Coming from Ireland I grew up with ‘The Troubles’.
Well, I kind of did.
I grew up watching reports of the violence on TV, Haughey and Thatcher, the Birmingham 6 and the Guildford 4. I remember feeling a great injustice at how these innocent people suffered for so long. It was all on the TV, though I was about as far away in Ireland as you could get from ‘The North’, as we called it. I grew up on the windy, rugged south west coast. I felt very removed from the Troubles but I think part of me felt guilty about what was going on; I in my country idyll, with my cushy life, watching from afar.
I came to England one week before the Manchester bombing, in 1996. Interesting timing. When I moved to Manchester that September, I wasn’t treated other than with a very welcoming attitude, with the occasional “are you from Southern Ireland or Northern Ireland?” I had never heard of Southern Ireland before that, it used to make me chuckle. “I’m from Ireland”, I would reply. And this wasn’t because I had some lofty dream of a united Ireland. To me ‘Ireland’ and ‘The North’ were two very different places. In fact, I could say that I brought disdain towards The North with me to England. I’m not sure where that came from, whether it was the culture, the news, or just something I decided upon myself, but thinking or talking about The North was never an easy thing to do.
There was a barman in the local pub I used to go to in Oldham who used to call me ‘bombchucker’, but he was always just having the craic. Someone I used to work with at Rochdale Council when I was a groundskeeper said: “Top of the morning to ya”, EVERY morning for 3 years, and I was known to him and my coworkers as Paddy McGinty. It kind of felt like he didn’t really know what to make of me and he did it to make himself feel more at ease. I was an outsider to him and the others and I was fine with that. To be completely honest, after the first few times, it didn’t bother me. I remember getting caught up in it and feeling sorry for myself once or twice but I soon got over that. I just smiled and laughed along and it wasn’t a problem. People were still nice and friendly and I felt accepted. I learned, in those days that we are the same species and we can’t help but find similarities – it’s almost impossible not to.
We were of course raised with our own version of history and oppression and in Ireland, the long battle fought and civil war and bad political decisions and Paisley and Gerry Adams – all that, and the Troubles were a confusing crescendo to all those centuries of grief – a version of history I wanted to forget about. So when the peace treaty was signed I did forget about it all.
Recently, there was a FB post going around. It was a photo of some bombed out buildings in London in 1993. There was some writing over the photo which said “This is London in 1993 after an IRA truck bomb. We didn’t ban Irish people or Catholics, we understood it was just a small group of cunts”. It was posted in relation to some other current political events. A good friend of mine posted it and that’s how I came across it.
I ignored it at first but as it kept popping up in my news feed with more ‘likes’ every time, I started to get a bit annoyed, wondering who these people were who had such a short term view of history, thinking ‘how dare they?!’ and rattling off a whole number of reasons to be upset about it. So I wrote a comment, trying to stay calm and balanced, stating what I felt, without it (I thought) coming across as bitter or coming from an angry place.
I don’t think I did a very good job, because I whatever I wrote would have come across something like “how bloody dare you, don’t you know anything about what we went through? How could 600 years of oppression be reduced to a ‘small group of cunts'”. The more I thought about it the more wrong it felt.
But…I did have an inkling that there was no malice intended, and it was meant as a simple example, but the other voice kept coming back in with the hurt and the injustice. After a while my friend even felt that he had to apologise to me and I STILL kept on with the ‘you don’t understand’ mantra, blaring in my head. I tried desperately to be ‘friendly’ and understanding, but my hurt was calling the shots and I didn’t know how to stop it.
Then, something unexpected happened. Someone else piped up on the thread. She wrote about how she had felt the same emotional trigger I did when she saw the photo and talked about how old wounds can take a long time to heal and how it probably wasn’t meant to be taken like that. I suddenly stopped.
She, I knew was from Northern Ireland, and in that moment I felt a hand reach out to me. I immediately took that hand and it was like I had woken up from a weird dream; the kind of dream that feels uncomfortable when you’re in it and relieved when it’s over. Something powerful happened in that snippet of time, and with her support, I was able to gain immediate perspective. I imagined what she’d been through and how strong she was to step in, in that moment. I don’t think anyone else, from anywhere else could have made that happen at that particular time.
I felt my hurt in a way I never had before. I was surprised and puzzled, then accepted it as mine.
Today, I came to understand myself a bit better. I never was aware that I carried bitterness, guilt and hurt around with me as part of my identity, but there it was, just under the surface. Today, I remembered the Bombchucker and the Paddy McGinty and then the disdain, mistrust, bitterness and grief I took on whilst growing up. And when I saw it, I realised the depth to which those feelings ran and how they may influence decisions I make in my every day.
Now I see it, I can see how I hold myself back from trusting and respecting people, and all of this, only 10 days before I leave this country I have spent more than half my life in. It’s not every day I have that kind of realisation.
All it took was some friends to help me see it.
Time to let it go. Feel the grief and let it go…
Thank you England