Belfast Telegraph

Will hope and history finally rhyme in 2012?

By Lindy McDowell

One of the ways in which we have traditionally shielded ourselves from major disappointment in Northern Ireland has been by not getting too carried away in the first place.

History and experience have made us this way. The default setting of the Norn Iron native is cautious cynicism.

While our transatlantic cousins may be all "awesome!" and "wow!" we're a bit more "Aye, right ... "

And then along comes a year like 2012 ... Will it possibly - can it possibly - live up to promise? Touristically speaking, 2012 is the equivalent of a very good hair day for Northern Ireland.

Suddenly, inexplicably, everything has fallen into place. Not only that but for once everybody actually agrees it's looking good.

So instead of poking around looking for faults wouldn't the sensible thing be to get out there and make the most of it?

Part of me can understand why some commentators can't help rooting around for the potential pitfalls. As I say, experience and history here ...

But for once cynicism may be missing the public mood. Because for once the public mood seems to be one confident step ahead of the eternal realists.

There aren't many people here, for example, who didn't get that wee jolt of shared pride at the accomplishments of our hat-trick of golfing heroes last year. Ditto the MTV awards. All of that made us look good.

This year we've got the Titanic centenary - finally we're making something of our connection with that legend. And MTV will be back for that too - an endorsement in itself.

Then there's the Irish Open. And now the All-Ireland Fleadh which we are assured will rake in somewhere in the region of £40m for the local economy.

I don't know where they get these figures from (MTV was reckoned to be worth similar mega millions) but without wishing to sound churlish about major finance injection, it isn't just about the money.

It isn't just about the visitors either (very welcome as they all will be.) It's also about us. About a growing sense of joint pride in people and place. And - at risk of sounding a bit treacly - about a growing sense of neighbourliness.

For even aside from the tourist calendar there are other indicators for optimism.

Schools - both state and Catholic - where children of all denominations study side by side.

The DUP First Minister going along to a Gaelic game and looking as though he was enjoying himself.

The Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister "pondering" over whether he might meet the Queen when she comes here. (For "pondering" read testing the water with the Sinn Fein electorate to see if there's any big backlash to the very suggestion. Thus far, no.)

It would be overstating it to suggest that we're all finally about to walk off hand-in-hand together towards that sunset on the cover of The Agreement surrounded by Hope and other clichés of the over-used and naïve variety.

But 2012 is - and in the midst of a recession too - real evidence of some light at the end of our Troubles tunnel.

As ever though, there are still reasons why we shouldn't get too carried away with it all. Although it has become consensus not to talk too much about nasty things like paramilitaries and gang lords, they're still out there. There's not much evidence either of concerted effort on the part of our leaders to sort sectarianism.

Heart-warming as those scenes of mixed schooling are, most of us know there aren't too many opportunities for youthful intermingling in working class areas. Outside of interface engagement, that is.

One good year won't counterbalance decades of nightmare. But that's not actually good reason to act the oul cynic entirely over 2012.

It may deliver. It may not. But our entire community has joint investment in it.

If nothing else, reasons to be cheerful start there.

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