Word Press Blogs

I have to say that I really like this platform…word press blog. I take it for granted. I am now on here in one incarnation or other for around ten years.

One good thing…it is FREE. It is literally Free Speech.

Of course it has different products, tailored to businesses and the “professional” blogger but as an elderly technophobe, I only get frightened by anything that would be an “upgrade”.

So “Keeping an Eye on the Czar of Russia” has never cost me anything. On the other side of the coin, I have never made any money from this Blog.

Sometimes when I look at this Blog, while travelling on the train or in a library, I am aware of adverts. Maybe this is an inconvenience for readers but it doesn’t bother me.

The reality is that I am retired old man. And I have no need to be a professional blogger. I have no interest in becoming an “internet influencer”. I have no interest in making a video on youtube and recommending hair gel (not that I need hair gel) and producing my own line of stylish Tshirts. Nor do I have any desire to get to know shock jocks like Nolan, Cawley and Carruthers so that they offer me a spot reviewing the morning newspapers.

So how exactly would I go about making (say) £20,000 per annum from this Blog. Well, I could get sponsored by “Werthers Originals”.

I could look into “Go Fund Me” but that seems a very irregular source of income…£5 here and £10 there from loyal and grateful readers seems problematic.

I would really need regular and substantial donations. But what individual could actually afford say £1,000 every year? Are there twenty people prepared to do that? I think not.

Maybe there are organisations or institutions who think that my Blog adds something to the public space in Norn Iron. That seems more likely. I cant see a cash-strapped political party like SDLP donating £1,000 to keep this broadly supportive blog going.

But there are some strangely effective organisations…and “influencers” out there. They like to fly under the radar. But would these letsgetalongerist and conflict resolutionists be prepared to give me some dosh? Although I try to be balanced, I have perhaps given the impression that letsgetalongerists and conflict resolutionists are a total waste of space. And to be fair…they are.

So what’s the point in a political party, an organisation or an individual contributing money to a Blog? Well of course, it might be that they are willing to support any contribution to the great “debate”. Possibly they would be willing to support a blogger who gives space or even support to their own views.

Or…maybe a case that the political party, organisation or individual who finances a blog…is calling the tune that the piper plays.

But frankly, this just compromises the blog owner. He/she is then forced into affording protection to his/her sponsors against the slings and arrows of those who do not share the sponsors views.

Who knows?

 

 

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The Decline & Fall of the American Empire

Americans always get irritated if it is suggested that United States of America is an Empire. Their self-image is of a nation opposed to imperialism but actually they just disapprove of others empires, British, French, Spanish, Russian.

I think they were actually imperialist from before the American Revolution.

They thought of themselves as British. They were settlers and/or colonisers but really only turned against the idea when it became clear to them that rather than being the colonisers, they were actually the colonised…they may not have been native Americans or slaves…but they were always going to a step below the British in the imperial pyramid.

The self image is of enlightened people…that is enlightened WHITE MEN …influenced by Thomas Paine, meeting in coffee shops in places like Boston and Philadelphia. But the reality is of plantation owners complaining of the injustice that the government and merchants in London were paying too little for the tobacco, harvested by their slaves in Virginia and the Carolinas.

The first rule of Empire is that it works to the advantage of the “centre”. Rome was the centre of an Empire. Likewise in the mid 18th century, Britain and France were Empires and not acting in the interests of their colonies.

Indeed during the French Indian Wars, American settlers were expansionist. The Americans in Pennsylvania and Virginia were casting an eye on the Ohio Country. They fought as militia alongside British regulars against the French and their Indian allies.

The peace between France and Britain was concluded in 1763 and the terms included the provision of no expansion into Ohio. Britain could not afford the resources to defend land that only benefited Americans.

So even before the American Revolution, the Americans were displaying a trait of Imperialism…expansion. And of course, Racism underpins Imperialism. The Americans were (in the south at least slave owners) and it is easier to acquire lands if the dispossessed (native American tribes) are deemed inferior.

Whether it is the British bringing civilisation (sic) to India, Africa or…Ireland or the Americans living out their manifest destiny across the Mexican and native territories, a firm belief in GOD and Christianity  validates imperialism.

Of course the Americans in the southern states practised slavery long after their erstwhile colonial masters the British ceased involvement in the slave trade.

Of course the 20th century approach to Empire is political. Conservatives may justify it in degrees. Some will be totally unapologetic. They wont apologise for being the beneficiaries of what is now called “white privelege”. At best there will be a recognition that “times have changed”.

The “liberal” response is naturally confused. They will condemn American history as producing an unbalanced society and while feeling guilty at their apparent privilege…a very recent discovery for many who are now in the position of condemning their own family history. A position that is so well known to the generation of Germans after the Second World War.

It would be wrong to think that American abuse of global war is merely a “right wing” thing. Arguably Kennedy, Johnson, Clinton and …yes…Obama have dropped too many bombs and had terrible allies.

Likewise…anti Americanism is not solely the preserve of European lefties who shouted slogans for Ho Chi Minh and against LBJ. Or march for Palestine and against Israel.

European conservatives are just as hostile to American imperialism, not least because after the Second World War, Britain and France saw the collapse of their own empires (at American insistence) while USA established its own.

Perhaps all Europeans were seduced into believing that American dominance was better than absolute totalitarianism as in USSR and China or that American domination guarantee world peace. More likely, there might have been a belief that USA was a naive but muscular and clumsy teenager on the world stage. Even more likely is the previously held belief that American power is “soft power”…it is Coca Cola, Elvis Presley and Facebook.

In 1945, USA was the “good guy”. In the Cold War, it became “the not so good guy”. Progressively, it has become the “bad guy” to being “the very bad guy” under Donald Trump.

To be frank, most Europeans equate USA with Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, PDR Korea, Turkey, Israel and Iran and post-Brexit Britain as malign actors on the world stage.

Americans pinning their hopes on Joe Biden to address their domestic issue of Race or to restore their international reputation will be disappointed.

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I Wish I Had Said That #4,217

There is no actual “culture war” is there? It is just a new way of describing disagreements between people who hate racism and discrimination and people who love it. Meanwhile “woke” has just replaced “politically correct” as the most pretentious way of saying “not a massive bigot”

James O’Brien, LBC Radio

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The Weaponisation Of Face Masks

One of the things that Europeans find so strange about United States of America is…gun culture. Lets face it, we all played at being Cowboys. But many Americans never grew out of it.

In fairness, many of us are jealous. If I was tempted to go and live in USA, I would probably buy a gun. Cos lets face it, I am as inadequate as any American redneck.

It is after all their “constitutional right” to bear arms.

The whole “open carry” thing seems dangerous. Why does anyone want to carry a gun other than to look cool?  Or to kill people? Or just be the kinda person that looks like he/she might want to kill somebody else.

Who in USA actually uses a gun?

Sadly,a lot of gun-owners murder their spouses and accidently shoot their children. Some kill themselves. Some “go postal” or go on a killing spree at a church, school or shopping mall.

But most just fire their weapons at gun ranges. Or …pose. Posing seems to be a very important part of gun culture.

So, as a general rule, gun owners are not killers. They just look like killers (its a constitutional right to look like a killer”. A person might get involved in a road rage incident or in an argument over the last box of Lucky Charms in Walmart. Whether, it is a constitutional right to own and carry a gun, the Law takes a dim view of actually shooting a gun.

Of course, it does take a sinister turn if the person carrying the gun is wearing a Tshirt with the Confederate flag with the words “kill all commies”. That would be a very bad time for me to go up to him and explain that I am actually a democratic socialist and wasn’t the last Confederate flag a white flag.

The chances of gun-toting Mr & Mrs Karen from Hicksville, Georgia actually shooting somebody they dont (politically or personally) like are very slim.

Carrying a gun in USA is actually just a very potent way to look totally impotent. Or a very impotent way to look potent.

Yet the same people who carry guns are not wearing masks to protect themselves and more importantly, innocent bystanders. A right wing fanatic in USA wont go on a shooting rampage. All he/she has to do is go on a sneezing rampage.

The man or woman openly carrying a gun is demonstrating NOT that they would use it. Rather they are demonstrating that they would like to use it. And they are indirectly posing the question “are you my enemy?” to everyone they meet.

The people refusing to wear masks are really displaying the same contempt and lack of empathy.

The great difference is that the gun-toting posers will kill fewer people than the people refusing to wear a mask during a pandemic.

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Another Storey

I give my second preference vote to Sinn Féin.

There are two reasons why people vote Sinn Féin. One is that they DON’T know Sinn Féin. One is that they DO Sinn Féin.

I know SF very well. I have been around even longer than they have.

At times (such as the election in the South in February) there seems a vague historic link between Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army. And at other times, such as the big funeral earlier this week, the connexion is much more obvious.

It is of course nuanced. Some people dress formally and walk. Some people dress uniformally and march.

Thats really the distinction between the “politicians” and “the politicians plus”.

It doesnt bother me. When I give my second preference vote to Sinn Féin, I know exactly what I am getting. They can’t bluff me.

Indeed I am sorry that CoronaVirus caused me to miss the funeral. I have heard the deceased speak on maybe three occasions, the most recent being an event in respect of the Easter Rising Centenary  organised by SF in south east Belfast.

Yet the funeral was an occasion and it was theatre and would have been nice to wander around Andytown, spotting the republican celebs.

People ……some people….are of course ” outraged”. But those people are always outraged.

Really there are two reasons for the usual suspects to express their outrage.

One is that almost daily, Michelle O’Neill is on TV News alongside Arlene Foster telling us to “stay safe, observe social distancin, save the NHS, ” and all that and then showing up at a funeral with quite a lot of other people. Ms O’Neill is convinced that she did nothing wrong.

Her political critics have a point. But they dont seem to get that the images and theatre of this week, emphasising the link between both aspects of the Republican family were much more important to Sinn Féin than the opinions of SFs critics.

The committed republicans and the committed anti-republicans are no surprise.

Much more important is the opinions of those who give Sinn Féin a “X”, a #1 ora #2 at election time. People from Falls Road, Downpatrick, Coalisland, Derry and Irvinestown.

Six weeks ago on the north coast my cousin (86) died. The funeral attended by close family only went straight from her home to the grave yard. A funeral Mass is still to be held. Within two days, my wife’s best friend died and with just 12 people in the church, we watched the Mass on our phones sitting in the car park.

It is unlikely that ALL of the people in attendance at this weeks funeral were as close to the deceased as I was to my cousin or that my wife was to her best friend.

The most de-humanising aspect of Lockdown has been that we cannot attend funerals in a way that our culture and sense of decency demands.

Michelle O’Neill, Martina Anderson and the rest do not owe an apology or explanation to Arlene Foster or any politician or journalist or blogger. It is the ordinary folks who are less forgiving.

Just four or five years ago, I attended an event at a Catholic church in West Belfast where a coterie of “ex prisoners” stood up to say that they were athiests and the Catholic Church (my cousin was the chaplain at Long Kesh) had done nothing for them. Those like me, who are familiar with hypocrisy (Sinn Féins most endearing feature) will be smiling at the notion that many of these same people were almost battering down the door of the church to get inside …to observe rigourous social distancing.

Are Sinn Féins critics in the Blogosphere so removed from reality that they dont know about or understand that the politicians and ex-paramilitaries are bound together in such a way that it makes the whole farce of the Assembly and Executive work.

I am completely indifferent to the Assembly and Executive. I was indifferent to the three years when we had neither an Assembly and Executive.  Others agitated that we actually needed it.

Whether we do or whether we dont, its time that SFs critics realised that if they actually want an Assembly or an Executive, this is the only one on offer.

 

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Offensive Statues

I think we all got a good laugh when that statue of English slaver, Edward Colston was taken off the pedestal and tossed into Bristol Docks. Likewise when Americans took down those Confederate memorials. And the Belgians took down the statue of “King” Leopold II.

And as the statue of Winston Churchill in London and Andrew Jackson in Washington DC are under threat, it becomes all the more interesting and amusing.

Colston was a 17th century slaver and the slave trade enriched the Bristol. And Colston used his ill-gotten wealth to be a benefactor to the city. And understandably, in their own terms, the city made a great big statue and named streets for him.

The only problem was that increasingly this statue was seen as a negative reflection of the history of Bristol and especially an insult to its non-white population. And last month during a Black Lives Matter, the statue was gone…….into the docks.

It was, we are told “an act of vandalism” . Others suggest it should have happened years ago.

The city fathers of Bristol had dithered for years.

The dithering of the Bristol councillors is a reminder of how Dublin’s Nelsons Pillar “blew to pieces by the ton, ton, ton” (as the song “Up Went Nelson” tells us) in 1966. On my first visit to Dublin (with Uncle Jackie) in 1961, I was on the viewing platform.

The great thing about Ireland is that we are not a people who tried to steal other peoples land. And post-independence, it is clear that great living monuments like say Kingstown, Queenstown and Maryborough were inappriopriate and became Dun Laoighre, Cobh and Portlaoise. Yet it is a mixed legacy as Bagenalstown, Kells and Navan never really took to their Gaelicised names.

Likewise Offaly is the post independent county that was previously Kings County. And Laois was previously Queens County. Viking  names Wicklow and Wexford never caught on. Maybe Time is a great healer. The Irish rarely hold historical grudges.

If Sackville Street became O’Connell Street and Kingsbridge Station became Heuston Station, there are other parts of Dublin that still suggest a British legacy. Not least the Royal Dublin Society. In many towns including Bray and Longford, there are British war memorials.

It seems a fairly reasonable compromise.

In the Republic of Ireland, the bad historical monuments that celebrate oppression can all be “British”. Luckily, from 1922 the monuments are all symbols of “enlightenment”…they are Irish.

Britain does not have the luxury of dating from enlightened times. Therefore British history includes unsavoury characters like Cecil Rhodes. Even the apologists for the man who plundered southern Africa can only offer that “he was a man of his times”. And British history includes Winston Churchill, who won World War Two (with the Americans, French and Russians) but he was an imperialist and a racist who hated the Irish, Africans, Indians and didnt even like the Welsh miners or the working class.

Churchill…Hero or Villain? It depends on whether you read the Daily Mail or the Guardian. This is the only thing I like about England…watching them tear each other apart over their imperialist legacy. Churchill…national saviour who was a bit of a racist before racism became unpopular. Churchill…yes well we cant really decide so we will agonise as liberals always do.

Apparently if and when Churchill is torn down by an angry mob, nobody will know about him. As there are no statues of Hitler, nobody would recognise him from archive footage or be aware of his evil as they would not be able to read books.

Of course there are statues to winners and no statues to losers.

But the southern states of United States of America have great big statues to Robert E Lee, Bedford Forrest and Jefferson Davis. Winners or losers?

Well that depends. In 1865, they were losers. After a few years of  Reconstruction, they were allowed to go their own sweet way. Circa 1900, as the Lost Cause and sons and daughters of Confederate veterans invented the whole gallant Lost Cause myth. So Lee. Forrest and Davis became winners again. And around 1968, they were re-classified as misguided.

Now in 2020, they are losers again.

The Confederates are now proclaimed as losers, rebels and treasonous.

Enniscorthy15

But where does this leave Irish monuments. The photo above was taken last year in Enniscorthy in County Wexford. It commemorates the 1798 Rebellion but rather like the Confederate monuments appeared almost a full century later. Other connexion to American Civil War is that these were erected by descendents of rebels and the history itself was re-imagined as a fight for “Hearth and Altar” as the Catholic priest directing the rebel fighter shows.

“Rebel” does not seem an insult that would annoy Irish people.

Or “Treason”. Or “Loser”.

The difference of course is Racism…the very cornerstone of the Southern Confederacy. But while the balance of terror and attrocity in 1798 was very much on the British side, it is conceivable that in the folk memory of Protestants in South East Ireland, these statues might be insensitive. We cannot deny that the murders at Wexford Bridge and Scullabogue did not happen.

Of course winning and losing is not really applicable in No Mans Land, Norn Iron where a 30 year war was fought to a standstill. Earlier this year I took this photograph in Carrickmore, County Tyrone. In the very heart of republican Tyrone and dedicated to republicans from the county, it is unlikely that it causes any real offence. But these monuments put down a marker for decades and maybe centuries to come.

Carrickmore2

Republican West Belfast and no doubt in other parts of Norn Iron has monuments erected to IRA or indeed loyalist paramilitaries.

Lisburn5

But there are official monuments such as General John Nicholson in Lisburn. In the Indian Raj, he suspected the Indian cooks were intent on poisoning the officers so he fed the meal to a monkey who died and the cooks were hanged. But I suspect the unionists of Lisburn would be mightily annoyed if he was toppled into the River Lagan.

Mitchel

The photograph above is of the John Mitchel statue in Newry, County Down. He endured twenty years of exile for his nationalist views. But part of that exile was in South Carolina where he was a staunch advocate for the Confederate cause. He was a racist. That statue is inappropriate.

Really in Norn Iron, we are not good with statues and memorials. The absurd spectacle of Paul Maskey MP (Sinn Féin, West Belfast) at a mural for murdered George Floyd says more about Maskey’s dedication to photo opportunities than any commitment to Justice.

There are statues that could be erected in West Belfast….to Nobel Peace Prize winners Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams. “Ready for your close up Mr Maskey!”. But of course it wont happen.

Likewise across the Peace Line, there is no memorial to innocent Catholics tortured to death in their romper rooms.

All of the people murdered in the Troubles are simply the wrong type of victims.

With the people who matter, only Lyra McKee really matters.

 

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No Unionists in An Seanad

I suppose other political bloggers might want to shed a few tears that there are no unionists appointed among the eleven new Senators appointed by An Taoiseach (and Varadkar and Ryan).

Is it a snub to unionists in general? Or to Ian Marshall, the “progressive” unionist who was appointed last time round and then lost his seat a few weeks ago?

At best only one nordie would have been nominated and while it is disappointing that nobody from the Six Counties was nominated, I am actually more concerned that no nationalist was appointed. Clearly with nominations from three Party Leaders looking after their own, the power of patronage was somewhat limited.

Sinn Féin lament (rightly) that no northerner was nominated but why they feel that Ian Marshall was hard done by is nonsense. Mr Marshall is quite properly a unionist. Sinn Féin are like me Irish nationalists.

£x-Senator Marshall was appointed to the Senate. Then lost his seat. Why should he be re-appointed and why should Sinn Féin care?

Seems odd. Sinn Féin quite properly stand for election at Westminster. Quite properly in their terms, they do not take those seats. Quite properly on their own terms SDLP take their seats.

But I would not expect Sinn Féin to accept a nomination to the British House of Lords. And for the record I am disgusted that Margaret Ritchie accepted a peerage (and relieved she had the decency to resign from SDLP).

People talk about Outreach. For some peculiar reason, unionists crave Outreach. But lets face it, it is pointless.

James and Elizabeth from the local evangelical mission hall are wonderful people. We get along great but they have given up on the outreach. Likewise I get on great with Sister Xxxxxxx who I met twice in Bangor before the Big Lockdown. I am unlikely to become a Mormon.

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A Tale of Two Telephone Calls

Phone Call #1

It was in the mid 1970s. I had been at an evening class in the College of Business Studies in Brunswick Street.  Following the other students leaving the building and walking along Queen Street to Castle Street was safe, even after 9pm. Safety in numbers.

And I got a black taxi up to my home in the Upper Springfield area.

It was maybe 9.45pm and my parents were very distressed.

They had received a phone call “we are the UDA in Springmartin. We have your son and we are torturing him now. Do you want to hear him scream?”

Well needless to say, it was not the UDA in Springmartin. And as our phone number was ex-directory, it is logical to assume that it was some folks who actually knew our number.

Just a very nasty prank.

Phone Call #2.

The summer of 1982. I was staying with Auntie Sheila and Uncle Charlie in the Beechmount area of West Belfast. It was almost midnight and my fiancée left me at the front door. Usually, we would sit in the car for a few minutes before I went in to the house.

On this night my uncle and aunt were waiting outside. They had a small bag containing their bank books and insurance stuff.

They were very distressed. They could hardly tell us what was going on. “Just drive …just drive”. And we drove up Falls Road and I am trying to find out what this was all about.

In between calling on help to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, it emerged that they had received a phone call “This is the IRA. We are coming to take over your house tonight. Get out now”.

I was trying to say “hold on, lets think this out”. I was thinking this cant be how IRA does things. Yes, they need safe houses for a meeting, Or to set up an ambush. Which is the least worst option  for an elderly (and in my uncles case…disabled) couple? Telling the RUC might bring retribution. Saying nothing could lead to someone losing his/her life. And possibly criminal charges for witholding information.

My future wife wanted to know where we would go. Driving past Whiterock Road, Milltown, Casement Park.

Most likely it was a hoax.

We drove to the RUC Station on Stewartstown Road. The policeman on the front desk was the type of cop we called a “Stephen” , the clean cut, presentable image.

After explaining the problem “Stephen” brought us into a large recreation room, snooker table, table tennis, fruit machines and he said he would pass the information on to the RUC at Springfield Road.

We were sitting there just waiting. And the kinda cop we called a “Trevor” came in and played on the snooker table, even though he was wearing body armour. “Trevor” kept staring at me, probably trying to remember if he had seen me before.

The thing about the “Trevor” type of RUC man is that they were always in their 40s and with or without bullet-proof protection always looked overweight. Their apologists might say that they were veterans of patrols on Falls Road, Ballymurphy, Andersonstown and had seen colleagues killed or maimed and getting daily abuse from the people that they would claim to protect.

But really the young Stephens might have believed that whole “serve and protect” rubbish. But the middle aged Trevors were more street savvy. They knew they were hated. And they did not care.

In fact they cared so little that Trevor at Woodburn RUC was enjoying the fact that they were needed.

After a while, Stephen came back to us and told us that a patrol had been sent out from Springfield Road and the “inspector” (sic) had climbed over the back yard wall and the house was secure. No problems.

And that was that.

Two phone calls. Hoaxes.

So what is the point of this story? Well…none. Well maybe the point is that the Troubles were not about the things that made headlines or made it into history books.

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Seanad Éireann

Now that a Platform for Government has been agreed between with Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party and a government will be formed with six ministries each going to FF and FG and three going to the GP……..I will cover the new government when it is actually formed, speculation should shift to the eleven nominations to Seanad Éireann.

Yes, it is Speculation but shure Speculation is great.

As it is a coalition …four of the new Senators will be from FF, four from FG, two from GP and one who could be seen as a “wild card”.

Senate nominations are something of a consolation prize. Some TDs who lost their seats in the General Election (February 2020) will get seats in An Seanad. Id expect Regina Doherty (FG) and Timmy Dooley (FF) to be nominated.

It is also seen as a reward for some up and coming Party members who almost made it to An Dáil.

The problem with a coalition is that there will be too many people chasing too few seats. A Taoiseach with a clear majority has the patronage to select eleven of his own people, with regard to the people who lost seats or narrowly failed to win a seat as well as trying for a geographical balance.

For Michéal Martin and Leo Varadkar will know that some of their senior members and party faithful in the country will be disappointed, even angry. Lobbying will have been intense.

For Eamonn Ryan selecting two people to represent the Green Party is a delicate balance. With 76% of his Party voting for the Programme for Government, he might feel it a good move to promote one of the 34% who were not enthusiastic. He might even take note that his own leadership is subject to a challenge and promote one of the folks who might vote against him.

And the “Wild Card”. Well northern unionist Ian Marshall, a previous nomination, lost his seat in the direct elections earlier this year, so might be saved by a nomination from Martin and Varadkar.

Will there be a northerner appointed? Maybe a northern Green. But it has become something of a tradition to appoint a northerner…Sam McAughtrey (socialist), Séamas Mallon (SDLP) and Bríd Rodgers (SDLP) have all been appointees to An Seanad. Possibly Mark Durkan (SDLP).

Possibly it will be someone from so-called Civic Society or one of our favourite LetsGetAlongerists.

Speculation is idle of course but Quintin Oliver, Trevor Ringland, Tina McKenzie or the latest Ecumenical voice.  There is no limit to the talent in “Civic Society”.

 

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Clonard Novena

Clonard is the Redemptorist monastery in West Belfast. It was effectively the spiritual home of West Belfast Catholics. It lies on the border line of St Peters and St Pauls and beside the Peace Line at Bombay Street.

My own connexion goes back well over 60 years. I recall a dark winter night. My baby sister was in the pram and I was standing on the axle and we were waiting outside with my mother.

Inside Clonard there was the Mens Confraternity singing the final hymn and then the doors opened and all those men came out. Lights from within. Incense from within…and the men putting on their hats and caps and lighting up their cigarettes.

Uncle Jackie wore a hat and smoked Players. My daddy wore a cap and smoked Gallahers Greens. Uncle Jackie walked with us to his house near the corner of Springfield Road and we walked down Grosvenor Road.

The Clonard Men. The Confraternity Men…many wearing their pioneer pins to signify that they were total abstainers, they were the Old Decency. They no longer exist. Gone with the Wind.

Clonard is NOT a parish. People dont get baptised there. They dont make their First Communion there. They dont get married there. They do not have funeral services there. If anything, there was a kinda resentment with the priests in St Peters (certainly) and St Pauls (probably) that their parish faithful went to Clonard for Sunday for SundayMass or even daily Mass. Not to mention Mens and Womens Confraternities. And Boys and Girls as well.

I think one of the happiest Sundays in my life was the Sunday after Easter in 1961. I was almost nine years old and I had just been confirmed in St Peters and I was now old enough to go with my daddy to the Confraternity Mens (monthly) Sunday Mass at 9am. Beautiful spring morning and getting the Sunday papers in a shop in Clonard Street and home (hungry from pre -Communion fasting) for breakfast.

I always thought that I would be a Clonard altar boy. But I went to a pre-sign up meeting and I did not like the atmosphere and became an altar boy in St Peters instead.

Clonard was different. In St Peters and St Pauls, the priests were nearly all from County Antrim and County Down. Clonard, the Redemptorist “Order” had priests from all over Ireland and they had monasteries in Dublin, Dundalk, Galway, Limerick and no doubt other places. And of course, they were missionary priests who could be posted world-wide and organised parish missions, spending two weeks every year at the request of priests in parishes all over Ireland.

And Clonard was different. Shrines to saints like St Gerard and St Maria Goretti (the teen sexually assaulted and murdered in Italy in the early part of the 20th century. And in my own class of 55 boys at primary school, nine were called “John” and seven were “Gerard” or “Gerald” and in the girls school a lot of “Geraldines” and “Gerardines”.

But my own history with Clonard is really a 1970s thing. We had moved from St Peters parish and the nearest Catholic church was a bus ride or black taxi ride away. And really I liked to travel just that bit further to Clonard.

It was of course now post-Vatican and the Redemptorists had fully embraced the modernity of it all. It had become “charismatic”, a far cry from their fire and brimstone era that many would have known in earlier times. In secular terms, they were noted for social justice and they had been fully behind the ordinary people of Clonard…the Kashmir Road, Bombay Street.

Even the Provos who came out of Clonard post 1969 were part of the Old Decency. Pioneer-pin wearing, Irish speaking, Mass-goers.

In 2020, it is hard to understand how much a young single man in the 1970s, needed Clonard. Simply we feared Death.We feared abduction, torture and (if we were lucky) a bullet in the head. We carried “the prayer to St Joseph” to protect us and we feared not being in a State of Grace when we died. So getting the bus/taxi to Clonard on a Saturday evening for Confession was entirely normal, as was going to Mass two or three times a week.

This week, Clonard is having its annual Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour…a nine day event that means a lot in Catholic West Belfast. Of course this year it is all online because of Corona Virus. And as with most years there will not just be the “Reds” who will be preaching. There will be ministers from other Christian faiths because for decades Clonard has been at the forefront of the Peace Process in Norn Iron. The iconic image of one of the Clonard priests, Fr Alec Reid ministering to the two British Army corporals beaten and fatally shot during a IRA funeral springs to mind as do the secret talks between John Hume (SDLP) and Gerry Adams of Whatever-He-Represented held in the sitting rooms at Clonard.

But while the big Clonard Novena is a nine day event in June, there was the Thursday night Novena. Devotees petitioning for health, wayward sons….Peace. Even when I went to live in Dungannon, I maintained a connexion to Clonard.

 

 

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