I MAY HAVE UNDERGONE 7 BRAIN SURGERIES AND STILL COGNITIVELY ALRIGHT FOR THE MOST PART, BUT I CANNOT COMPREHEND THE WORLD WE ARE LIVING IN RIGHT NOW
When I began writing my last Post, I expected it to be long, detailed and thorough. However, once I got going, I really got going! I anticipated it all to be just one Post, but there was just too much to address. Although, not necessary if you haven’t read my prior Post, it will give you a clearer perspective. Just click here: https://braincancerbabe.blog
My prior Post addressed my feelings on how I relate America’s current state of affairs to George Orwell’s bleak vision of the future set forth in his novel 1984. I focused primarily on the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this Post will focus on: my roots – Ireland and “The Troubles”; police brutality; living under what looks very much like a “police state”; and, how what we escaped from in Northern Ireland seems to now be occurring all across America.
I realize now too, there will be a Part 3 to this.
Going back to Orwell’s main premise in 1984, he envisioned a world in which people were controlled through:
- Governmental propoganda
- Misinformation, or lack of information
- Totalitarian rule – a system of government that is centralized and dictatorial and requires complete subservience to the state
- A society in which any criticism or questioning of the government was absolutely forbidden and immediately silenced through torture, or worse
- Freedom of expression or speech simply did not exist, at least openly
- Failure to care for, protect and serve the common man – Only the powerful with allegiance to the current government mattered
Orwell’s novels, not just 1984, have remained so popular in part because they seem to constantly resonate with what is going on the world at the time. Since 1984 was published, there’s been war, dictators taking hold of countries all over the world, attacks on democracy and freedom of speech, and on and on.
However, in my lifetime (40 years now!) I don’t recall ever being so truly frightened of what I see happening with my own 2 blue eyes on the streets of America . So, before I once again really get going, let me take a step back.
NORTHERN IRELAND HISTORY 101
EERILY SIMILAR TO WHAT IS GOING ON IN AMERICA RIGHT NOW
I was born in 1980 in Northern Ireland. If you know anything about Ireland and that time period, commonly known as “The Troubles”, then you understand I was basically born in the middle of a war zone. I’m going to dive into some detail here, not an entire 30+ years worth, but it helps to understand how I personally view our current situation in America. However, no matter who you are or where you were born, the two situations are eerily similar. So, this is very basic “Northern Ireland History 101”.
As a fundamental starting point, you need to know that the Republic of Ireland and N. Ireland are separate. Surprisingly, many people actually do not know this. N. Ireland is governed under British rule and part of the U.K. The Republic is independent. It is NOT part of the U.K.
Further, the Republic is considered to be primarily Catholic, and certainly was when “The Troubles” began in the late 1960’s. By contrast, in those days N. Ireland was primarily Protestant. If you are not Irish, you might ask, “Is there really much of a distinction?” Well, back then and even in some parts today, Yes, there’s a major distinction.
Catholics tended to be loyal to the Republic and believe Ireland should be one, unified nation (Republicans). Protestants tended to be loyal to the “Crown”/Great Britain. Hence, they did not believe that the 6 counties of Ulster, Northern Ireland should join the Republic, but instead remain unified with the U.K (Unionists or Loyalists).
Another fundamental point is that the Catholic minority in the North were openly and systematically discriminated against by the Protestant majority. As a minority class, they also tended to be poorer. Thus, there was a socioeconomic factor as well.
Nevertheless, you had religion and politics all rolled into one! Never good. Ever!
The Troubles: How They Began & Similarities to Today’s Crisis
Overall, “The Troubles” were a viciously violent period in N. Ireland, which lasted from technically 1969 to 1998. In total, approximately 3,500 people were killed in the North where the population was only about 1.5 million people. Over 50,000 people were reportedly injured.
The year 1969 was the technical start to “The Troubles”. However, the violence had already begun in 1968.
A group of Catholics formed a civil rights campaign against this discrimination in 1968. They asserted:
- The government was systematically blocking their right to vote through blatant “gerrymandering” (Catholics were grouped into one constituency, so they could only elect a smaller number of representatives in proportion to their actual population in the North). Additionally, in the local government, only ratepayers (those who owned property) could vote. The ratepayers were overwhelmingly Protestants. Thus, Catholics essentially had no vote.
- Catholics were being discriminated against in employment and the allocation of social housing (One prominent example was an unmarried Protestant woman, the secretary of a local politician, was given a house ahead of Catholic families with children)
- One particular law, “The Special Powers Act” allowed for detention without trial. So, Catholics believed they were specifically targeted by the police under this law, as the vast majority of the police were Protestant and Unionist.
- Irish nationality was not recognized in N. Ireland. In fact, the Irish Republic flag was deemed illegal. Schools would not teach Irish history. Side Note: This is still true in England today, so many students never learn about the Irish famine or Irish Rebellion!
SO IN 1968, YOU HAD:
- A minority group
- Systematic, open and accepted discrimination against that minority group
- in the voting process
- total exclusion and/or underrepresentation in the government
- employment disparities
- economic disparities
- housing problems
- failure in the educational system to even acknowledge that minority group’s history
- Police specifically targeting that minority
- Members of that minority group coming together to initiate a civil rights movement
Hopefully you see where I’m heading with this…
So, several Catholic civil rights activists began to hold marches in cities across the North. One march was announced to take place in October. In an attempt to stop the Catholic minority’s march, a Loyalist Protestant group announced they’d also march. Therefore, the government banned all marches.
Despite the ban, the Catholic civil rights group marched anyway. The local police surrounded the marchers and beat them indiscriminately and without provocation. Over 100 people were injured. This led to 2 full days of serious rioting between Republicans and the police.
Eerily similar images of police in riot gear during these past 2 weeks in response to the “Black Lives Matter” demonstrations
1969: The Troubles Officially Begin
I would never make light of what occurred during these times, but can I just ask – WHAT DIDN’T HAPPEN IN 1969?
Onto much more serious things…
The local police force in the North was known as the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). As you can imagine, they were primarily Protestant Unionists.
Following the incidents in ’68, more civil rights protests arose as early as January 4, 1969. That day, both civilian Protestant Unionists and off-duty police (RUC) officers armed with iron bars, bricks and bottles attacked the marchers. It was reported that on-duty RUC officers failed to protect the marchers. The marchers reached the City of Derry (the City where I was actually born) and by then the RUC broke up the march. That led to major riots between the Irish nationalists and the RUC. That same night, as a show of force RUC officers went on a “rampage” in a Catholic area of the City, known as the “Bogside”. RUC officers (again this is the police) attacked Catholic homes and residents. The violence was so intense, the Catholic residents had to barricade the area – from the police!
Tensions continued. As a result, more protests were held across N. Ireland leading to even more violence. In N. Ireland’s Capital of Belfast. In total, seven people were killed and hundreds were wounded.
As an aside: My father lived half of his childhood in Belfast. Even now in his 70’s he still will not speak of his childhood, or growing up as a Catholic in Belfast in a predominately Protestant neighborhood. He was born in Dublin City into a wealthy family. His father, my grandfather who I never met, was very well-known. While still in Dublin, my father attended Belvedere, one of the most prestigious schools in Ireland with plenty of renowned past pupils, one of the most notable being the author James Joyce. However, before divorce was legalized his father abandoned the family. Let’s just say he was not a very good man for numerous reasons.
Thus, with no recourse against my grandfather to demand child support, alimony, etc., my grandmother moved herself and her 2 children north to Belfast. So not only was my father a Catholic born in the Republic, he was also a “Dub” (A nickname for those from Dublin), which in the North was NOT a good thing! From the little I do know, my father was constantly, sometimes viciously attacked simply for being an Irish Republican and a Catholic.
Moving on, during another march in Derry in April, RUC officers entered the house of an uninvolved Catholic civilian, Samuel Devenny (age 42), a father of nine, and beat him along with two of his daughters. Official reports confirmed that Mr. Devenny had been watching the march from his window inside his home. As it became violent, several young boys who had been throwing rocks at RUC officers began to run as officers tried to chase them down. Sadly, the boys ran straight into Mr. Devenny’s flat (the term used for apartment in Ireland and England). Although he locked his door, officers broke it down and proceeded to beat Devenny and the girls with clubs. One daughter was beaten unconscious and had to undergo surgery.. Mr. Devenny was hospitalized with a suspected fractured skull, wounds to his eyes and mouth, He remained hospitalized until May 19th. However, due to his traumatic internal injuries, he suffered a heart attack and died on July 17th from his injuries.
If this is all resonating with what is going on in America right now,
well, it should!
July 13, 1969 marked what was considered to be the first death of “The Troubles”. During continued protests and clashes with police in Derry, Francis McCloskey, a 67-year old Catholic civilian, was hit on the head with a baton by an RUC officer. She was found unconscious and passed away the next day from her injuries.
Then, in August, the citizens of Derry became embroiled in the infamous “Battle of the Bogside”. For three straight days, the RUC and thousands of Catholics/Irish nationalists clashed. Protesters were gassed, sprayed by water cannons and shot at by the police. Once again, residents had to build barricades and set up first aid posts.
DERRY, N. IRELAND THEN v. AMERICA RIGHT NOW – LOOK SIMILAR?
While the “Battle of the Bogside” raged in Derry, protests were also being held across N. Ireland.
The Divis Tower housing complex in Belfast was a targeted area throughout “The Troubles”. On August 14, 1969, there were protests/riots going on near the Divis Flats. The police used armoured cars to break up the crowd. The mayhem then moved into the actual housing complex.
While there’s always different sides to every story, what remains undisputed is that the RUC began firing machine guns from their armored vehicles into the housing complex. Notably, those shots murdered Patrick Rooney, only 9 years old, who was the first child to be killed in “The Troubles”.
Sadly, Patrick would not be the only death in that attack. Hugh McCabe was also shot dead around 1 a.m. on August 15, 1969 as the raid on the Divis Flats lasted into the early morning. While police claim, Mr. McCabe was armed when he was shot, that is heavily disputed by witnesses in the area, including his father, a former sergeant during WW2. Rather, it is claimed McCabe was pulling an injured man off a balcony, trying to help the man, when he was shot. Nevertheless, McCabe was a solider at home on leave visiting his family. Thus, he would’ve had the right, it seems to me, to carry a weapon.
Not only did the protesters have to contend with the violence and brutality of the police, but also those loyal to the British government (unionist Protestants). Catholics were driven out of their homes, businesses and homes were burned. It’s also known that the police failed to protect Catholics/Irish nationalists being attacked by unionists.
Civilians heavily armed, and masked at “Black Lives Matter” demonstrations clearly there to intimidate protesters through a “show of force”. Yet, there are no police anywhere near them!
1969: “Operation Banner”
Up until this point, the violence involved the RUC/police in N. Ireland. Well, then the British government deployed the British Army on August 14, 1969, under the name “Operation Banner”. They remained stationed in N. Ireland for another 37 years, the longest continuous deployment for their Army in history! Further, the British government called in the Ulster Special Constabulary (“USC”), who were essentially a special reserves police force.
Guess who the Republic called for? A United Nations peacekeeping force.
– ALL THIS BECAUSE CIVIL RIGHTS PROTESTERS BANDED TOGETHER TO DEMAND AN END TO DISCRIMINATION –
And so, as part of their “operation” the British Army worked with the RUC to guard check-points throughout N. Ireland, patrolled the streets and the border with the Republic, raided homes and businesses, conducted searches of both persons and places, tried to quell any protests or “riots” and conducted what was termed “counter-insurgency”.
Thus, the 1969 protests were seen as the beginning of “The Troubles”, which continued until 1998 when “The Good Friday Agreement” was signed. Yet, the British Army remained until 2007.
I COULD’VE EASILY BEEN A VICTIM TO THIS VIOLENCE
Northern Ireland even at the time I was born in 1980 was a true military state. The British Army patrolled the streets, controlled the border between N. Ireland and the Republic, and was purposely stationed to “assert the British government’s authority”.
You weren’t seen as a person, but only by your religion/allegiance to the Republic vs. The Crown. Violence. Terrorism. Bombings. Police/military brutality. Guns were a show of power and not protection. If you looked at an officer the wrong way, you could wind up with a gun butted against your head. A class of people who truly believed they were superior. People lived in true fear for so long.
Admittedly, there was violence on both sides. I won’t deny that.
However, when I was a baby a car bomb went off outside our flat/apartment. We lived on the street level, so the window next to my crib smashed due to the blast. Broken glass fell into my crib. Thankfully, I somehow wasn’t hurt, but I shudder to think that I could have been another child lost to “The Troubles”.
I recall my parents telling a story of how my mother had to care for one of their friends, who was from the Republic and Catholic. He had come up to the North to visit them. Well, he “fancied a pint”, went out and happened to walk into the wrong pub – a Protestant one! The thugs in the pub beat him so badly they nearly broke his jaw.
We finally left N. Ireland when I was around 2 years old to live in the States, the “Land of the Free”.
However, in 1996 when I was 16 years old, I spent the summer in Ireland and returned to Derry. I recall seeing the murals all over the City, paying homage to “The Troubles”. The images below are some I found online. However, there was one in particular that I cannot find now. It was of a masked man holding a machine gun. It shook me with fear.
Also, while in Derry my friend and I needed to take the bus. We had the timetable with us and couldn’t understand why the bus was so incredibly late. Now, I know things run a little slower back there, but this was extreme! So, an old man came walking by, saw the two of us standing there and said, “What are ye waiting’ for?” Politely, we explained the bus. Almost with a laugh, he said, “Sure don’t ye know there was a bomb threat? Ye won’t be gettin’ that bus home.” That was eye-opening, to say the least.
Thankfully, that day there was no bomb. However, two summers later a horrific event occurred on a sunny afternoon in one Northern county where we had lived prior to coming to the States.
The notorious Omagh car bombing occurred on Sunday, August 15, 1998 in the town center of Omagh, County Tyrone. A group called the “Real Irish Republican Army”, a Provisional Irish Republican Army splinter group opposed the IRA’s ceasefire and the Good Friday Agreement. It killed 29 people (including a woman pregnant with twins, alongside her mother Mary and daughter Maura) and injured approximately 220 others. Many of those who died and were injured were children. It was the deadliest single incident throughout all “The Troubles”.
Instead of parking where they had allegedly intended, the bombers parked closer to the stores where so many people were out-and-about, some of whom were buying school uniforms for the upcoming start of the next school year. A photo of the red car that held the bomb was taken by a Spanish tourist just before the bomb went off. It is pictured below.
Apparently, the intended target was the courthouse in Omagh. Yet, because it was a beautiful Sunday, many people were out shopping in town. So, the bombers couldn’t find parking close enough to the courthouse! Yes, they couldn’t get proper parking…
Beyond that: The RUC had been warned almost 40 minutes beforehand but the location of the bomb was inaccurate. So, instead of moving crowds away from the bomb, the police ACTUALLY moved people closer toward the bomb!
That day was so horrific that like September 11th, Irish people remember where exactly they were when news got out.
So, imagine how many lives, how much agony and pain could have been saved if:
- We could just treat one another kindly, or at the very least, not judge one another by race, religion or creed?
- We had a way to stop police brutality?
- We had the right to peacefully stand-up for our rights?
WARNING: PHOTOS BELOW ARE GRAPHIC
Yes, not all police are bad. Not all of any race, religion, creed is bad.
What is very bad is allowing systematic discrimination coupled with police brutality and violence to continue. Permitting violence under the guise of “police authority” resulting in not just unwarranted imprisonment, but multiple deaths of people of color MUST END NOW.
They say, “If you do not know or understand history, you are doomed to repeat it.” Well, unfortunately not too many people in this country know or understand history.