Belfast Telegraph

Gail Walker: Why we should leave our history firmly in the past

It’s about time we drew a line under the cult of anniversaries related to the Troubles. Did we not have enough of it first time round?

This year is the 40th anniversary of 1969, and I’ve already had a bellyful of it. It’s not as if We Heart 1969.

Everyone else gets the moon landing and Woodstock.

We get men in flat caps chased down a road by soldiers who look like they’ve just stepped off the beaches at Normandy.

It’s just how 2006 was the 40th anniversary of 1966 and the Malvern Street murder.

And next year will be 40 years from... fill in your own atrocity.

It’s as if we just can’t get used to it all being over.

Or we’re playing out extra time on old griefs, still trying to win the points. Or we can’t believe it happened in the first place.

Whichever it is, it’s certainly true, when you look at the old photos and TV footage of rubble-strewn streets, burnt buildings, bodies half-covered with coats that we all come out of it looking grubby and barbaric.

Yes, remember the dead — it’s all we can do since nobody is in prison for killing them — but there’s a danger of making our Troubles into a kind of fetish, something we were addicted to and which we now — wrongly, I think — feel safe about revisiting endlessly, blow by savage blow.

Or at least those blows which show our divided community — whichever one we consider ourselves to belong to — in the best light, usually that of ‘victim’.

You see, our ‘communities’ like to portray themselves only as ‘victims’ in the plural; the perpetrators, on the the other hand — our ‘terrorists’, our ‘security forces’, our ‘loyalist death squads’, our ‘freedom fighters’, our ‘defenders’ — are the rogue elements we sometimes like to ‘understand’ and only rarely completely disown.

But it’s the ‘unionist community’, the ‘nationalist people’, ‘the Catholics’, |‘the Protestants’ who have violence done to them. Victimhood implicates us all, one way |or another.

As communities and people, though, we remain coyly distant from the detonators which destroyed the lives of ‘the other side’ and often of ‘our own’ |as well.

None of that is ‘our’ fault.

We live in a world of quote marks around the simplest of words. Why? Because this is a society still riven and violent.

Every single atrocity — whether the death of one person, (rarely granted the honour of a full-page spread) or the deaths of dozens — remains unfinished business.

Just interview the relatives of the dead. Talk to those who only knew them, or those whose |businesses were blown up or homes torched.

For them, it’s not over yet. And it won’t be for a very long time.

It’s still ‘live’. It’s still ‘the news’. It will be till they die.

While it’s rather quaint |that it can become a special |supplement like a ‘Back to School’ pull-out, there’s still too |much hurt, anger and violence bubbling under to pretend that it’s some kind of history lesson.

Especially when the way the history is presented is often itself inflammatory and selective in the extreme.

With the past, we just can’t help ourselves being bigots.

Protestants burnt out, Catholics burnt out. You know well where to read the version you want.

Personally, I don’t want to remember having to sit in the car when my mum went shopping so it wouldn’t be an ‘unattended vehicle’, being searched, TV warnings to keyholders about incendiary devices or being the first reporter on the scene.

Many others won’t want to recall more vicious interventions in what should have been a normal life.

And it should have been a normal life. Instead, it was brutal and fear-driven. It poisoned the name of ‘Ireland’ across the globe. It made heroes out of killers. Why? For an expense account at the Assembly?

Maybe that’s another argument. But there’s a hard-core still grumbling, plotting, intent on pursuing fantasies for which they wish the rest of us to pay with our lives.

When it’s 100 years since 1969 or 1966 or 1972, someone may be interested in the historical context and throw light on a curious time when (hard to believe now!) we all hated each other’s guts for no good reason.

Until then, though, I’d just leave it alone thanks.

Let’s see if we can even make it as an island to the hundredth anniversary of 1916 without the whole damn thing blowing up in our faces again.

That would be a feat we might want to read about.

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