Of Cats and Men; History in the Making: An Eventful Year.

Part 3: More Political than Personal

In the Irish situation it would try the proverbial saints themselves to find the safe path and in my own family the strife was wont to appear in any row or argument. Yet for all the occasional contretemps (if that isn’t another Irishism) my parents remained together and my late mother, a Catholic, wept on the grave of my father, an Anglican. She, an Irishwoman, was still loyal as it were to Britain, worked hard for it, with my father buying a house (now, to my surprise, it appears modernised like a Swiss chalet alongside the hilltop viewpoint in one of a pair of photographs displayed in the London Borough of Haringey’s municipal museum at the Tottenham manor house, Bruce Castle). As the closest of the children to her father, mother was the only one who came to the UK and the one who erected her parents’ grave‑pillar in the churchyard. All her brothers and the sister emigrated to the USA. None remained in Ireland. But why choose Britain? Because just as my paternal grandfather (who gives me, besides a good unionist first name, a Pembrokeshire family name with a ready‑made potted history in The Dictionary of Welsh Biography down to 1940) was a gentleman who joined the metropolitan Police in London, my maternal grandfather was a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary, the RIC. He was a police sergeant in a small village in the middle of Ireland.

Like North Wales’ named‑for‑a‑chapel town Bethesda, in Gwynedd, the like‑named place in America commemorates a centre of worship, Bethesda Presbyterian Church, and ultimately the biblical pool of healing in John (5:2), “a place, literally a house, of outpouring”. The American city is in Maryland but really it’s a suburb of Washington, out past the British Embassy with its statue of Ireland‑involved Churchill, over Cathedral Heights where once, under General Braddock, as a plaque by the cathedral records, the British Army marched as it did in Ireland. In like manner my mother’s niece and namesake there perpetuates by her name a brother’s memory of his sister, Margaret Christina, a.k.a. Tina. Margaret Christina in Bethesda is the wife of a Washington civil servant called Luke who jests he’s sometimes called Lucifer! And according to Margaret Christina, the sibling’s father was hated. An Irishman, yes, but a representative of British government in which case the hatred was surely political. Which is the point in Ireland. Without more research into the attitudes of the time, I’m unable to gainsay Margaret Christina, and to me this seems like a fascinating story, yet I do believe that hatred and bitterness in Ulster is political more than religious or personal.

Although through film and television we’re so much inured to the American way of life, The Times’ Northern Ireland correspondent, Martin Fletcher, after a stint in Washington, summarises Ulster as “a Province more foreign in many ways than Washington” (Wed., July 29, 1998). Like our view of violence in America, and that focused (unfairly?) on ‘downtown’ black neighbourhoods from the point of view of Washington workers from the perimeter, “so violence for most of Northern Ireland’s better‑off inhabitants is something they see only on TV,” Fletcher says in a feature, subheaded “homage to a strange land”. It seems sanitised without any reference to hatred and bitterness as such, but were the subject not so terrible as to detract from the comparison, some of the descriptive material with regard to Ireland which appeared over the summer of 1998 might have attracted happy plaudits in the stakes of inventiveness. Yet these were inventions out of the macabre and even from the horror story’s use of the accessories of religion, if not of biblical origin, like some allusions with respect to Ireland from the past. A prime example was the Daily Mail’s front page concentration of all the friction in the dramatic headline phrase “the altar of hatred” (July 13).

At this altar the weapons of hate‑filled words inevitably fuel weapons of murderous destruction – indeed how true are the words of the psalm: “Their teeth are slings and arrows; their tongues sharpened swords.” Thus the Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor, Patrick Walsh, quoting Ps. 57 Hebrew, or rightly 56 Greek and Latin, verse 4. on July 14. The bishop’s version of the psalm seems to show its propounder as an aficionado of Shakespeare, “the slings and arrowes of outrageous fortune” of Hamlet’s soliloquy (act III, sc. i,l. 58, original spelling) replacing the almost ubiquitous “spears and arrows” (the Douay says “weapons and arrows”).

Amidst this horror, around the same time as Mr. Spinks’ ‘Notes’ were published, there appeared too an excellent commentary by a Church in Wales Roath Parish (Cardiff) clergyman, Fr. Gary Powell, on the burning of the nine churches in Ulster (St. Margaret’s Sunday bulletin, 4th. Sunday after Trinity, July 5). This was based upon the opening of a psalm that seems to find its echo in Kipling’s If that was read at the end of the World Cup final July 12 (BBC I TV):

“Fret not thyself because of the ungodly:... Put thou thy trust in the Lord and be doing good:”

which is the distinct version of The Book of Common Prayer of 1662, and in The Revised Psalter 1966, for Ps. 37 Hebrew, 36 Greek & Latin, verses 1‑3. Evildoers, evil men, evil people, the wicked are more usual variations upon the here equated ungodly, and from the New Jerusalem and Watch Tower New World Translation respectively, “Do not get heated” and better, “Do not show yourself heated” are colourful variations of this quotation which Monsignor Knox phrased as a question we sometimes need to ask ourselves:

“Art thou impatient, friend, when the wicked thrive;...? Be content to trust in the Lord and do good.”

“We can easily imagine how we would feel if it happened to us,” Fr. Gary wrote of the burning churches in calling for cooperation and the influencing of leaders. It is this kind of positive reaction which seems to me to need to spread far and wide.

A literary allusion in discussing the foible of bitterness, Hebrew hrm thus marah, has been the brackish water of the spring of imaginary name Mara(h), in the peninsula of Sinai, SE of Suez, Moses’ first camp or ‘station’ after the Israelites’ crossing of the Red Sea in Exodus (15: 22 – 26). Lord Macaulay in another essay from The Edinburgh Review (‘An Essay on [Thomas] Moore’s Life of Lord Byron’, June 1831; in Critical & Miscellaneous Essays, 5 v., USA 1840 - 44, and in Critical & Historical Essays, 3 v., UK 1843), said of the poet’s well of world‑weariness (Weltschmertz) and scorn, the melancholy of the romantic age, “That Marah was never dry”. In his The Unknown Prime Minister (1955), a biography of New Brunswick’s champion of Ulster and Welsh Church establishment, Andrew Bonar Law, said to be the Tories’ first leader from the so‑called middle classes, and opposition abettor of unconstitutional, non‑parliamentary practices imperiling his party, Robert (Lord) Blake wrote that after the new man’s maiden address as leader to the National Union of Conservatives at Leeds 23 November 1911, “The waters of Marah were not more bitter than his speeches.” Yet at the same time the biblical Marah was a building of character because only by passing through such a vale of tears was Moses enabled to receive from God, besides a tree with wood to turn the bitter waters sweet, a challenge, “If thou wilt listen to the voice of the Lord thy God,... never shall they fall on thee, the many woes brought on Egypt.” (Knox). And Ruth the Moabite’s daughter‑in‑law Noemi (Knox) or Naomi (King James), “My Sweetness” – “Call me Mara, ‘bitter’ “ – too receives a challenge in widowhood (Ruth 1: 19 – 20). The resonances for Ulster are apparent in both cases.

Interviewed on BBC 2’s Newsnight, Monday July 13 (before the Church of Ireland intervened on the 15th. to lock its gates), Andrew MacKay, the Tories’ Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, ranked Drumcree 1998 as a conceivable “watershed in British politics.” He spoke also of “an overdeveloped sense of history.” Eddie Mair, ‘Broadcasting House,’ Radio 4 July 12, had referred to an apparent “last ditch” at Drumcree and on the television news the week before one protester had likened the army ditch to the by Ulstermen‑defended‑for‑Britain trenches of the Somme. Even after independence more Irishmen (per capita) from the Irish Republic fought in British forces than from Northern Ireland, and Irish descendants in allied forces elsewhere. In my own family it’s only because he survived that I have a prepared Irish family tree that was researched by my mother’s nephew who used to visit her in blitzed London between death‑accompanying sorties over Germany with the USAF.

In this connection, 1998 saw too the 80th. anniversary of the armistice of 1918, its last major commemoration by heads of state. They included Britain’s and Ireland’s in the first ever joint public ceremony by the heads of state of these two countries to dedicate, in Belgium, the first memorial to the Irishmen who died in the first world war. So too, in the same connection, in The Irish Post, Hayes, Middlesex, 12 / 09 /1998, alongside the paper’s editorial on the Trimble‑Adams meeting, a feature writer, Joe Horgan, has told us what he entitles ‘Home Truths’. Without a description of the place, turning a comer while touring India, at a town in the foothills of the Western Himalayas called Solon or Solan (W. Himachal Pradesh, 23 km., 14 mi., SSW of Simla or Shimla), he came face to face “quite unexpectedly” with a part of the history of Ireland and Britain and the Raj, the story of James Daly, member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, IRB, last soldier of the British Army to be executed for a military offence, 2 November 1920. Private Daly, of Tyrrellspass, Co. Westmeath, Province of Leinster, central Ireland (not so very far from my mother’s old home in Leinster which brings home the sadness of history) having oblong face, uplifted, looking ahead, far away, resigned, strong features, thick dark hair, is photographed in the paper standing quite smartly, clad in khaki army jacket, shorts, and long socks and boots, feet slightly apart outwards, his arms behind him (for any reason?). His age? He was 21. And his offence? To put the matter in perspective, the tenor, the spirit of the age, the Zeitgeist, had been set by the Easter Rising of Patrick (called Pádraic) Pearse and the historical ‘Sinn Féiners’ or ‘Shinners’, and, for instance, a police revolt, the Listowel mutiny of the RIC of Co. Kerry, SW Ireland, 16 June 1920. That was Ireland’s “year of terror” (Collier’s Encyclopedia, New York, entry ‘Cork The City’, diaries of British Commander-in-Chief in Ireland General Sir Nevil Macready, nickname, from origin in Wales, ‘strike breaker,’ Annals of an Active Life, London, Hutchinson, 2 vols, 1924, v. 2; Tim Pat Coogan, Michael Collins, London, Hutchinson, 1990, ch. 5 ‘The year of Terror’).

Swept away in consequence in reaction to letters and reports as to the activities of the ‘Black‑and‑Tans’ or ‘Specials’ and Mr. Churchill’s RIC Auxiliary Cadets, the ‘Auxies’, introduced that year, Pte. Daly with others, in a spreading Irish gesture set afoot by another Himalayan garrison’s running up the tricolour, took his cue. No more would the mutineers of Jalandhar and Solon soldier for Britain until British troops quit the old sod. The men’s regiment, the Connaught Rangers, was to become disbanded in 1922 on the inauguration of the Free State. Pte. Daly’s body and those of two others killed in the mutiny were repatriated to Ireland in 1970 but one remains in India, that of John Miranda from Liverpool, like de Valera Irish‑Spanish, who died in prison. The story of the rising of the Connaughts is related in Sam Pollock, Mutiny for the Cause: the story of the revolt of Ireland’s ‘Devil’s Own’ in British India, London, Leo Cooper, 1969, Sphere, 1971, and in Anthony Babington, The Devil to Pay, the Mutiny of the Connaught Rangers, India, July 1920, London, 1991. The Irish Post writer reflects upon Pte. Miranda’s body a‑mouldering in India as if begrudged a homecoming (because Scouse‑born). The editorial headline asserts “Meeting of minds more important than a handshake.”


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