Seamus Mallon was a leading nationalist politician for over thirty years. But perhaps the most singular aspect of his career was his very deliberate and visible solidarity with his Protestant neighbours during the worst of times. Now, as an old man, he hopes he may have helped plant trees in whose shadow others will sit.
For decades, Northern Ireland politics meant little more than the struggle between Protestants and Catholics, unionists and nationalists. Since the guns have gone silent it has become clear that a new transformation is taking place, and it’s not the one the paramilitaries fought and killed for.
He was the most important Irish intellectual of the twentieth century, though he got many things wrong, some of them in the pursuit of consistency. Or he was a renegade who went back on every progressive view he had championed in his earlier life. Two views of Conor Cruise O’Brien heard at a recent debate.
A historian specialising in political violence argues that understanding terrorism requires empathetic analysis. But scepticism over the claims of the creators of victims to be ‘working for peace’ need not derive from a desire for vengeance: it could as easily signal a respect for truth.
The British feel a certain detachment from the North, born of distance. At worst this is antipathy: Diarmaid Ferriter cites Thatcher’s famous disdain for both sides. Even when Conservatives attempt a revival of the old ‘conservative and unionist’ tradition, it comes across as a bit clunky.
Three historians discuss issues raised by a new anthology outlining the varieties of Protestant experience in independent Ireland. Topics touched upon include religious segregation in education, privileged access to employment, and its disappearance, and national feeling.
Catholic and Protestant are routinely employed in Northern Ireland as labels denoting ethno-nationalist divisions which date back centuries. But the divisions have little enough to do with theology, deriving more from distinct relations to land, power and political legitimacy.
In his polemic on Brexit, Fintan O’Toole offers a biographical caricature of a political decision as a man ‑ a white man, a middle-aged or elderly man, an angry man, a racist man, finally a straw man. What lies behind the anger and scorn? Could it be a fear of losing something?
Emilie Pine’s father had what she has called ‘an unusual approach to parenting’, consisting of neglect of his duties in favour of the pursuit of his first love, alcohol. Pine survived this upbringing and has now written a wonderful, compassionate book about her and her family’s life and travails.
Conor Cruise O’Brien went off the rails towards the end of his career, adopting increasingly bizarre positions on Northern Ireland and uncritically supporting Israel. Few of his admirers followed him in these courses, yet for old times’ sake perhaps, they were reluctant to criticise their leader.