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.