The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Born Iron, Living Free

Make a hole with the gun perpendicular
To the name of this town in a desktop globe
Exit wound in a foreign nation
Showing the home of the one this was written for
Ana Ng - They Might Be Giants

Marc Kerr • 20 October 2004

As is the time-honoured tradition in short opinion pieces, it is best to either introduce yourself or provide some context with which to proceed. And as all is context in Northern Ireland, that might be best. Just so you can prejudge anything that is going to be said with your own flavourings. I am writing this from Not Northern Ireland. Which, actually, is the point of the piece.

For the second time in my life, I have left Northern Ireland for the mainland. (Oh, I know, using two provocative terms for two places in the second paragraph. For sake of argument, and me having to continually use long terms for the same places, I shall use Northern Ireland for where I was born, bred, and until very recently, lived. And I shall use mainland for mainland UK. If you were looking for some context about me, I guess those two things tell you all you need to know to dismiss everything else I have to say.)

But some more pre-history. The first time I left the place of my birth, it was to study (and consequently work) in England. Growing up in the 70s (not much of which I remember) and the 80s (which I do) was a depressing affair. Not that I had a depressing time, just that the whole place seemed so insular. Watching 'Scene Around Six' merely showed up the parochialness of the province when compared to what was going on in the rest of the world. While 'The Troubles' rarely intruded on me, it was like a low-level headache, always there, never going away (you know) and drenching you in the unremitting realisation that you were stuck. Though I saw a way out, and, like the good middleclass boy I was aiming to be, I took it.

Education. Not only that, English university education. Not for me the stay-at-home intelligensia, for that wouldn't change the situation, merely bring it more to the front. No, a clean break. Away. Go. Having the benefit of a Protestant grammar school (which is a misnomer, really, as the only sectarian and devisive schooling is the Catholic Maintained system. While the State schools would take anyone (and did), there would be no way of me ever attending the Christian Brothers.) And, duly, in 1990, I upped and left.

To say I was glad would be an understatement. The new freedom (coupled with the freedom that being away from home anywhere on your own brings) was exhilirating. Now the everyday realities of the sectarian divide where receeding to a memory. New life, new country, new me. And I didn't look back. It was ironic, probably, that the first person I met in England was another ex-pat Ulsterman. And he gave me one piece of advice, which I would readily pass on to anyone who has left Northern Ireland. Don't ever, ever go back As if you do, you will realise not only is it not too bad, but it is one of the best places to have a family and a good life. Prophetic words, which also happen to be true. As when I did come back, I didn't want to leave again. Of course, it might have been me maturing, settling down, turning really middleclass, but true the words were. By that time, I could ignore most of what was going on, tut-tutting at those involved in their own war, but I had better things to be doing, like providing for my family.

Which is all a rather long preamble, and more of a glimpse of my past than I really wanted to give. The point of it all being that again, fourteen years after I first did it, I have left again. And it is with the ex-pat eyeglasses on, I wish to expound further. One of my hates is the whole vocal ex-pat community. They shout, cajole, jeer and sneer, the whole time telling us whole live here (sorry, you who live there) what is wrong and how it should be fixed.

I used to think it great that the closest the American (Irish) republicans got to Ireland was Staten Island, that way they could say what they wanted without doing too much irritation. After all, as long as they stayed in their country, it had little to no bearing on me. I am sorry, claiming your great-great-great grandfather once kissed a girl whose second cousin once think she knew a guy from Youghal does not make you Irish. I mean, haven't you enough problems of your own over there, without bothering us? I know, come the revolution the wall already has my name under one of the 'reserved' signs. Still, best they stayed out of our lives. For years I believed that the world should leave us alone to sort out our own problems. (Which leads to the only funny line from the dire 'Heh, taigs, heh prods' that passes for all comedy in Northern Ireland, 'Give My Head Peace': "You know what I wish they would do? Gather them'ums all up, with all their guns, and drop them on an island to fight it out. Oh, hang on...") Those not here should butt out. However, now I am going to butt in, with the Irish Sea as a safe distance between you and me.

You know the main problem with Northern Ireland? (OK, not the main one, but a problem.) You don't listen to those with the benefit of distance. To reuse a phrase, the whole place is so very insular. The terrorists (now crimelords, I suppose) prey on their own, the politicians talk to their own, and the bitterness of the previous generation has seeped through to the current. From where I sit, you have everything you need. A small country, with everything in reach, spolit only by the people. Failing to talk to each other, failing to even recognise each other, failing to realise what you could have, just reinforces what the world thinks of you. When they do think of you. As don't kid yourself, some small local squabble that has been dragging on since prehistory is only a footnote to the rest of the world's lives. Why should so much time, effort and money be expended on a place you can drive the length of in a few hours, and whose population would make only a minor suburb of almost any American city? You lot have such a high opinion of yourselves. To quote the daytime prophets, Get over yourself, girlfriend!

While the mainland is more aware of us now (I don't have to wait until the assistant goes to get the manager to verify that I can spend my Ulster Bank notes, though those plastic fivers still get queried) they aren't quite as in awe of us. Aren't all our problems solved? Didn't the IRA decide to pretend it was doing us a favour by not shooting, maiming and bombing? (Of course, all brands of paramilitary have added to the expat community, though not generally seen as the best we could offer the world.) Viewed by ourselves, ours was the most important conflict in the world, our problems the biggest, our grievances the most valid. Newsflash, none of that is true. Just that we are some of the best self-aggrandizers in the world. Woe is us, for we are undone, for we are men of unclean lips. The cachet of being a child of The Troubles, of having seen things (and known things) no longer is worth anything. Holding court in the pubs telling stories of being woken (on the couch, with your girlfriend in you arms, at 3am) as another bomb goes off don't generate the same interest as when said bombs were still being placed. Or the threat of them being placed on the mainland existed. The world has moved on, terror has moved on, but Northern Ireland still clings to the past.

Turning on the radio when I am home is a depressing affair. And not in the unintentionally hilarious way that local radio is anywhere else in the world. It is a collection of throwbacks and ill-informed pundits, only ever commenting in a snide and colloquial way, pretending they have answers to the great and unanswerable, being smug with their lot as they are in thrall to The Truth, and by God they will make sure that you know that. For Northern Ireland is still home, and always will be, even though the longer I am away, the less it will seem so, and the more I will have moved on. Rest assured, Northern Ireland does not move on, and if it does, it is at a glacially slow pace. The healthcare system is at least twenty years behind the mainland in outlook and attitude, social perceptions even worse, as woe betide if you are female, unemployed, working class, or not part of The Old Boys Golf Club Network.

And that sense of the past is what makes us expats despair. You have it all, you are just to proud and pigheaded to realise it. (Oh, and bigoted, and explotative, too, if you still think beating and censorship is the best way to treat your community.) Attempting to control the media, to portray yourselves as the great downtrodden may work on those on the fringe of sympathy, but us who lived there, and know, just see you as shallow and wallowing in some perceived victim status, attempting to pull cheap political shots. Here are we, elsewhere, enjoying the best that 21st centruy society can offer, and when we look to the western edge of Europe, we see a backwater that isn't a utopian rural escape from the ratrace, but a stale and sordid twist of life.

The moral deceptitude that we see, when we even see it, for we have more pressing problems to deal with ourselves, turns us off further. We can't believe that is what we have left. Were we so blind when we lived there? So we smirk, knowing for sure how to solve the ills of Northern Ireland, how we could sort you all out, put the place to rights and make it a paradise where little fluffy rabbits open their eyes over green pastures every morning, a rainbow caressing the sky as the children of both communities skip and laugh together until sunset. You lot just don't get it, do you? We know what is good for you. (And us, too, which is why we say these things with certitude from anywhere but home.)





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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

21 October 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

Think Tanks, Reunions and Medals
George Young

Tribute to George
Bernadette McAliskey

Aspects of British Propaganda during the War of Independence
Mags Glennon

Born Iron, Living Free
Marc Kerr

Arise Ye Bored and Read Again
Anthony McIntyre

Blame Orange Order But Buck Stops with British Crown
Father Sean Mc Manus

Capt. Kelly Campaign Update
Fionbarra O'Dochartaigh

None of the Above
Fred A. Wilcox

Reflections On Swift Boats and Slow Wits
Peter Urban

Street Seen, Making the Invisible Visible
Press Release

Paying Our Condolences in Salem
Daphne Banai

The Israeli Invasion of North Gaza
Jennifer Loewenstein

15 October 2004

Intimidation Continues in Rathenraw
Anthony McIntyre

Mick Hall

Choosing the Green
Liam O Ruairc

Anti-Racism Network Rally
ARN Steering Committee

A Coversation with Gerry Adams
Paul de Rooij



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