We’ve been fortunate enough to have been sheltered in the Republic of Ireland for the majority of these past months, where the worst exchanges are still legal protests and healthy political debate. We have not seen rubber bullets or armor piercing rounds fall on the few who can’t run fast enough. We have not seen homes and cars erupt in angry orange flames birthed by a rancorously thrown Molotov or felt the wet tearing of flesh as one is torn apart by the kinetic energy of shrapnel from a nail bomb. But that does not mean that when we drove up north on a Friday morning into the Republic’s closest neighbor that we were so far removed as to remain untouched by the deep fissures that run through the psyches of those who mind the Troubles. I came north thinking that I knew the hurt and pettiness of suffering and conflict, maybe not personally, but enough to condemn zealotry fracturing communities so entwined that they share fence-posts. In retrospect, I am galled by my own naivete, and no less so today than on the first day when Donal played “And There Were Roses,” and I found myself flustered and mildly ashamed that I would be so affected by an event that I can claim no significant relationship to. What right did I have to share in this grief, this intimately personal loss? And the only answer heard was a deafening silence; this was merely the first of many small wounds of remembrance I would inevitably carry home with me when I returned to the southern republic.
The process of coming to terms with the troubles is something I can only grab at through clumsy and horrific metaphor, but as I have experienced it, it was like having my heart dipped in hot tar. Each little detail pulls you a little deeper into searing agony, but you also feel an inevitable hardening of the heart as the black residue stiffens over the traumatized tissue below, and beyond that there is merely a sickening weight carried suffocatingly in the breast as you move numbly onward. I felt it when we listened to a man wax rhapsodic about a vision of an ideal Irish republic, one built on a lived history of discrimination as much as hot-blooded and frustrated idealism. I felt it when we heard his counterpart of Loyalist heritage admit he had been arrested for attempted murder without a hitch in his speech; he did not approach the event lightly but saw no point in hiding the reality of it either.
It was no easier in Derry where our tour guide could point to the few square feet of pavement where each of the victims of the 1972 Bloody Sunday Massacre died, or when we heard the head of the museum speak of his brother, one among the thirteen dead on that day, murdered because he followed his friends to a protest. To hear the bitter hurt in his words when he said his hope was for the shooter to stand trial, and I thought what a weak poultice it would be, even if it was the only justice to be had.
I hope you will forgive me for sharing my scars instead of excited and trembling footsteps crossing the Carrick-a-Rede bridge, or the quiet awe of the view from the top of one of Finn MacCool’s haystacks filling the mind with the world wonder of the Giant’s Causeway, but I found my story to tell you as a steward of betrayed hopes and bloodied banners; and it is my hope that you will find your past and future comedies all the dearer treasures for the remembering of these recounted tragedies.