Picks of the Week – First Communions, Protestant Gaels, Squaddies and Stuckness

There’s a lot of highfalutin political goings on at the moment. But what are the ordinary humans talking about? Here are some media magpie treasures from the last week…

RTÉ Documentary on One rebroadcast the gorgeous 2014 doc, Mairead’s First Communion. It follows two culturally Catholic, but non-religious, parents’ experience of their daughter’s First Communion. They didn’t like the idea of her doing it, but 8 year old Mairead really wanted to, so they let her. There’s so much to learn here about the roles Catholicism still plays in community life, even for people whose personal beliefs have detached definitively from Church teachings.

In Cottage Rescue, the BBC’s The Untold tells the story of a family in Magilligan, on Lough Foyle, who are trying to save their traditional thatched cottage. It’s been in their family for over 300 years, but has become unliveable after the roof beams caved in. Heritage grants should be available. But guess what? Stormont has stalled and everything is delayed…

On a similar note, in Fly By Those Nets, Malachy Clarke writes about suicide in the starkly titled ‘People are Dying, You Bigoted F**ks’. Frustrated about our stasis, he highlights the mental health crisis in the north, and the lack of action being taken. Malachy lays a lot of blame at the DUP’s door for this, for not accepting a deal. I don’t think it’s so straightforward, particularly in the light of wider Tory cuts (which is another charge altogether). But the important thing is how well this article captures the anger of the under 30s (40s?) here. Have a poke around the website and you’ll see what I mean.

Richard Irvine writes beautifully in the Irish Examiner, ‘We Protestants Fear Gaelic and We Were Raised to Mock it’. Thanks to Robin for posting a link on here earlier this week. From growing up in Ahogill to studying at QUB, Richard talks about how encountering the Irish language always felt like an affront. “We saw no language, just republicanism – and we have always opposed that.” He says Irish felt “incomprehensible […] the sinister […] the secret.”

This is not where Richard has ended up though. He feels now that Protestants are cutting off part of their heritage when they cut off Irish. “A comprehensive Irish Language Act”, he argues, “would have enriched and healed us all – restored to us all the poetry that resides in “the Field of the Yew Wood” [from the Irish Achadh Eochaille for Ahogill]. Instead, we continue to reside, literally and politically, in the stunted location of a place without translation.”

Squaddies on the Front Line was on BBC One on Wednesday night. It’s rare to get to hear the personal stories behind the uniforms. Whatever side of this you’re coming from, it’s fascinating viewing. Social class, ideas of masculinity, youth, weariness, the ease of dehumanisation, camaraderie, self-doubt, PTSD, self-medication. A reflective and human take.

On a lighter note, if you’re missing your Derry Girls fix, check out the The Young Offenders on BBC iplayer. A spin off from the brilliant 2016 film of the same name, about the relationship between, and misadventures of, two loveable Cork hallions. You can catch the film on Netflix at the minute. Really funny with loads of heart.

Claire Mitchell is a freelance writer, and community editor at Slugger O’Toole. Formerly senior lecturer in Sociology at Queen’s University Belfast. She is a member of the Green Party of Northern Ireland, but all views are her own. More at www.clairemitchell.net