Sometimes I can’t sleep for regrets. I am so sorry for all the stupid, wrong, thoughtless, unkind things I have done: to my family, my friends, my students, well the world, really, and would give anything to be able to start again, and get things if not right, then better second time around.
I always loved history and always got very good grades in school, and in exams, but now I wonder that the person I was never questioned what she was being taught.
In my English school in 1972 I learned, for instance, that the famine in Ireland was due to the feckless Irish themselves being unwilling to eat anything but potatoes and so when the potatoes got blight, they either starved or emigrated.
Nobody told me that, for instance:
“More than 26 million bushels of grain were exported from Ireland to England in 1845, a “famine” year… nearly 4,000 vessels carrying food left Ireland for ports in England during (1847) while 400,000 Irish men, women and children died of starvation.
Shipping records indicate that 9,992 Irish calves were exported to England during 1847, a 33 percent increase from the previous year. At the same time, more than 4,000 horses and ponies were exported. In fact, the export of all livestock from Ireland to England increased during the famine except for pigs. However, the export of ham and bacon did increase. Other exports from Ireland during the “famine” included peas, beans, onions, rabbits, salmon, oysters, herring, lard, honey and even potatoes.”
And I didn’t ask.
Part of the problem was the system of absentee landlords:
“Absentee landlords were a highly significant issue in the history of Ireland.
During the course of 16th and 17th centuries, most of the land in Ireland was confiscated from Irish Catholic landowners during the Plantations of Ireland and granted to Scottish and English settlers who were members of the established churches (the Church of England and the Church of Ireland at the time); in Ulster, many of the landowners were Scottish Presbyterians.
Seized land was given to Scottish and English nobles and soldiers, some of whom rented it out to the Irish, while they themselves remained residents of Scotland and England. By 1782 the Irish patriot Henry Grattan deplored that some £800,000 was transferred annually to such landlords.”
And no, I wasn’t told about that either, and didn’t think to ask.
While I was learning for my exams, Bloody Sunday was happening in Derry / Londonderry, and none of my teachers thought to talk about it, and I didn’t ask or connect it to what I regurgitated so perfectly in my exam.
Anyway, I was living in England, or Wales, or Germany, or the USA, and Ireland was far away and more or less irrelevant, except when there was an IRA bomb warning in a mainland English city I happened to be in – or the murder of a prominent person: Gordon Fairley in 1975, Airey Neave, Shadow Secretary for Northern Ireland, killed by an Irish National Liberation Army bomb in 1979, and Lord Louis Mountbatten in summer 1979.
I did pay attention to a news item on my birthday, March 1, in 1981. It was that a man named Bobby Sands had started a hunger strike in the Maze Prison in Belfast; he died 66 days later, aged just 27, having been elected as the Member of Parliament (in Westminster) for Fermanagh and South Tyrone on April 9.
This video is produced by Sinn Féin, which is an Irish republican political party dedicated to the reunification of Ireland and an end to British jurisdiction in the north of Ireland.
Ten more young men died on that hunger strike, and even I began to wonder what was going on.
The whole thing is horribly complicated, such terrible deeds on both sides, angers and resentments which were fostered and polished rather than being laid to rest.
There’s certainly a lot to do with religion, and who better than the Derry Girls to tell us about the difference between Catholics and Protestants?
It’s been much quieter in Ireland over the last years, since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
I remember the Good Friday Agreement quite clearly, and that is because I had been in England visiting my family. I drove there with my son, in my old blue Honda Civic and stole a traffic cone.
For those who have never been there, Britain is the land of traffic cones, and I wanted one to bring back to show my students. My son and I spotted one lying obviously unwanted in the hedge near where our family lived, and as we drove past every day and saw it still lying there, obviously unwanted, we decided to steal it.
My son was of an age where he had to sit in the back of the car anyway and so we put the cone, which was much bigger and heavier than we had thought, on the front passenger seat and covered it with a blanket.
This was very well until we got to Dover and had to pass through various checkpoints, due to the Good Friday Agreement being signed that day, and all of England on alert for IRA attacks. In life’s embarrassing moments, being caught by an armed policeman trying to smuggle an old traffic cone out of the country is fairly high. (The proud cone made it onto the continent and can be seen in the header as it is today).
The Good Friday Agreement was the achievement of many people who should have their own blog posts, among them Mo Mowlam, Betty Williams and Mairead Maguire, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton.
And the vital importance of Ireland and the United Kingdom both being members of the European Union.
Leave voters were told, again and again, that Brexit would cause problems in Ireland. Theresa May understood this, Michel Barnier understood it too. I don’t know if the current British Prime Minister understood: whatever, he didn’t care.
Here he is, drink in his hand, being ‘misleading’, in November 2019:
This week, the Troubles are starting again in Belfast. Loyalists are furious that what they were promised is not reality.
While Belfast is burning (again), the economy crumbling and companies closing due to Brexit and a pandemic, on the day that an important announcement was to be made about the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, where was the current British Prime Minister, we ask ourselves, choosing to know? Oh yes, he was in Cornwall, on one of his many ‘Away Days’.
We know boys, especially Eton boys, just wanna have fun, after all. But don’t think we don’t know.