Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The End of the IRA

Today marks a remarkable turn in the history of a nation and a bit of a tweak to our family story as, in Northern Ireland, Ian Paisley and Martin McGinnis will jointly assume power in a shared government.

Those who had to live through the enmity between these two men and their followers know best what a remarkable thing this is, but those of us who only casually watched their conflict can also appreciate what a milepost has been reached. As Senator Ted Kennedy characterized it, this day proves that it is possible for enemies to put aside their guns and their bombs and find a way to live in peace.

All of my life, I watched from the distant wings as Northern Ireland continued the horrendous terrorism that was woven into the tapestry of my family history. As a small child I was aware that my mother's sentiments, and a bit of her money, were with the IRA. It didn't take much prodding to get her to share the story of her parents and how her father, Peter Bannon on their wedding day, June 3, 1911, so the romantic version goes, told her mother, Mary Francis Flatley, that there would be times when he would be off involved in things about which she was to ask no questions. She agreed to this demurely, and, of course, it was his involvement with the IRA that he was hiding. But it wasn't until the Rising of 1917 that he found out that all along she had been smuggling arms for the IRA; sometimes using their babies as blinds by hiding arms and ammunition in the pram. Mom was proud of her role as a smuggler; though little she knew of it at the time.

The Republic of Ireland grew out of that and many other efforts, and the stories I was told were all of titanic heroism and so ignored the horrors of the actual terrorism that achieved that lofty goal. They also included some remaining support for the fight in the northern half of the country, a fight that has gone on until this very day.

So I grew up thinking the IRA was cool, and not realizing until my late teens that a better description was cruel. Stan Rogers, the great Canadian songwriter, said it best with these lines from "The Cruel IRA":

"But all rights and all wrongs have long since blown away
For causes are ashes where children lie slain,
Yet the damned UDL and the cruel IRA
Will tomorrow go murdering again."

I never thought that in my lifetime these words would become obsolete, but it looks as though the Irish have found a way to eschew "arms to arms" and instead walk forward arm in arm. Surely there will be some fireworks in the future polemics of the two sides, but they will be cold ashes compared to the firebombs they used to throw. And so . . . take a moment today to be thankful that in that green little corner of the world those in power have had the depth of character to put down their arms and shake hands.

Such men surely have a great deal to teach the rest of us. Pray to your Gods that we will all listen and follow suit.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. – M. K. Gandhi

Individually we have little voice. Collectively we cannot be ignored. But in silence we surrender our power.

Yours in Peace - BR

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