Along with the current senior Massachusetts Senator and former US Presidential candidate John F. Kerry, I am not Irish and never claimed Irish heritage. (Given Senator Kerry’s family name and the large Irish heritage population in New England he had to clarify during his unsuccessful 2004 Presidential run that he was not Irish and never claimed Irish heritage). Yet growing up my hometown had a significant population of Irish heritage and I am acquainted with Irish affairs from a distance, in particular on the nationalist/unionist divide.
I was very much edified to learn recently of British Prime Minister David Cameron’s apology on June 15, 2010 “for the killing of 14 unarmed demonstrators in Northern Ireland by British soldiers in a 1972 incident that came to be known as ‘Bloody Sunday.’” (NY Times, June 15, 2010) Today, Sunday June 20, 2010, NY Times Op-Ed Guest Columnist and U2 lead singer Bono, wrote an excellent piece on Cameron’s apology and on “Bloody Sunday” incident: In Ireland, Tuesday’s Grace. Of course, Sunday Bloody Sunday is an early hit song from U2's 1983 album, War.
ONE of the most extraordinary days in the mottled history of the island of Ireland was witnessed on both sides of the border last Tuesday. The much-anticipated and costly Saville report ... the 12-years-in-the-making inquiry into “Bloody Sunday,” a day never to be forgotten in Irish politics ... was finally published.
On that day, Jan. 30, 1972, British soldiers fired on a civil rights march in the majority Catholic area of the Bogside in Derry, killing 14 protesters.
It was a day that caused the conflict between the two communities in Northern Ireland — Catholic nationalist and Protestant unionist — to spiral into another dimension: every Irish person conscious on that day has a mental picture of Edward Daly, later the bishop of Derry, holding a blood-stained handkerchief aloft as he valiantly tended to the wounded and the dying.
It was a day when paramilitaries on both sides became the loudest voices in the conflict, a day that saw people queuing to give up on peace ... mostly young men but also women who had had enough of empire and would now consider every means necessary — however violent or ugly — to drive it from their corner.
It was a day when my father stopped taking our family across the border to Ulster because, as he said, the “Nordies have lost their marbles.” And we were a Catholic-Protestant household.
Contrast all this with last Tuesday ... a bright day on our small rock in the North Atlantic. Clouds that had hung overhead for 38 years were oddly missing ... the sharp daylight of justice seemed to chase away the shadows and the stereotypes of the past. No one behaved as expected. The world broke rhyme.
A brand-new British prime minister, still in his wrapping paper, said things no one had imagined he would ... could ... utter ....
“On behalf of our country, I am deeply sorry.”
Healing is kind of a corny word but it’s peculiarly appropriate here; wounds don’t easily heal if they are not out in the open. The Saville report brought openness — clarity — because at its core, it accorded all the people involved in the calamity their proper role.
Image: Dunluce Castle in County Antrim, Ireland (13th century ruin)
If there are any lessons for the world from this piece of Irish history ... for Baghdad ... for Kandahar ... it’s this: things are quick to change for the worse and slow to change for the better, but they can. They really can. It takes years of false starts, heartbreaks and backslides and, most tragically, more killings. But visionaries and risk-takers and, let’s just say it, heroes on all sides can bring us back to the point where change becomes not only possible again, but inevitable.