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Monday, July 2, 2012

Ireland: academia vs. a movie

I'm not sure how long it is going to take to finish watching the movie I settled on tonight, Five Minutes of Heaven. I've read plenty of literature on the Troubles in Ireland, including some rather graphic stuff. And I've seen enough of the old photographs to recognize places in the first few minutes of this movie as familiar sites of violence. I think if I had less foreknowledge I might find the movie easier to watch, actually. I keep thinking that any time now, the Doctor will pop in and stop the boys from actually making their first kill. I am once again very glad that the Irish lads who constitute my favorite singing group are too young to have seen the worst of the violence, but I have to wonder how far under the surface those violent tendencies really lie, now.

The Queen shook hands with Martin McGuinness a few days ago, and the last few large bombs found in Northern Ireland were discovered before they took out a crowded shop or street corner. Clearly we are not seeing civil war in Ireland just now.

But, when I was a kid here in Colorado, my favorite Irish singers were my age in Ireland, and where they were, the Troubles had not yet ended. Actually, if I had the opportunity to have a real, lengthy conversation with any of my favorite celebrities, it would be with Ryan Kelly, not about anything related to his job as a singer, but about what it was like being a kid in County Tyrone in the 80's, and about living in Ireland now with all that recent and still smoldering history all around. I had rather in-depth conversations with friends a few years ago who were from various parts of the former USSR, and realized in the course of those conversations just how different the universe looks from their perspectives. We were all friends, but while I grew up knowing quite a bit about Russian history during and just after WWI, and quite a bit about world history in general, the education my Moscow friend got during those same years was oddly silent about history, except that internal to the USSR. The same sort of myopia seemed pretty common among my Chinese friends, too, actually.

But knowing history is not everything. I know a lot about quite a few subjects, but in a very detached way. With my peculiar childhood and decidedly dysfunctional family, I only understand what it feels like to have a close family, loving parents, or just someplace that feels like home through other people for whom these things are real. I can feel uneasy, even heartsick watching boys going off to kill someone, but I cannot understand the feelings that led others in Northern Ireland to begin the violence that tore Ireland apart. I feel, deeply, that if I could truly understand how neighborhoods of nice normal people could become war zones in Belfast, and how so many truly good, wonderful human beings, in Ireland and Britain, could become killers and monsters, I might understand better how to describe a society of the future where such nightmares could not exist. Could talking to Ryan answer all my questions? Of course not.

I suppose with how tough this movie is to watch tonight, I would be even less comfortable watching it if I had a better, deeper understanding of what it is to be Irish. And, I would like to understand all sides, not just the Irish Catholic side. Right now, my gut reaction any time I read or watch anything on Irish history is mostly anger and disgust at what the British did. Through my interest in old Irish lullabies I keep coming across horrific tales of how Catholic people were treated in Ireland, as part of why the song I am hunting is so fragmented, or why the most common lyrics to a particular tune are laments. I've read Anglican theological arguments enough to understand logically why the English monarchy would be challenged by Catholicism, but I can't imagine yet how that translates to wanting to kill Catholic people. I guess what I want now is just to talk with someone I like, someone whose mind or soul I understand, who has also been thinking about these things, but from the perspective of being an Irish Catholic in Northern Ireland.

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