Tuesday, 21 June 2011

"The Narrow Ground - Aspects of Ulster 1609-1969" - A T Q Stewart

Tony Stewart is no longer with us but his reflections on our history are always worth a re-read. We seem to drop into the familiar tramlines of history with monotonous and often deadly regularity.

"To people whose history stays flat on the printed page it seems incredible that 'old, far-off, unhappy things, and battles long ago' should exert such influence upon the present. Ireland, like Dracula's Transylvania, is much troubled by the undead. King William III, Wolfe Tone and Patrick Pearse sustain an unnatural immortality with the blood of succeeding generations, and when people talk about the inability of the Irish to forget the past, this is usually what they mean. As a matter of fact, the Irish are not only capable of forgetting the past, but quite deliberately expunge from their minds whole areas of it. Like other nations, they have woven for themselves a garment of myth and legend which they call Irish history... that is the history they learn at their mother's knee, in school, in books and plays, on radio and television, in songs and ballads... To the Irish all History is Applied History and the past is simply a convenient quarry which provides ammunition to use against enemies in the present."


Some of the patterns of conflict repeat themselves but those who have to deal with the problems now also have to contend with the impact of new media: mobile phone, Twitter, Bebo and Facebook. These have the capacity both to inflame passions and to lead to greater cross-community understanding. The losers will still mainly be those who live in the historical hotspots.