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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Old Foes Discover New Ideas

David Adams • Irish Times, 7 January 2005

South Armagh is a beautiful part of the country - well, so far as I can tell anyway, never having actually set foot in the place.

The closest I have come, or ever been inclined to, has been to gaze out at it with bogus indifference from behind the window of a Dublin- or Belfast-bound train.

I say bogus, because on my infrequent travels through that locality I have been anything but indifferent to it.

Admittedly, though, things other than scenery have been on my mind.

Such as struggling to repress a wholly irrational, but nonetheless rather disconcerting, mental image of me hanging upside down in some isolated cowshed at the mercy of a local republican interrogation squad.

And, related to that, hoping that if any of my fellow passengers happen to notice my lips moving, they might just think I'm slightly deranged, and not realise that, in fact, I'm offering up a silent prayer along the lines of: "Please Lord, if this train breaks down, let it be anywhere but in south Armagh."

Unfair to demonise an entire community, I know, but rationality usually comes a poor second to imagination when travelling through hostile territory. And if recent history ever characterised a locale as seeming to be totally hostile to someone of my political and religious persuasions, then south Armagh fits the bill perfectly.

What I never could have imagined was that, courtesy of the peace process, I would become firm friends with someone from that area. But, much to my surprise and delight, that is exactly what has happened. Almost unnoticed, some thinking people in Northern Ireland have taken the opportunity provided by the peace process to break free from the suffocating, decades-long, imposition of narrow, communal constraints.

As a result, relationships are being built through rational discussion and exploration of differing ideas among people from all sorts of backgrounds who, in previous times, would never have met. What started as a friendly correspondence between me and a Keady man, Peter Makem, has evolved to the point where he and I now meet on a regular basis to drink copious amounts of coffee, generally chew the fat, and, in our own way, attempt to put the world to rights.

Peter, a writer, poet and amateur historian, has some interesting ideas. He is a republican (nothing strange or wrong in that), but not of the usual type, and certainly not of a type I would have associated with south Armagh.

He speaks and writes of what he calls, The Republic of the Intellect. In its most basic form, his thesis argues that if some future 32-county united Irish Republic is to be anything other than merely another indistinguishable economic and cultural appendage of the European Union or the United States, its people must strive to reclaim the inheritance and singular identity of the "golden age" when Ireland was last a real cultural and intellectual centre.

It is worth mentioning, that Peter doesn't define the "people of Ireland" in narrow religious, political or ethnic terms (he castigates those as phoney and self-destructive in the extreme) but simply as "the people who live here".

And, here's the rub for southerners, he is adamant that the centre for any such Irish national renaissance must be in Belfast and its political engine located at Stormont.

I don't go much distance along the road with Makem in his ideas (the notion of anything even approaching a totally autonomous nation surviving in today's world seems fanciful, to say the least) though on one point I am in complete agreement: like him, I am convinced that there is an enormous depth of talent in Northern Ireland that will only truly burst forth if, or when, the distracting and destructive dam wall of political and societal upheaval is banished.

Poetry is Peter Makem's first love and, philistine that I am, the field in which I am least equipped to judge his talent or the lack of it. Beyond the most obviously beautiful and descriptive examples, like Wilde's Reading Gaol, most poetry just leaves me cold.

So I am content to take the word of former deputy leader of the SDLP, Seamus Mallon, who is something of an accomplished wordsmith himself, who describes Makem's poetry as " something completely fresh, liberating and powerful " and " the equal of Heaney in beauty of language and power of construction".

Those of a poetic bent can judge for themselves by visiting his website at - the point, of course, is not whether Peter Makem's ideas are realistic or if his poetry is any good, but rather, that diverse groups of people in Northern Ireland are at last, of their own volition, beginning to interact with one another.

And doing so, more often than not, in defiance of local norms, and most certainly in stark contrast to the "ourselves alone" stance of their elected politicians. It will be a long time, if ever, before I feel comfortable enough to stop off for a pint in south Armagh but, for the time being at least, the cowsheds and prayers have been banished.

Reprinted with permission of the author.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

17 January 2005

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Fed Up With the Lies
Michael Benson

Dolours Price

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Strategically induced crises pay rich electoral dividends for Sinn Fein
Anthony McIntyre

Old Foes Discover New Ideas
David Adams

Celebrate 100 Years by Undoing Betrayals
Dr. John Coulter

Saor Eire
Bob Purdie

‘At No Costs to Prisons': Three Books on Beckett
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Criminalising Republicanism
Anthony McIntyre

Brian Mór

Leading Human Rights Solicitor "Shut Down" by Law Society
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A Little Known Republican Military Group: Saor Eire
Liam O Ruairc

Too Bad The North's Future Depends On Tony Blair's Bravery
Paul A. Fitzsimmons

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Iris Bar

Marie Wright
Anthony McIntyre



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