Belfast Telegraph

Mickey Harte's humanity is an antidote to our cynical times

By Gail Walker

Sometimes you can get into a rut about what news is. In Northern Ireland, the culture for so many decades determined that 'news' was to do with the Troubles, sectarianism, violence - in a word, 'incidents'. After that, according to one's sectarian checklist, one could decide which incident deserved the most prominence.

There's still quite a bit of that that goes on among our chattering classes and, admittedly, in media coverage also. It's why a bozo with a spray-can can zoom to the top of the news bulletins here for abuse which wouldn't get airtime in Manchester or Dublin.

Similarly, a drunken brawl outside a pub will more than likely make it to the headlines if it can be characterised as sectarian. If not, it will be ignored as it would be anywhere else in the world.

In a way, we are all acclimatised to a certain way of thinking about things and falling into what's easiest and most familiar.

Nonetheless, the endless and often self-justified sectarianism, even of so-called progressive opinion in NI, is profoundly depressing and very noticeable to commentators from elsewhere in the world. Which is one of the reasons why the interview yesterday in this newspaper with Mickey Harte, the Tyrone GAA manager and father of Michaela McAreavey, who was cruelly murdered on honeymoon in Mauritius in January 2011, was so striking and memorable.

If events can be news, it is also true that their aftermath can be also - even when, as in the case of Mr Harte and his family, the aftermath is not sensational or sudden, in the way of shock and hurt, but persistent, humane and gentle. Everyone moves hastily through life, regardless of occupation or pastimes, and most of what happens to anyone is private, most of what makes for motive or trigger or inspiration. Likewise, it is rare that any of us get to see into the lives of others. We take everything for granted and at face value. Even public personalities can set barriers to how much we get to know. Maybe it's safer that way.

But occasionally, there are lives which, while perhaps wholly private to begin with, or public in a certain sphere, suddenly are opened up, laid bare, exposed. Many people here found their private lives exposed very much against their will by events of the Troubles, and it is appropriate at this point to acknowledge all those bereaved or injured by the Omagh bombing, the 17th anniversary of which occurred at the weekend.

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Mickey Harte was one of those whose sporting achievements gave him an iconic status in GAA circles and beyond; whose managerial, coaching and motivational skills had already passed into folklore even as he still actively made their presence felt on the field of play. He was already a public figure to be reckoned with, a man to be listened to, not only in sporting terms but also as he had come to represent something bigger, about his county and the ambitions of rural life and the values often found there - maybe the old verities of family, community, faith, neighbourliness.

The horrific tragedy of his daughter's death, with all pathos that accompanied it, which made it an international story, propelled this man into a zone no one would have wished for or predicted. The circumstances would have been hugely invasive and would have brought unanticipated attention to any family; for the Hartes, it brought intense and relentless scrutiny.

Mickey Harte's response, and, as he is quick to point out, that of his whole family, remains breathtaking in its positivity, its focus, its faith in the teeth of adversity.

What 'news' is, sometimes, is about how a life can be lived that contains both extreme satisfaction and acclaim and dramatic pain and sympathy. We know that there are silent dramas played out day and daily in people's lives; stories of hurt and recovery, or of suffering and decline, which the rest of us never get to see. Every now and then, it pays to revisit the lives of people who have, in some ways, lived out in front of our eyes the tragedies we dread in our own lives.

"I don't think that I have anything wonderful over anyone else. I just try to be who I am, and that being the case, if I think I can help somebody, I will try and do it," Mickey said. "I've been to places where I have got positive feedback from being with people and sharing experiences with them. There is nothing more rewarding in life than being able to give of yourself."

Among the many achievements for which he will be remembered, and the melancholy circumstances of Michaela's death, the Hartes will also be remembered by the many people whose lives they touched by a word or an attitude or by giving of their time. In some world, hopefully, that will always be newsworthy.

Belfast Telegraph


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