P.S. In the early 1970s as a young Dubliner, one was aware of but largely unaffected by ‘The Troubles’ experienced in full measure by its sister capital, Belfast in Northern Ireland, a little over 100 miles away. Yes, there had been politically-motivated incidents in Dublin previously resulting in a number of deaths but living in the South one had been largely shielded from the worst of the social and terrorist violence of the North.
The shocking events of 17 May 1974, however, changed all that. It was a terrifying experience for our family as by a strange coincidence, my (late) father who was Research Librarian in the University was attending a lecture on the TCD campus very close by in the Moyne Institute (of Medicine).
You will recall from my above article that after the sound of the explosion I had grabbed my camera and headed towards a side gate in the perimeter wall of Trinity that was open. As I ran towards it I was shocked to see my father standing there motionless with a grim expression on his face. As chaos reigned just yards away on South Leinster Street, I recall us having a surreal conversation as he told me that several of those attending the lecture he had been present at near to where the bomb had detonated had been blown out of their seats injuring a number plus some others had been badly cut by flying glass. Fortunately, my father was unhurt. People passed between us at this narrow gateway hurrying to and fro as we both surveyed this scene of destruction. I remember my father saying: “It’s like Belfast now. The North has come south”. He then warned me that there might be another unexploded device waiting to go off nearby but with the bravado of youth I ignored his plea of commonsense. The next thing I remember was being on the street, camera in hand, surrounded by the carnage caused by a bomb (hidden in the boot of a car) that had exploded without warning a short distance away. It was blown to smithereens. Later, we learnt that this obliterated vehicle had been hijacked in the North earlier the same day. As I write these words, I find myself reliving these awful events in surreal shades of grainy grey and black where the sounds, the smells and the fear are palpable all over again.
But I’ll come back to the premise that triggered this addition to my ‘blog’: why did I write this? How long do you have? But the shorter response would be that growing up as I did in Dublin in the 1970s, one’s life was punctuated by the regular news bulletins of events in Northern Ireland as there was a near daily toll of brutality, shootings, arrests and, of course, bombings brought about to my young mind at the time by political intransigence borne of centuries of tribalism and well-nursed hatreds of the past. It seemed as if this vortex of violence in the North, the dreaded ‘Troubles’ would never end and now Dublin was being sucked into this destructive whirlwind.
Fast forward to April 1998 and the Good Friday Agreement. This was a landmark moment in Northern Irish Affairs which enabled the two opposing blocs of the North to live more peaceably together. And over the ensuing 13 years, the political landscape of Northern Ireland has evolved to what it is today thanks to what was done by so many ready to work hard to overturn the bloody construct of the recent past that had taken on a semblance of brutish normality. Life in the North has been transformed for the better where the dark days of the 1970s were being consigned to history.
This actually has been a painful odyssey of healing over many years. Painful in two ways. First, on a personal level, I have revisited some very upsetting memories of nearly 40 years ago in attempting to discuss this subject and issues arising in a constructive, reflective and open manner. Also, I am sure there are many others who have experienced far worse during ‘The Troubles’. And secondly, it has been a very painful journey at another level in that it has been a long-standing saga of woe over centuries literally when Anglo-Irish relations has been the subject of conversation. The Queen’s successful sojourn in Ireland in 2011 has ‘moved mountains’ in enabling this process of healing between our two nations to come to a successful and happy ending. From what I can gather, Ireland has been ‘wowed’ by her visit. It has also been a very emotional experience for many Irish people as my sister (resident just outside Dublin) avers and it has meant a great deal to Ireland.
If I may hazard an opinion here, it is the finely-focused and personal perception of the intertwined history of our two islands – rather than an objective interpretation of how events have unfolded – as this is what often prompts our reactions to these thorny issues, myself included. It’s almost as if I were admitting that there are different ‘histories’ at play here, such as, ‘personal history’ and then ‘academic history’ at one remove. But I digress.
Nevertheless, there is a pivotal point that enables us as human beings to draw on this valuable reservoir of knowledge that we carry about in our heads all the time throughout our lives and then to utilise it in a positive and uplifting manner to triumph over the hatreds and the poisons of the past within the context of Anglo-Irish relations and to propel us with zest into a future that is collaborative and harmonious. Long live our two islands, Hibernia and Britannia.