Wednesday, November 27, 2013

letting go

About a week ago, TO and I watched a movie she had recorded to share with me – she knows I love history, and that on St Patrick's day the whole world is green.

Some Mother's Son starred Helen Mirren and Fionnula Flanagan – mothers of two of the IRA members who went on a hunger strike in 1981. Bobby Sands was the prisoner who kick started the strike, and I well remember where I was when I heard he had finally died. [Sort of makes up for my JFK ignorance, I hope].

"The troubles" [i.e. civil rights movement] in Northern Ireland were ignited sometime around 1968, after which there was a resurgence of Make Ireland Irish sentiment. The IRA became busier, and a hell of a lot of bloodshed, murder, and destruction of families ensued. [Okay – orange as well as green: I can be impartial because Australian job ads baldly stating NO IRISH had just about disappeared by the time I left school.]

Unlike the civil rights movement in the USA, there simply wasn't the endlessly replayed footage of "great" moments to quite bring the Irish thing home to Australians. No heart stopping photos of a Vietnamese girl running down a road, her body on fire, nor of a lone man with a shopping bag bravely staring down a tank in Tiananmen Square.

At the time of the hunger strikes in Maze Prison, I was aware that the principal demand of the IRA prisoners was that they be given prisoner of war status; that they should not be branded criminals. Aside from what we arty-farties would call excellent direction, editing and script-writing, the film was interesting because it showed me a whole new angle – a new context – for the hunger strike story.

Spoiler Alert [just in case by some miniscule chance you have not seen this film but might in the future].

The film opened with footage of Margaret Thatcher's arrival at No 10 in 1979:

Quite frankly, despite my professed atheism, I happen to treasure the "Prayer of St Francis" and must now add blasphemy to my list of Thatcher's sins. [And being judgmental, yet again, to mine.]

After this opening, a few characters were introduced and fleshed out after which we went straight to the room where some pompous little pommy git was in charge of bringing the troubles to an end with a policy of "isolate, demoralise and criminalise".

The primary intention was to shut down the border between Northern and Free Ireland so the IRA couldn't keep moving freely backwards and forwards. "War" does not leave innocent people untouched, and wars like this one create martyrs and sow discord where once there might have been harmony.

Not only was it a well made film, it dredged up a whole lot emotion and memories; reminders of many of the incidents happening during the Thatcher years – including things happening to Britons.

A lot of people were happy when Thatcher died. Can't swear to it, but I think I was indifferent. When stuff ends, then that is the time to celebrate, and a lot of it ended when Thatcher left office.


What prompted this rambling journey into Irish history was a link posted by a friend on her facebook page to a world map showing thedistribution of redheads. 

As one does, I just kept following random links and bumped into stories about the British Army's Dirty War in Ireland.


As I have often said, I do believe that when people choose to immigrate to Australia they should leave their old wars behind. Nonetheless, I must concede that once somebody dies under unjust circumstances, they remain dead and the personal truths behind those deaths do not change.

Some years ago, we gave Indigenous Australians an opportunity to tell their stories, and were willing to acknowledge their truth. This is hardly compensation, but still a fairly significant way of recognising peoples' realities. It's also a necessary first step in helping people to let go and to move on.

After the fall of apartheid in South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission served a similar function.

We are now hearing some horrible truths emerge about child abuse cover-ups – primarily by the Catholic Church. The abuse happened, it happened around the world and it happened a long time ago, but what makes it important today is that the Australian Church is yet to be honest and open and stop using double-speak to avoid admitting they phucked up. They are still awfully reluctant to see people as people -as deserving some basic respect if for no other reason than they are people.

It would be nice if the Brits acknowledge a few truths as well.


  1. I should not have watched the clip. It has spoilt my day.

    I often wonder what happened to the lad who was staring down the tank.