelligence to pass the 11+.

  • mickfealty

    Tuigim sin go ghearr. Ach nach bhfuil sé indéanta nar chuir an ‘RA’ nios mo daoine ina thoist na níos mó den eagraíocht eile insan “Na Trioblóidí” ná aon cheann eile? Ach amháin, b’fhéidir, na Brits?

  • mickfealty

    I do appreciate that AG, but I can say with some confidence that from my point of view, it wasn’t an intelligence test. 😉

  • Jimmyz

    “Don’t be lazy. Google translate will get you the gist.”

    I tried that first off……see 4 yourself..pile of shite

    “I understand that short. But it is not possible unspoken by the ‘UK’ thoist more people the more the other organizations insan “The Troubles” than any other?”

    Why do we need an ILA when we have google ?

    All Hail Mick our savior for providing the breakthrough !!!

  • mickfealty

    Sorry, but if you think it is it important to fill the “bearna eolais” you’ll have have to work a wee bit harder. 😉

  • AntrimGael

    A morality test? Then how much more difficult must it have been for someone defined as intelligent to do immoral things. That must have taken a lot of soul searching?

  • Jimmyz

    Thank you

  • mickfealty

    Have you any evidence that intelligence is n sort of a predictor of morality?

  • Jimmyz

    You should never make assumptions Mick 😉

    I was here a week and I am now signing off (for good), I know you try hard Mick and I do recognise that, I know you try to encompass a broader view and I congratulate you for trying.

    I tried to like this site, but I found it just too base.

    But regardless, good luck for the future.

  • AntrimGael

    Moral intelligence is the capacity to understand right from wrong and to behave based on the value that is believed to be right.

  • mickfealty

    And yet it still lives with him? Haunts him like a ghost. We ought not to dismiss such deep intuitions so blithely if we are to get upright again.

    Of course, the fact the alleged perpetrators have a long record of lying about what they did should not push us in the other direction either.

    This lack of generosity seems to be a hallmark of the Peace Process™. Seems to me that we should work to slough it off asap.

  • mickfealty

    It’s been very good to hear from you Jimmy. [Seriously] Haste ye back [And I mean as soon as possible. Really, don’t be a stranger]?

  • AntrimGael

    Are we not a base society here, isn’t that the core of our problems? Surely it’s not Slugger’s fault for representing opinions and views that are real and out there, even if we find them abhorrent and reprehensible?

  • mickfealty

    “Beir bua”, as some of us say as a bond of trust in the oul tongue.

  • A fortnight, according to Taylor.

    Plenty of time to assess the public reaction and plot the appropriate action.

    Not to mention to assess the fallout – there was none for the Provisionals.

    As you say, he was the secretary of the NI Prison Service.

    The fact that he was a progressive influence within that prison was just an added bonus…

  • andrewjohn

    Don’t do that. Honestly. Stay around, behind the slagging and sometimes disrespectful banter we need each other to learn from each other. Sometimes it might appear that the ‘other’ is intransigent and incapable of fair play or not at all listening, but you would be surprised at how occasionally a simple comment can effect the views of others and influence opinions with ripple effect elsewhere. De reir a cheile a thogtar na caisleain.

  • andrewjohn

    It’s difficult to imagine today how a modern civilised politically healthy society could spiral down to the point where such killings could take place and where so many people are left with the pain of tragedy in their hearts.

  • Deeman

    It’s difficult to imagine how a modern civilised politically healthy society emerged from a sectarian gerrymandered state and 30 years of sectarian violence. Hume, Trimble, Blair, Irvine, paisley and McGuinness are some of the key figures. There are many more people who remained behind the scenes who also helped to reform society.

  • Deeman

    True, it was all the fault of the Catholics. Adams and mcguinness carried out all the atrocities themselves despite being the most monitored men in the republican movement. They both used time travel to be in two places at once in some occassions. There were a few brave bad apples in the British side whose only crime was loyalty.

    Loyalist history.

    Integrated education anyone? Loyalists chose the history syllabus of course.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Indeed, Mick, any watering down of the hard polarities has always been unwelcome to those with absolute political goals. One of my Unionist family members, a Trimble supporter, remembered Graham.

  • mickfealty

    But, and this is very important, we’re being asked to do it all the time by old Provisionals. In that regard I don’t think people should be selectively told to hould their whisht.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “Did that play of mine send out /Certain men the English shot?”

  • mickfealty

    Yes. Some his students were suspected of complicity. Even such suspicion shows just how corrosive of social bonds this dirty little war was.

  • Tom Smith

    I may now be communicating with the ‘ghost’ of Jmmyz (I’ve gone all Madame Arcati) but nevertheless thanks for posting that. You got me thinking and I agree with you.

    Especially on Slugger, it does try; it is trying ;).

    So I believe I’ll join you riding towards the ensanguining skies.

    Bye all.

  • JOHN TURLEY

    I believe things were never looking so good, who ever thought back in the 80s that one of the
    main topics in 2017 would be if we were to have another election or not..Gone is the sectarian
    regime at Stormont. A new police force that is respected by both communities.A Queen who
    suffered the loss of their family hero at the hands of the I.R.A. Just last week I was astonished
    to see the repeats of the Queen and McGuinness, how they were so relaxed and normal in
    each others company.It could not be easy for either. What great leadership from both..

  • Jollyraj

    I don’t think he said that it was all the fault of Catholics, not by any means – in fact that is so far from what he’s written there that you’ve essentially just made it up.

    I think he’s saying that a lion’s share of the blame rests squarely with Loyalist terrorists and Republican terrorists. You mention McGuinness – yes he was a criminal member of a murder gang. And Adams – who says he wasn’t but who really believes him?

  • Jollyraj

    One suspects he was shot because the IRA couldn’t allow the world to see that unionists weren’t cold-blooded monsters without compassion. This man, whom they murdered shortly after, saw the humanity of the protestors and expressed that. In the same way it was to the Republican movement’s tactical advantage to let as many strikers as possible commit suicide (hell, it won them an election), the IRA must have felt they couldn’t allow any unionist to be seen to be compassionate.

  • Jollyraj

    Can I have this in Ulster Scots, too please?

  • Jollyraj

    They may have – and no quarrel. But you’ll very quickly shut down a debate if you use a language 99% of us don’t speak.

  • Jollyraj

    Il problema con questa strada che hai preso, Mick, e che la maggior parte di noi non parliamo e non capiamo neanche quello che hai scritto li. Capisco il tuo sentimento – pero Slugger e, o deve essere, un posto dove tutti possono parlare, capire e anche discutare. Semplicemente quello diventera impossibile se volete cambiare il discorso da una lingua che siamo tutti in grado di capire a una lingua che e stato usato bene per pochi persone. Google translate? No, non va bene. Per lo stesso motivo che e tremendemente difficile un altra lingua nella legge, per esempio – il senso del argomento non si traduce bene. Voi un discorso pieno e sincero? Usiamo una lingua che tutti sanno.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “Integrated education anyone? Loyalists chose the history syllabus of course.”

    Examples please.

  • Deeman

    I am suggesting that we could never agree to our shared history in this country. How can we promote integrated education if we cant agree what happened.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I see your point but is that not why we have historians?
    Look at our own Seaan Ui Neill; he seems to rattle the cages mainly of people with very ‘set’ views (and Nevin) and I’d gladly listen to a curriculum laid out by people of his calibre (as deflating as it is to be corrected by him…).

    Just because a politician may not like the idea that banking played a part in the battle of the Boyne et al or that the British might indeed have offered more help during the famine than is fashionably thought doesn’t mean that education has to pander to them, in fact they should be not allowed to interfere at all other than insisting on an identical syllabus for CMS, Grammar, state and integrated schools i.e. no tailoring for the crowd.

  • David Stewart

    I had dinner with Edgar’s cousin on Friday night. They don’t forget exactly why and how he was killed .

  • mickfealty

    This blog has two vernacular languages. I ised to blog occasionally in Irish, particularly when the custom here was for shorter pieces.

    And it nearly always brought more negative reactions than yours. I hate the way some people use the spoken language to speak in code (though I’ve been guilty of that in the past with non speaking mates back in the day).

    But that doesn’t apply to the written language. Since people can use translate, so it can be followed. I hear what you’re saying but the established custom here is that Irish is permissible as a lingua franca. I’m not going to impose a belated cosc now.

  • mickfealty

    That’s certainly how it looks in retrospect.

  • Jollyraj

    Well, don’t get me wrong – I’ve nothing against the Irish language (though some of my fellow commenters on here seem to have me down as a raving bigot – apparently based on the fact that I don’t think we should create another RHI-sized black hole in the public purse where we pour massive amounts of money into something which has little practical application. Particularly since huge sums are alreasy spent on it). Indeed if Slugger really needed a second language, I guess Irish would be it.

    My point is simply that language is about opening lines of communication, not closing them.

  • Deeman

    I believe that we would end up with parents picketing schools as a teacher told a story about her da getting beaten by a drunken UDR patrol eg. Look at the reaction to a SF councillor teaching in a state (protestant) school.

    Or imagine a history teacher wearing a poppy in a catholic school.

    I don’t believe we are ready for full integrated education just yet.

  • Macca

    Awful, awful days.

  • AntrimGael

    It was a shameful killing, I couldn’t defend it even now.

  • Jollyraj

    Sorry. Don’t understand.

  • Jollyraj

    I’m guessing here, but I’m going to say I think the number of people fluent in Irish (genuinely fluent, by the way) is about 1% of the NI population?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Be that as it may it doesn’t mean that we can’t have a common history syllabus rolled out across the schools written by proper objective historians.

  • Jollyraj

    “2001 Census: 658,103 (36% of pop.) had “some knowledge of Irish” – of whom 48,509 were Protestants or “other (non-Catholic) Christians”

    This figure is absolutely meaningless. By this measure, I personally have ‘some knowledge’ of Arabic, Albanian, Hebrew, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tagalog, French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Swahili, Romantsch, Romany, Latin, Serbian, Russian….and I can’t be bothered to list any more but there are some.

    “Of these, “speaks, reads, writes and understands Irish” (the highest category of achievement in the Census) accounted for 223,678 people.”

    To what level? In the absence of a specified level we must assume ‘to any level whatever’ by which measure put me down for Italian, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch etc. etc. And I’m not much of a linguist.

    For an objective measure, you’d need to give us figures for whatever the Irish language equivalent of IELTS is – number of people with maybe level 6.5 or above.

    Otherwise, heck, I’m an Irish speaker, too, since I can say (though maybe not spell?) Slaintche!

  • Jollyraj

    “But with 35 Irish-medium primary schools in the six counties,”

    Well that’s a good start. Now, let’s look at the costs of those schools and whatever other Irish language projects are afoot. How much money are spending on Irish language already, amd how much more are Republicans demanding we spend?

  • David McCay

    There’s no doubt Jimmy that growing up in NI during the troubles had a damaging effect on the collective and individual mindset. When living right in the middle of the bad times, murders, deaths, and injuries did all become numbers to a certain extent. The feelings the loss of a human life engendered in many ranged from delighted, fairly happy, neutral, angered, to explosively enraged – all dependent on exactly who that life belonged to. I often look back and question my own feelings at the time – waking up every morning to check the teletext before going to school to see what happened last night / who died last night – and shamefully at times feeling pretty happy and upbeat when it appeared that ‘our side’ had got one over on the other side (often meaning some poor soul had lost their life, and some poor family was at that very moment dealing with this). It was a terrible time, and the normality of the those terrible times is one of the most shocking things when looking back at it all.
    That said, having left NI at 18 and lived in Europe, Asia, and the US in the 20 years since, I see only progress and improvement year-on-year when I return home. The majority of kids no longer grow up with the warped view of life we had in the more violent times we lived in. It’s far from perfect, but life is slowly becoming more and more integrated, and society is becoming less and less tribal. If we could develop a more robust economy with more opportunity for all, then this transition to normalcy would only increase. I really don’t see the country marching towards the precipice, but instead see the country continue to move further and further away from that precipice – to the point where I believe that falling off the cliff is no longer even a risk. We’ve come too far for that to happen – progress will continue to be made, every day without violence and every child born without any memory of it will ensure that.

  • Hugh Davison

    That would be nice, but probably unrealizable. I went to a Catholic grammar in my day (before the ‘troubles’) and we got the usual stew of British Empire history, starting with the Tudors in 1485. Other countrys’ histories were conspicuously absent except in a (superior) British context. I can still remember the war of Jenkin’s ear.
    I don’t know if there are objective historians. History is so part of one’s identity, yet it cannot be seriously appreciated until one has lived a bit. Even then, it’s a turn-off for most.
    Having thrown away all the rubbish I learnt at school, I can say that the history I have pursued as an adult is an infinite source of wonder and pleasure.