County Antrim: Lisburn

Wednesday 16th August 2017. Cloudy.

Lisburn (population 72,000) is a city 15 kilometres (9 miles) south west of Belfast. The River Lagan which flows thru the city divides County Antrim from County Down but Lisburn is classed as being in Antrim.

I travelled by train. I arrived about 3.40pm.

The streets are still decorated with red, white and blue bunting to commemorate the Twelfth (12th July) and to underscore that Lisburn is a Protestant, unionist and British area. Most of the Catholic owned business were burned around 1920 and this produced an exodus of Catholics from Lisburn. The demographics have never fully recovered.

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Lisburn retains a “bogey man” status in Catholic eyes.

Certainly around 1962, my aunt and uncle lived nearby and their son, a priest in England was on vacation. My mother brought me (and little sister) to Lisburn because I was going to serve as an altar boy. My first impression of Lisburn is my mother sheepishly asking a police officer for directions to “the RC (sic) church”. I recall this specifically because only Protestants referred to Catholics as “RCs” and it always seemed dismissive. In fairness the police officer was very professional and pointed up the hill. It is my mother’s passivity that made an impression on me.

The church was attacked many times during the Troubles.

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Lisburn was a “plantation town”, settled by people from Wales in the early 17th century. And later became a centre for the Linen industry. The Museum in the square commemorates the Linen connexion.

Yesterday I was in Dundalk and this week I am focussing on statues and memorials, in part because of the controversy around the General Robert E Lee statue at Charlottesville and other “confederate” statues in the United States.

There is a statue on either side of the Linen Museum.

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As a child, I was always impressed by the statue of Brigadier General John Nicholson, who was brought up in Lisburn. He was fatally wounded at the siege of Delhi in 1857 (the Indian Mutiny) and therefore a hero to the British. But closer examination and Nicholson was a particularly nasty piece of work.

He was an officer in the Indian Raj and had very unpleasant attitudes towards native Indians particularly at the time of the Indian Mutiny. He once arrived late for dinner at the officers mess, apologised for his lateness and said he had just hanged the cooks. Seemingly the cooks had intended poisoning the officers so he ordered them to taste the soup. The cooks refused so he fed the soup to a monkey who died. So the cooks were lynched.

Of course the citation on the monument makes no reference to this. I daresay the unionists in Lisburn would react badly if it was suggested the statue be taken down. But I wonder if the students at Dungannon Royal School in County Tyrone know this story. Nicholson was a schoolboy there and one of the “houses” in the school is named for him.

I note that another name has (recently?) been added to the monument, a corporal who won the Victoria Cross in the Crimean War.

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The second statue is much more modern. It commemorates the Ulster Defence Regiment, a legal militia which operated as part of the British Army during the Troubles. It was formed around 1970 as a replacement for the paramilitary police, the B Specials which was totally loyalist and sectarian.

It was hoped that the UDR would have cross-community support but as the Troubles escalated in the 1970s, Catholic members resigned, partly because of its unionist nature and partly because of intimidation from the IRA.

The consequence was that the UDR became a de-facto unionist force and most unionists would claim that the regiment was their own militia. There was an unhealthy relationship  between the legal UDR and illegal loyalist paramilitaries which led to the UDR being absorbed into the British Army in 1992. This was one of the first steps in the Peace Process.

So the statue in Lisburn is really unionists commemorating their “own regiment”. There was a two hundred year old history of the British and unionist government acting thru local militia. And it made perfect sense. Frankly, in the small towns and villages of “Northern Ireland”, the UDR had first rate intelligence on their Catholic/nationalist neighbours. They knew the families who were politically nationalist and those who were more militant. But the IRA also had pretty good intelligence on their Protestant/unionist neighbours.

To some extent, the Nicholson monument has outlived its usefulness. Tales of heroism on the North West Frontier of the British Raj might have inspired a sense of pride in the British Empire for a century. But the UDR monument is more significant…a sense of pride in something specifically unionist. Indeed most unionists feel that disbanding the UDR was an act of betrayal by the British.

The Peace Process and the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 provides for parity of esteem and recognises that there is “shared space” but unionists and indeed nationalist dominate areas so they do push that concept to the limit.

 

 

County Louth: Dundalk

 

Tuesday 15th August 2017. Heavy rain

Dundalk (population 40,000) is a large town, just 10 kilometres (6 miles) from the border with “Northern Ireland”. It lies on the main Belfast-Dublin rail line. So a short 60 kilometres (36 miles) from my starting point at Portadown in County Armagh.

I got a train around 1pm and via Newry arrived at Dundalk at about 1.45pm.

In some ways, Dundalk is defined as a “border town”. It sometimes appears that when the “Republic’s” economy is doing well, then there are a lot of cross-border shoppers. And when the “North” is doing well, shoppers go to Newry. A lot also depends on the strength or weakness of the Euro against Pound Sterling.

But of course the Troubles also defined Dundalk. IRA volunteers from South Down and South Armagh often launched operations from safe houses and farmhouses in the Dundalk area.

It seemed in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, that there were a lot of Northerners in Dundalk and they were either “on the run” or pretending to be “on the run”.

DundalkCourt Clinton The Courthouse dominates the Town Square along with 1798 Rebellion statue and a new (to me) statue commemorating the visit of USA President Bill Clinton. As monuments are much in the news in the past few days with Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis protesting the removal of  a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, I think that monuments are as much about the future as the past. It is a feature of so many towns in the Republic of Ireland that 1798 memorials were actually erected in 1898 for the centenary and to give a boost to the nationalist/republican sentiment which would manifest itself in 1916.

Across the road from these monuments is the constituency office of Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin leader who a few years ago de-camped from West Belfast. I note his office has a memorial to Martin McGuinness who died earlier this year and to “Sinn Féin” women from a century ago.

15028047715951502805107628 The women are Countess Markievicz, (third in command of the Irish Citizen Army, a leader of the Easter Rising in 1916), Dr Kathleen Lynn (also Citizen Army officer who took command at Dublin City Hall when Captain Seán Connolly was killed), Kathleen Clarke (widow of Thomas Clarke who signed the Proclamation and sister of Commandant Ned Daly …both were executed) and Grace Gifford, fiancé of Joseph Plunkett (a signatory of the Proclamation…she married him in the prison chapel hours before his execution.

In the Quay Street area, I spotted a memorial to a young man taken from his home and killed by British forces in 1921. Doubly poignant because just a few metres away wasa n identical monument to his brother.

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On a cheerier note, the nearby Castle Bar has a very amusing sign.

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Dundalk looks like a good base to explore more of County Louth.

Dundalk Train Station is named for Thomas J Clarke. there are fifteen stations in the Republic of Ireland, all named for the sixteen executed leaders of 1916. One station Pearse Station (Dublin) is named for the Pearse Brothers. Tom Clarke has no connexion with Dundalk but he was raised in Dungannon, County Tyrone and obviously there are no official monuments to the Rebels. I suppose Dundalk is the nearest station to Dungannon. As part of the 2016 Commemoration, these fifteen train stations have similar artwork.

1502815469815 Tom Clarke was the oldest signatory of the Proclamation . He was only 58 when he was shot by firing squad but he looks much older. He had spent fifteen years in British prisons in the late 19th century. He then moved to New York before returning to Ireland.

I think it is worth noting that these Rebels were in fact traitors to Britain. Rather like Robert E Lee, the Confederate general. But in the “Republic” at least, they are founding fathers of our nation. There is, I would argue no other comparison. The cause of Irish Freedom and the cause of the racist Confederacy cannot be reasonably compared.

And yet…it is only fair to say that Tom Clarke often talked about his life in New York in very racist terms.

 

 

 

County Wicklow: Enniskerry

Thursday 10th August 2017. Hot.

As the “Route 44 Enniskerry” bus passed southwards along O’Connell Street, I decided that this was my trip for the day. The bus passed by Pearse Street, Merrion and thru Ranelagh, Clonskeagh, Milltown and Dundrum, all in Greater Dublin but beyond Dundrum, it was a climb into the mountains thru the village of Stepaside and then into Enniskerry.

Enniskerry (population 2,000) is about 25 kilometres (15 miles) from Dublin. It is about 5 kilometres (3 miles) from Powerscourt House and Gardens, one of the top tourist destinations.

I first and last visited Powerscourt in the early 1970s. A few days after my visit, it was badly damaged in a fire (I didn’t start it…I have an alibi!). I had (still have?) little interest in “ascendency houses” …the big ruling Anglo-owned houses from the mid 18th century. It is not a history that I like but maybe I am mellowing and I cant choose the narratives that I like. At some point, when I am further along the way to Mellowness, I will re-visit Powerscourt.

For the record, it was built by Viscount Powerscourt in the middle part of the 18th century but built on a site of a castle built centuries before. The house has been owned by the Slazenger (sports goods company) and in fairness, it has been restored magnificently and it actually features as a location in several movies.

Enniskerry has been in its shadow for centuries. Attached to every big “ascendency” house is a quasi-feudal system of Anglican (Church of Ireland) vicars, tenant farmers, merchants and peasants.

Enniskerry retains some of that historical baggage. It would be grossly unfair of me to dismiss it as a “West Briton” oasis which backed the wrong side in the War of Independence. Having been defeated, they would have seen their future with the more moderate “pro-Treaty” Fine Gael and North Wicklow remains conservative and Fine Gael in 2017.

To make a grossly unfair comparison, there are people in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina who are not overly enthused about the United States of America but are making the best of it.

This comparison says more about me that it does about anyone in Enniskerry.

The challenge of my travels around Ireland has been confronting my self. Yes, some things about Ireland have stayed the same. Some things about Ireland have changed. But the real shock to the system has been how much I have changed/stayed the same.

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A better and more accurate way to think of Enniskerry is “reconciliation”. The coming together of two communities, Church of Ireland and Catholic is under-scored by a local centre for Reconciliation. In a way, it is the perfect place because the Protestant population is large enough to be an important demographic in the immediate area. And there is a history of reconciliation…German refugee orphans were settled thru here after the Second World War.

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And close by is a German War Cemetery…many of them sailors and airmen who were washed up or crash-landed into Ireland in two wars.

As you can see from the first postcard, there is not a lot a room in the “square”. This is where the bus from Dublin left me. There were two or three taxis to take taxis to Powerscourt but mostly the tourists I saw were coach parties.

Interestingly the Irish National Ski and Snowboard Association is based at a very large and very artificial slope on the Dublin side of Enniskerry. I had never really thought that some of my winter travel could be on cold and snowy days. is usually confined to high ground and is comparatively rare.

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As I was waiting for a return bus to Dublin, an elderly German couple approached and asked me about a bus to Bray, the seaside town I visited earlier in the summer. They had been to Powerscourt and the German war graves. At that point I decided that I should also go a different route so I got on board the bus to Bray.

I assumed the Enniskerry-Bray journey would be more than 15 kilometres (9 miles) but in fact it is only about 6 kilometres (3 miles). A surprise to find that this quiet spot is so close to a busy commuter and holiday town.

I think I was surprised that I liked Enniskerry as much as I did.

This summer, I have already been in some of the districts and suburbs (Ranelagh and Dundrum) but at some point, I need to take a closer look at the village of Stepaside.

In Bray, I connected to the DART train to go back to Dublin.

Dublin City: Clarehall

Thursday 3rd August 2017. Warm. Cloudy.

Outside Connolly Station, I have seen the “Route 27 Clarehall” bs go north along Amiens Street. The name did not mean anything to me.

It is 11 kilometres (7 miles) to Clarehall. As I suspected, it was just another shopping mall. Tesco is the anchor tenant.

The interesting thing was the journey…Amiens Street, North Strand, Marino, Artane, Northside Shopping Centre and Coolock.

On the return journey “Route 27 Jobstown”, I stopped off at Northside Shopping Centre for lunch.

At a future date, I would like to see more of Marino, Artane and Coolock.

Dublin City: North Strand

Thursday 3rd August 2017. Dry. Occasional drizzle.

Northerners who arrive by train in Dublin  at Connolly Station usually cross Amiens Street and walk up Talbot Street to O’Connell Street. Few will turn right and walk about 300 metres to where Amiens Street becomes North Strand Road.

North Strand Road itself continues over two bridges at the Royal Canal and the small River Tolka and towards the districts of Fairview and Marino,

Just 300 metres from Connolly Station is an important but largely forgotten piece of Irish history. On the night of 31st May 1941, thirty civilians were killed and several buildings destroyed when the German Lufwaffe bombed neutral Ireland during World War Two.

The most obvious explanation is that the Germans mistook Dublin for Belfast.

I have not seen this rather neglected garden before. The monument marks the 50th Anniversary of the Bombing.

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It does raise the question of Irish neutrality in the Second World War. And also the extent of that neutrality. Unlike the other English dominions, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and British colonies, there was no constitutional or emotional imperative for Ireland to go to war on behalf of the “mother country”, Britain. After all, it was less than twenty years since Ireland had fought the British to establish an independent nation.

To the British, Irish neutrality was a form of treachery and underscored by the Treaty provision that the British had to give up using Irish ports just a year before the Second World War broke out.

Ireland was of course neutral…but so of course was Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Belgium and the United States of America. Really those countries only became involved as British and French allies when they were attacked or had war declared on them by an Axis power.

Some good books have been written about Ireland during the “Emergency 1939-1945” but online message boards are not so academic. There is a lazy narrative.

The lazy narrative is that Ireland was pro-German but the evidence suggests that Ireland was neutral “on the Allied side” in much the same way that United States had been prior to Pearl Harbour. Simply put, Ireland would have resisted an invasion by any foreign power and of course the resistance would not have been prolonged. But certainly the Germans and Allies never tried to open up another front.

For the record, more citizens of the Republic of Ireland fought in the British Army in World War Two than loud-mouthed unionist flag wavers in “Northern Ireland”.

Belfast was of course a port and industrial complex which aided the British War Effort. But unlike any other part of the “United Kingdom”, there was no conscription in the North. Having been used as cannon fodder in the Great War, even the most patriotic unionist was in no hurry to be used the same way. Of course, Conscription would have been impossible in the North as it would have taken too much resources to round up unwilling Catholic-nationalists and quite a few Protestant-unionists.

The unionist narrative is that they were keeping an eye on the Catholic-nationalist minority within the Six Counties or working on vital war work or fire-watching from important factories in Belfast.

It is only partly true. Belfast was heavily bombed in early 1941. In a flagrant breach of neutrality, the Irish Government sent the Dublin Fire Service into the north. Countless lives were saved. And importantly, the Irish informed the Germans that any attack on “Northern Ireland” was an attack on the whole island.

The Germans heeded the warning. Now I am not suggesting that Nazi Germany feared the might of the Irish Army. But it wanted to keep Ireland neutral.

Of course Winston Churchill, who was a bastard anyway, never forgave the Irish. And he praised the debatable patriotism of “Northern Ireland”. And unionist politicians have traded on the myth since 1945.

It would have been politically impossible for any Irish Government to support Britain in 1939. There is an argument that a joint north-south war experience would have been beneficial in terms of Irish unity. And I think that the separate war experiences did copper-fasten Partition of North and South.

While I am glad that there is a monument, it seems an after-thought, almost an apology for a forgotten piece of History.

Beside the North Strand Memorial is a small apartment block named for Trade Union leader, Jim Larkin who coincidently died in 1941.

But as the demographic of Dublin changes, I wonder just how many residents have even heard of James Larkin. It is not just about new citizens from Poland, Nigeria, England and United States who have chosen Ireland as a home. It is as much about young Irish people.

Is there a Statute of Limitations on Memory? Can we bind future generations to the events that we find important.

Have we a shared History? Or shared Amnesia?

 

 

County Louth: Carlingford

Wednesday 2nd August 2017. Heavy rain.

Carlingford is about 8 kilometres (5 miles) east of Omeath on the Cooley Peninsula and has a population of around 1,000 people.

Again, this is one of the places my family has tended to go for day trips.

As the suffix “-ford” suggests, there is a Viking connexion going back to the 9th century. a sea-battle was fought between Dubhgall and Fionngall (Black foreigners and White foreigners) in Carlingford Lough. It is generally assumed that these were Danish and Norwegian groups.

Carlingford seems more upmarket than Omeath…seafood restaurants and antiques. But it is also a centre for adventure sports such as kayaking at the harbour  and orienteering and hill-walking in the Cooley Mountains.

It is picturesque. Dominated by (English) King John’s Castle. Named for him in , it is actually some decades older. In the 1990s, my wife and I used to shout “be careful!” to our two sons as they ran up the overgrown path to storm the castle. So it was amusing to hear one son and daughter-in-law shout the same warnings at their children in 2017.

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The village has buildings from the same period. The Gatehouse with prison cell, the Mint and Taaffes Townhouse (often referred to as a “castle”).

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The streets are narrow. One pub offers free “baby sitting” for any baby over 18 years old.

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The long abandoned railway station serves as a tourist information centre and has an exhibition on Thomas D’Arcy Magee who was born in the area. There is also a prominent monument unveiled in 1991 by Brian Mulroney when Prime Minister of Canada. An earlier plaque was presented by Canadian premier, John Diefenbaker in the 1960s.

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It seems that History might have been re-written. Magee was an Irish nationalist who fearing arrest for his politics fled to the United States. He then moved to Canada. He renounced his republican views and embraced British imperialism as a safeguard against the United States republicanism. As a consequence he was disowned by North American Fenians. He was shot dead by Patrick Whelan in Ottawa, Canada in 1868. Whelan was subsequently hanged.

So Magee is certainly a founding father of Canada. But the question has to be asked why his subsequent anti-republican views justifies a monument in Ireland.

While there is “written” and “re-written” History in Carlingford, there is also a nod to  “unwritten” History…the legend of Setanta and The Táin (the Ulster Cycle).

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Always a good place to visit.

 

 

County Louth: Omeath

Wednesday 2nd August 2017. Heavy Rain.

My older son qualified as a driver last year and has never driven in the Republic. We went into the Republic in a two-car “convoy”. My wife, self and granddaughter in one car and my son, His wife and two other children in the second car.

Omeath (population 600) in County Louth is just 5 kilometres (3 miles) across the border. There are of course no security or customs checks. In real terms, the border does not exist. How that will change when BREXIT becomes effective might well be a problem.

Carlingford14 County Louth, nicknamed the “Wee County” is the smallest in Ireland but has two well populated towns, Dundalk and Drogheda. Like all border counties, it is partly defined by the Border itself. A Border that no nationalist, north or south wanted, there is nevertheless a cottage industry of Smuggling. Whether it was previously cattle or sheep, border farmers often availed of subsidies in Ireland and the “United Kingdom”. Simply cattle and sheep don’t know that the fields they are being driven into are in the north or south. So subsidies and grants were often claimed twice on the same animal.

In 2017, there are more sophisticated forms of Smuggling…Fuel for example. Drivers in border areas will often fill tanks on the side of the border that happens to be most beneficial. And The Troubles certainly added to a specific “border mentality”. Arguably the Peace Process is under-pinned by British authorities turning a blind eye to scams such as money-laundering. After all, the North uses Sterling and the Republic uses the Euro.

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It was always like this. Across Carlingford Lough is Warrenpoint in County Down. As a child, over fifty years ago, I watched on a Sunday as seemingly old motor boats filled up with passengers, nearly all men to be taken to Omeath. The passengers landed at the (now) disused jetty. Why?

Well until the early 1980s, pubs were not allowed to open on Sundays in “Northern Ireland” and the unlikely seafarers satisfied their thirst in Omeath.

The Troubles in the North gave rise to northerners who worked in places like Newry, choosing to buy houses in Omeath and raise children away from the toxic north. As the border is now invisible, the commute is even easier now. Newry is about 10 minutes by car. There are also a lot of holiday homes in the area.

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Omeath is part of the Cooley Peninsula, somewhat isolated from the rest of County Louth. A road runs from the Newry border thru Omeath, Carlingford (and close to a small port, Greenore) and to Dundalk thru Lordship. The road encircles the Cooley Mountain. According to legend, this was the mountain on which the boy Setanta, later the Red Branch warrior Cuchulain played hurling. Each year, the Poc Fada (Long Hit) Competition is held. Hurlers from all over Ireland will gather on the mountain to commemorate Setanta.

On the outskirts of the village is Calvary, a garden administered by the Catholic Order of Rosminians. The feature here is the fourteen Stations of the Cross, a shrine to St Jude (patron of Lost Causes) and an oratory constructed in 2014. There is also a small burial plot for members of the Rosminian Order.

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It is a family tradition to stop at Calvary. It was one of my late mother’s favourite places.

We then drove the short 8 kilometres (5 miles) to Carlingford.