Significance and psychological impact of the border: Second thoughts…

I should have realised when you pop the ‘B’ and/or ‘P’ words into a musing over the language and differing realities of Irish social life, north and south, you may well look out. For ‘border’ and ‘partition’ have become the pulses which raise the temperature in a way that was really only for the truly politically-committed of this island. Certainly, in my upbringing and ‘circle’ of mates in Belfast back in the nineteen sixties, the border featured as a bit …

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“The significance, as well as the psychological impact of the border, should not be underestimated…”

I was well into Ivan Gibbons’ concise and lucid primer Partition: How and why Ireland was Divided when Mark Devenport’s excellent Spotlight special A Contested Centenary was broadcast on BBC Northern Ireland. Both made me sit up and ask myself a simple question. If you take the politics out of our current volatile situation, what do people actually know about one another on this island of Ireland, a hundred years after the foundation of both states. And I don’t mean …

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Stray thoughts on the passing of the great spy writer, John Le Carre.

One of my all-time favourite novelists John Le Carré passed away in December of last year; he was 89 years old and had written some of the most telling insider tales of British identity formation in the post-WW2 period. During lock-down I have been rereading his novels, addictively, along with his memoir The Pigeon Tunnel. Anyways, I was a little miffed to discover that this most diligent of researchers, who went to serious lengths to get his landscapes correct, his …

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A Northern World, “Looking Through You…”

In Going to the Territory, Ralph Ellison’s collection of essays on American national identity, the author of the masterpiece Invisible Man challenged the way cliché and stereotypes are attached to a particular region or people. ‘Stereotypes’, he wrote in 1964, ‘are fabricated from fragments of reality, and it is these fragments that give them life, continuity, and availability for manipulation’. It is a telling point from one of 20th century America’s greatest writers, made at the height of the civil …

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Has England become a caricature of arrogance, incompetence and the lies that bind…

I am sure there will be many who are in the ‘Told-You-So’ mode as the current administration in Westminster lurches from mishandling to mishandling since the Johnson election propelled, with a substantial majority, the Brexit-bearing wing of the Tory party into power. The fact that many of the leading figures have gone AWOL, and left an inexperienced and uncertain leadership in place, brings a worrying reality into focus. Brought up on the understanding that London ‘knows best’ is not something …

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Orangefield, and an unexamined aspect of Northern resistance to sectarianism and political bigotry

In the cruel winnowing ways of time the last two years have been unsparing in regard to a generation of teachers brought together in the early 1960s to teach at a new school in east Belfast which had opened a little earlier in 1957. The school was called Orangefield and it played a key role in the dissemination of skills, opportunity and challenge to almost five decades of Belfast school children – first as an all-Boys school, which was then …

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What happened to the standard and nature of the parliamentary democracy we thought we shared since 1998?

There is a distinctively unreal tone playing in the air waves surrounding the melodramatic saga of Boris Johnson’s likely election to the leadership of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. If this is what eventually comes to pass, so be it. Time for a reality check, one hopes. Yet Johnson’s reign – or Jeremy Hunt’s for that matter – may well not see the year out, and then what? Have a look back at …

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Book Review: Southern Prods and the search for a place within their own state…

Protestant and Irish: The Minority’s search for place in independent Ireland is a collection of exploratory essays edited by Ian d’Alton and Ida Milne. It is published by Cork University Press 2019 ISBN 978-1-78205-298-2. It is hard to credit today but when I left Belfast for Galway in 1974 there was a sense of entering the faraway and unknown. Belfast Protestants were pretty thin on the ground there so far as I could tell; indeed, the only other fellow Northerner …

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Padraic Fiacc 1924-2019: A tribute

Padraic Fiacc (born Patrick Joseph O’Connor; 15 April 1924 – 21 January 2019) was an Irish poet, and member of Aosdána, the exclusive Irish Arts Academy. Here is my address from his funeral at St Malachy’s Church, Belfast… Padraic Fiacc’s poems are full of birds – storm-birds, surely, but also birds of all kinds – jackdaws, wrens, robins, and blackbirds. Fiacc was a birdman: ‘I recall yourself and the birds’, he writes in ‘North Man’ recounting a walk one evening along the Lagan with the …

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Book review: Brexit and the bridge too far…

Walking the dog through the silent streets and avenues of an unusually deserted south Belfast, the scene reminded me fleetingly of Sunday mornings during the industrial, asthma-inducing nineteen fifties when there wasn’t a soul about. Everyone then would have been indoors in semi-darkness, putting down fires and making fries before the call of whichever church service they adhered to or simply ‘turning over’. Not so here and now. It was a bright morning, the air clear as a bell. Shop …

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Could we relinquish “the hand of history” by building a 21C Assembly away from Stormont hill?

When Tony Blair stepped out of the Hillsborough hothouse in 1998 and announced that ‘the hand of history’ was on the negotiators’ collective shoulder, he sounded just a little over-awed: ‘A day like today is not a day for sound bites, we can leave those at home, but I feel the hand of history upon our shoulder with respect to this, I really do.’ Now that the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement has come and gone, looking at …

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