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Sir James Galway living in time-warp and he needs history lesson

By Nelson McCausland

James Galway is an extremely talented musician. Unfortunately, his understanding of the history of Ireland and of life in Northern Ireland are not of the same high standard.

In a recent interview on Radio Ulster he said: "Would you not think that, 800 years ago, what the British did (in Ireland) was immoral and is still immoral?"

This appears to be a reference to the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in the 12th century and, of course, those invaders were the same Anglo-Normans who had already come from France and invaded England in 1066.

He also forgot to mention that the Anglo-Normans came from England to Ireland with the endorsement of the Pope.

Yes, those nasty Brits, or rather nasty Anglo-Normans, were backed by Pope Adrian IV, who issued a papal bull giving King Henry II permission to conquer Ireland as a means of bringing the Church in Ireland into line with Rome.

Yes, the real history of Ireland is rather more complex than the James Galway version.

Moreover, bad history and the abuse of history can have bad consequences and there is a strand within the Irish republican narrative that looks to the version of Irish history that Galway espoused in his interview in order to justify its use of violence.

It was, therefore, interesting to see some very bitter republicans quoting Galway on social media in support of their political stance.

He also blamed "politicians and Presbyterians who made the school system separate", with no mention of the role of the Roman Catholic Church.

We know that James Galway is a keen supporter of integrated education and he is, in fact, a patron of the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education, but I sincerely hope that integrated schools are not teaching the James Galway version of Irish history.

His comment on "separate education systems" was as bizarre as his version of Irish history and earned him a firm and well-deserved rebuke from the Presbyterian Church.

In language that was reminiscent of the "Brits out" rhetoric of Irish republicanism, Galway described Northern Ireland as the "British-occupied part of Ireland".

That may well be the sort of language you still hear in the Felons' Club, or at the Ardoyne Fleadh, but nowadays Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness are shaking hands and drinking tea with the royal family. It seems that James Galway is living in a time-warp.

The interview with James Galway came as he visited Belfast to perform at a BBC Music Day concert. That was on Friday evening, but the day was overshadowed by his interview with Stephen Nolan in the morning.

It is very regrettable that he has tarnished his image with these comments and also regrettable that he has detracted from what should have been an enjoyable and uncontroversial occasion.

Later in the day the BBC returned to the subject on Evening Extra and one of its contributors was the journalist Susan McKay, who was born into a Protestant home in Londonderry. I found that an odd choice of commentator.

In her younger days she was a member of the Belfast Rape Crisis Collective and, as such, she wrote an article on Rape - A Woman's Issue, which was published in the Sinn Fein newspaper Republican News on October 11, 1984.

In the final paragraph she wrote: "The rape of Mother Ireland by John Bull provides a powerful metaphor for the national struggle."

As regards this "national struggle", the same issue of Republican News reported the brutal murder of an ex-UDR soldier in Cookstown by the Provisional IRA.

As a public service broadcaster, the BBC should really be more circumspect and careful in its choice of commentators, analysts and historians.

The earlier interview with James Galway had detracted from what should have been a good day for Northern Ireland and the choice of Susan McKay simply added insult to injury.

Nelson McCausland MLA is chair of the Assembly's culture, arts and leisure committee.

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