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Citizenship. A New Civic Flag for Belfast. Nos 6. This poem relates to the pr…

Citizenship. A New Civic Flag for Belfast. Nos 6.

This poem relates to the previous article, Citizenship Nos 5.
The second year I went to the Gothenburg Irish Festival, 1998. I brought a collection of 14 poems entitled “Dam Bursting”.

I was there, primarily, to deliver an illustrated talk called “The Book of Yerdagh and My Da too.” (Image attached.)

This Irish Festival in Sweden was run by a friend of mine called Jonathan McCullough, a Presbyterian Bodhrán player, from Belfast, training to be a doctor with a great love of Irish music and culture, because, like me, he felt he was an “Irish-Man”.
This way of thinking is beyond politics, beyond street politics, beyond violence. Not out of reach of these things or better than them, but just far, far ahead in its positive approach to communicating with your neighbour, your countryman and your brother or sister.

(With apologies to any aggressive feminists . . .)

THE Bomb.

The BOMB.
Dark cluster of smoke.
The BOMB.
Unglamorous THUMP of sound.
The BOMB.
No Phoenix rises from these ashes.
Just ordinary , grey acrid smoke,
In its supermarket surroundings.

We round the corner.
And walk into the force of the BOMB.
My friends and I.
B. B. boys on their way to a church hall.
Just the utter waste of it all.
All because of the BOMB.

Lucky, this time.
Others not so lucky,
With another BOMB just down the road
On BLOODY FRIDAY
( the forgotten other side of the BLOODY SUNDAY coin )
Just part of the days twisted carnage,
At Cavehill Road shops, Belfast.

Undiscriminating in its harvest sweep.
Cutting here, slicing there.
Chopping up people’s hopes.
Divourcing those it meets
From their lives and their families.

The BOMB.
Mining politics with its rage.
The BOMB.
I wish you had no timer.
But there you rest in all of us
Sectarian VIRUS just waiting for the right
TRIGGER.

The BOMB within all of us.
The BOMB we refuse to recognise,
That we plant in others.
That we prime in innocent children.
They carry our hatred forward for us.
Do our dirty work for us,
When we are gone. They are our BOMB.

We set the timer in our children
Then scuttle away .

That BOMB of vile hatred, we pass
Like Pass the Parcel.
With fingers crossed and hoping
It won’t explode in our faces,
We infect our off spring
And set the trip switch.

The BOMB.

When you meet a BOMB
It leaps forward, rushing to meet you.
To shake your hand
And take your life.
Smiling in all its darkness,
It is a mirror of
Ourselves.
It is us . . .

The BOMB within us.
Reflecting all the hatred.
That hides away, back in the shadows.
Planted by whom?
Our parents, our grandparents?
Our teachers?
Our politicians?
Our religious leaders?
Our friends?
Was it you?

Who was it?
Who planted the BOMB ?

Written by,
STEPHEN HALL.
Copyright 8th May, 1997.

Dedicated to those actively working for PEACE in Northern Ireland.

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Citizenship. A New Civic Flag for Belfast 2013. Nos 5. If you were to fly ove…

Citizenship. A New Civic Flag for Belfast 2013. Nos 5.

If you were to fly over Belfast on a broomstick, on a sunny day like today, you might ask yourself “What’s their problem? Why is it that they don’t get on? Will there ever be peace?”

Difficult questions to answer. I suppose you would be tempted to wave your magic wand to make everything okay. For it would be easy to imagine that Belfast has been placed under some foul spell for hundreds of years. A divisive spell, that keeps us at each other’s throats regarding land ownership, denomination (not religion), marriage, politics, perceived culture, sport, policing, civil rights. The list goes on . . .

If there was an Olympic event for arguing we would have the most medals, and without drug enhancement either (who needs it?). If you don’t believe me I’ll give you a sample.

Over Belfast, hangs a spell upon the mind, inducing faulty, fractured thinking. A paranoid, neurotic, insecure, and deeply aggressive mental approach to life, working out from a position of raw hurt. Reflecting an incredibly poor sense of self esteem with the over-arching spirit and psyche of a vulnerable child. Capable of the highest achievements yet the lowest, vilest of crimes and tragedies in an area only the size of an English county.

That’s our culture, at its core, today. That’s some bag of pus, ready for bursting.The negative piece, deeply damaged from wars, inter-tribal strife, eviction, the loss of power and prestige, inter-family feuding, a taste for violence, combined with a lack of knowledge of how the people of Belfast, (never mind the rest of Northern Ireland), got here. It’s no wonder we have the problems we do in this city about flags, symbols and emblems.

I’m surprised we haven’t invented a sport like that. (Oh yes, we have. It’s football . . .)

Crossing the Ford.

Originally there was no Belfast, only a small crossing point with a modest fortified point guarding it, controlled by the Normans, who had come to Ireland in 1170, just over 100 years after they had arrived in England. (Remember that Britain, as we know it, did not exist then).

What is it that creates the need for a fort? The need, the desire, for safety, created by fear. Fear of attack and the need to control. Was that fear real? Oh yes, very real indeed, as the local Gaels did not want to be ruled by these Anglo Norman adventurers.

You’ll find that the word “adventurer” is often used in Irish and British history when referring to people who come, who kill, who take, who control and who eventually become the establishment, even though they have only just arrived. A complete bunch of outsiders. Opportunistic, manipulative, greedy, violent and ruthless. (But that’s how you “got on” in the past, and to a certain extent, how you get on today, as well).

Why do we call these “adventurers”, Anglo Normans when their first language was French ? (from Normandy with Viking origins). From 1066 and for 300 years afterwards, the official language at the court of King William, the Conquerer, was French, creating French sounding Saxon English which we still find in the sounds of Received Pronounciation, in the English language today. The sound of the upper classes. Still set apart by the sound and use of language. (Less than 3% of the British population were using this mode of speech by 1974). And yet that sound is so familiar to us. Etched into out conciousness. It is the voice of our “old masters”, from the past, set in the present. (“They haven’t gone away you know . . .”)

So the Aristocratic Class who still own huge sections of our national lands today, in Britain and Ireland (the Enclosure Act of 1792), came originally from Scandinavia, as Vikings, who adopted French ways, invaded England, lopping off the Saxon lords (who had in turn taken over the earlier Romano/Celtic way of life from the days of the Roman invasions) and then invaded Ireland (with the blessing of the only English Pope, Adrian the 4th, Nicholas Breakspear), adopting the Irish language and Irish ways. In fact they described themselves as “more Irish than the Irish” themselves, increasing their own use of the term “Irish” rather than the term “Gael”.

The Flying of Flags and the rights of the ordinary citizen.

But what has this history lesson got to do with the Flags issue in Belfast in 2013?

The two things are inter-related . . . The history of “Anglo” Norman opportunism and the Gaelic Order’s response to it, are as much part of the history of Ireland as they are the history of any East Belfast Flag Protestor. It impacts even now on their lives, yet they never see it, nor are they aware of it, or concerned about it.

“That was then and this is now.” They might say, and this response would be very common amongst people with this very specific view of “their” world. It’s also a very good way of just blocking out what you don’t want to hear, can’t cope with, or aren’t prepared to accept.

They might describe it as “ Tough Individualism”. I call it plain ignorant, avoidance and the further indication of the social deprivation from which springs old social/political value systems in crisis, leading to disorder and street violence.

The Fortress of the Mind in Everyday Life.

Virtually everyone creates a fort, a safe space, within their own mind. It is their world view. They have built this protected space, brick by brick, since birth. They don’t realize that it isn’t real. It’s only real for them in their head. Just as their sense of politics and their views on flags is. It’s only real to them and only in their world.

Drive anywhere beyond any of these small pockets of local influence and you won’t find any flags (all but a few) because the people living in the rest of Northern Ireland don’t have the same visible concern, nor are they being “told” to display flags. So the “washing of flags in public by the rain” upon lamp posts is not an accurate indication of local support. In fact this intense flag waving is very misleading indeed.

Forty Shades of Opinion.

Most people with a cause or a belief or an axe to grind, anywhere, usually feel that they are right, and that they have been wronged in some way, and quite possibly will demonstrate great anger about this. This is understandable.

They could be mild Unionists, they could be mild middle class Catholic Nationalists. They could be Hot Loyalists or violent Nationalists. These are some of the shades of political opinion to be found in Northern Ireland today. But, from “the inside, looking out” each opinion has validity and even seems credible to each citizen holding that particular view. (The view from within their own tower or fortress of the mind).

So to ignore a person’s viewpoint without consideration for them is to not treat them with the same level of thought that you would wish to be treated yourself.

If the Belfast Flag Protestor’s cause is genuine I can understand how I would feel some sympathy for them as a sad group of people who have, for many, become socially marginalized. However, if, within that scenario, if there is purely a cynical attempt to generate community funding for groups or individuals un-named, then the protests for me
would then be wrong, illegal, and with no validity.

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Citizenship. A New Civic Flag for Belfast 2013. Nos 4. When I was working on…

Citizenship. A New Civic Flag for Belfast 2013. Nos 4.

When I was working on a new civic flag my logic was this . .

1. I began with a dark blue background, for without the sea both Ireland, Britain and Scotland would have been disconnected in our deep past. The sea has always been the means by which these places communicated. At that time none of these land masses would have had their present names.

Scotland was known as Alba, the west coast of Britain was known as Albion with a language similar to Welsh and Ireland had more than one name. The name “Ire-land”, the land of Ériu, came from one of three goddesses called Banba, Fodhla and Ériu (just as Britannia is a mythical figure for Britain).

2. The next image I added was a white dove representing peace but also Saint Columba or Colmcille (the Dove), the historically rightful patron saint of Scotland, as it was Colmcille who brought Christianity to the Picts who eventually became the Scots. St. Andrew doesn’t really have a practical historical connection with Scotland, other than the ecclesiastical desire to have a prominent cathedral there.

St. Patrick brought Chistianity from Britain as a slave and Columba brought Christianity from Ireland to Pictland (Scotland), as an exile, initially sent to the island of Iona, as a punishment (once used by druids).

3. As the name Scotland comes from Ireland I placed a rising diagonal line from left to right as an echo of the Scottish saltire. The diagonal represents us, as a community, climbing this hill together. The dark blue background with the white dove represent the strong and very ancient Pictish/Scottish influences, including the Ulster Plantation as well as skills brought from Scotland, including ship building, expertise brought from places like Salt Coates.

The journeys of the two saints, one going east and the other west is an echo of all the people, from ancient times, moving back and forward across the Irish Sea.

Notice too that the sea mentioned is not called the Scottish sea as the term “Irish” meant both “Scottish and Irish” up until well into the 1700’s and the beginning of permanent political union between Scotland and England (1707).

The origins of the word “Scotland” originates in a Roman term, “Scotti” for Irish raiders, pirates and slave traders, working the west coast of Britain, towards the end of the Roman empire and its connection with Britain as a province.

From Dalriada in North Antrim, came “the Scotti” who settled in Argyle and Galloway, bringing with them, their language, Irish Gaelic, that became Scottish or Scots Gaelic, still spoken in the Highlands and islands of Scotland by many Presbyterians.

Eventually the Scotti moved their kingdom of Dalriada (which, at one time spanned the Irish Sea), completely across to Argyle and Galloway from where, at Dunad, they crowned their own early Scottish kings. By the middle of the 9th century, after only 350 years the Scotti became the most powerful force in the country bringing their name to Scotland.

4. I took the dove and copied it a number of times representing us as people and the historical reality of our mixed heritage in Ulster. Very few of us can put up our hands and say “I am totally English, totally Irish, totally Scottish, Welsh or anything else”, as these words are only a label to describe where our parents have lived before us. They are not an indicator of “race”, a term becoming very out of date.

5. I coloured the doves both green and blue representing the sea and the land but also the two political tradtions, both Unionist and Nationalist, Loyalist and Republican.

The green and the blue colours overlap to show our mixed backgrounds for most of us, as I said, are mongerels with a shared heritage, in many ways.

6. I recently added two small strips of colour at either side of the civic flag. The red represents the red in the union flag but also the red hand in the ancient flag of Ulster which is red and yellow. The yellow orange reflects the colour from the Irish tri-colour, the yellow of the sun to be found in ancient Christian Celtic High Crosses, and a colour commonly worn in pre-Christian Ireland and also the more recent Orange tradition (from 1795 onward).

7. All in all I was trying to create a flag that contained strength, that reflected our Christian and even Pre-Christian heritage, going back thousands of years. A flag which is inclusive, that recognizes our collective past, our failures, our suffering, our conflicts, but which also looks to new choices like a bird, taking flight with other birds. A new collective force for the future.

8. Ireland is one of the most recently populated island in all of Europe due to the last ice age. It lay covered with ice until only about 10,000 years ago. One thing we can be sure of is that anyone who describes themselves as Irish now, has ancestors who came to Ireland from somewhere else.

The Irish and the British are also from the one core gene pool. We are in the main all “islanders” from these islands, both Britain and Ireland, and that basic fact hasn’t changed for thousands of years. (If you don’t believe me go and check out this information yourself.)

What makes us different from each other is, the cultural baggage, the sense of religion, denomination, politics, educational experience, ethnic sense we all carry around in our heads like football supporters. But this is only like the wiring of a building, it isn’t the bricks and mortar, the foundations or the very fabric, yet it does have a big effect on how the building functions.

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The Peace Blanket Project 1996-1999. Here is a selection of images, taken during…

The Peace Blanket Project 1996-1999. Here is a selection of images, taken during the time I was involved with this work. Many other individuals and groups were involved too.


Citizenship. A New Civic Flag for Belfast 2013. Nos 3.
The Peace Blanket Project 1996-1999. Here is a selection of images, taken during the time I was involved with this work. Many other individuals and groups were involved too.

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Citizenship. A New Civic Flag for Belfast 2013. Nos 2. As a little boy, growi…

Citizenship. A New Civic Flag for Belfast 2013. Nos 2.

As a little boy, growing up in Belfast, I was unaware of the history of the city. Unaware of how Belfast had come into being. I was ignorant too (in the truest sense of the word) of my own family history. Of how I had come into being.

Would it have been better if I had never known who I was? Better to not understand the various colourful elements and experiences, which shaped my own history, my personality and outlook?

Surely not . . . ?

On the 24.8.2000 I presented my idea for a Belfast Civic Flag, (originally only in Blue, Green and White), to the Cultural Diversity Sub Committee of Belfast City Council.

The idea had grown out of my involvement with a personally motivated activity called “The Peace Blanket Project” 1996-1999. This was originally an art based idea for individual expression. Initially, it reached out to church based groups, then community groups and artists, both here and in other countries supportive of expressing a desire for peace.

Some of the venues were within churches community halls, Carrickfergus Castle, An Culturlann, West Belfast, The Waterfront Hall and Peace House, Lisburn Road, Belfast.

As we have just passed the anniversary of the Belfast Peace Agreement, it seems to me, incredibly sad that so little has been achieved with regard to symbols and emblems by our city council from 2000 to 2013. Thirteen years of not coming up with anything effective that reflects the positive change in our city. No emerging new symbol of change, of peace and of progress.

Of course, I am not aware of the work that our council have done, in detail, nor the money spent, or the results. But it seems to me that, while they have probably promoted cross community dialogue and stimulated “community relations” in a broad sense, when it comes to the contentious issue of flags our city councillors are still unable to move forward or come up with anything new for one particular reason . . .

Violence, the threat of violence and intimidation.

If there was no fear of “The Bogey Man” we could all lead a normal life. In fact without this one element would we have had The Troubles? Violence and the threat of violence has often, perhaps always, been the means by which you “got things done” in the past, as far back as the Normans and our noble Gaelic Chieftains. Familiar to Vikings and Reivers alike. Violence has always been the main form of non-political currency in Ireland and Britain, and beyond. It’s part of being human.

If you don’t like someone you “go punch their lights out”, at least, that’s what some people think.

This early social and martial template is familiar the world over, as seen in “The Seven Samurai” or “The Magnificent Seven”.

So it is easy to understand why Belfast, as a city, has symbols, but nothing that we can all say is ours. In order to agree on something we need to feel that we can express our democratically held opinions without experiencing violence, the threat of violence or intimidation.

Until this changes Belfast City Council will continue to effectively do nothing. “Same old, same old”. To only tick boxes and, in some senses, waste money.

Sadly the Cultural Diversity Sub Committee didn’t really respond to my idea for a new civic flag in 2000 (as logical as it seemed to me) and the issue has never, in a public sense, been debated, scrutinized or worked through effectively with the public having a say, voicing their opinion or actually being asked.

So how do we address the thought of something new?

(I’ll apologise now for any spelling mistakes, errors in grammar and for having an informed opinion . . .).

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A New Civic Flag for Belfast 2013. Nos 1.

A New Civic Flag for Belfast 2013. Nos 1.

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Linenhall Library Spring Gig Update. Thursday 21.3.13. Randall Stephen Hall and…

Linenhall Library Spring Gig Update. Thursday 21.3.13. Randall Stephen Hall and the Moon Shed. Tickets available at https://www.linenhall.com/shop/t/categories/events
Better to buy tickets than to buy linen

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The Wee Wee Man makes American travellers smile on their journey through County…

The Wee Wee Man makes American travellers smile on their journey through County Antrim. Taken from an email 19.9.12

“My husband and I recently returned from a road trip through Ireland and Northern Ireland. On the way north, headed for the Causeway Coastal Route, we stopped off at the Northern Ireland Tourism Office in Larne. They had CD’s for sale and I was looking for some storytelling to play as we drove along in our wee, wee rental car. The woman on duty recommended “The Wee Wee Man”. I was immediately sold, charmed by the cover illustrations and because I have a Scots Irish family background – my McCormick ancestors emigrated to Pennsylvania from the Dunmakelter townland.

Well, that was two weeks ago and we are still humming and singing the title song. We are due to be grandparents in February and I am certain we will be bouncing the baby on our knees and singing that song. So I would really appreciate it if you could send me a copy of the lyrics. We might as well get it right! In the meantime, we’ll be working on our Ulster accents.

We really enjoyed our visit to the Antrim Coast. We had perfect weather for taking all the scenic detours and visiting the Giant’s Causeway the first week of September. Your song will always remind us of our trip, so I just had to let you know how much we appreciated your work.”

Regards,
Diane McCormick French
Colorado Springs, CO USA

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The Giant’s Causeway 2013. Indigenous Voice. By Randall Stephen Hall www.rand…

The Giant’s Causeway 2013.
Indigenous Voice.
By Randall Stephen Hall
www.randallstephenhall.com

What is it that makes the Giant’s Causeway so special?

Is it just the hexagonal rocks, the look of the place or the cultural associations?
If it was just a pile of old rocks with no story to explain how they got there, would people still come? Would they come to visit “The Pile of Old Rocks” in Northern Ireland?

Like all special places around the world it is probably the mixture of place, culture, the legend and the mystery that attracts the visitor. The Giant’s Causeway is a deeply mysterious place, not just a tourist destination. That is probably why people continue to come in their thousands, from all over the world. Surely they need to connect with that ancient voice of the place when they get there, not just carrot cake and a cup of coffee?

They want to hear the story, see the giant and feel that they are engaging with more than just second hand English culture on a Northern Irish headland. Do you catch my drift? For at present there is little to indicate anything Irish, Scottish or local, in this case, as sophisticated as it all seems on the surface.

The main thing missing, almost completely, be it Irish or Scottish, is our “local cultural voice”. Where has that gone? Is it fenced off somewhere like unruly livestock? Oh my goodness! Did someone mislay it somewhere or is the National Trust just one eyed, like Balor?

The local language of a place is significant too so the Giant’s Causeway is extraordinary as it is a hub for no less than four languages which all have an association with the site. English, Irish, Ulster Scots and Scots Gaelic all have a rightful place at the Causeway but sadly only English is currently utilized within the interpretation on site, or as digital audio guides for the roving visitor.

Even though European languages are used to help the tourist it seems bizarre, yet not unsurprising, that our local languages are left beyond the margins by the National Trust in 2013. It doesn’t seem very forward thinking, considering all that has gone on in Northern Ireland since 1969. A local policy only forty four years out of date.

Are our local languages worth celebrating by the National Trust at the Giant’s Causeway? Is the Trust not duty bound to do this as part of the Peace Agreement? It’s as if our local languages don’t exist in this part of North Antrim. Is there some local hold over what goes on at the Causeway or is this general National Trust policy throughout Britain?

Not so, for the National Trust supports and highlights Scots Gaelic culture in Scotland and Welsh culture in Wales. So what’s going on with regard to the Causeway? (Or what isn’t going on at present?)

I work as a local illustrator, writer, storyteller and musician. I have produced a number of books and a multilingual DVD, in English, Irish, Ulster Scots and Scots Gaelic which collectively promotes the story of the Giant’s Causeway and its diverse cultural connections. This work began as far back as 1995 and has been clearly evident to the National Trust since 2005. In fact they sell one of my books.

Yet, as an organisation, they have chosen to disregard this opportunity to engage with an inclusive approach to our rich heritage, and plough on, regardless, as if we are living in the 1950’s when the Irish language and Ulster Scots were regarded as backward and quaint.

I think it’s about time that the National Trust realized that both these languages, and Scots Gaelic, need to be heard on site to fully acquaint the visitor and the local with a broader view of our complete heritage rather than just the English slice of the carrot cake.

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No Irish, Ulster Scots or Scots Gaelic spoken at the Giant's Causeway. To celebr…

No Irish, Ulster Scots or Scots Gaelic spoken at the Giant’s Causeway. To celebrate the local sound, the local voice, the way we speak and the rich linguistic texture we use here, can only be a good thing. So why is this not happening at the Giant’s Causeway in 2013? Is the National Trust somehow out of step with current developments within a potential “inclusive culture” attempting to rid itself of needless divisions?