Many of you have read here in this blog excerpts from the new book. You will have read about the life and death of the young Liam Lynch, aged 29, Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army. His death on April 10th, 1923 was effectively “the last shot fired in the Irish Civil War, 1922-1923”.
My mother, Ann O’Neill McCormick (1906-1994) and Liam Lynch (b.1893) were first cousins, and it is her insights and her connection with him that form the core of my book.
Liam Lynch –who wanted the Irish Republic, and who swore he would live under “No Other Law”– would not accept the Anglo-Irish Treaty (which his erstwhile comrade-in- arms Michael Collins signed –he famously remarked at the time that he was “signing his own death warrant”) which kept the six counties of Ulster as part of the British Empire. That disagreement was the reason for the bitter Irish Civil War –which Liam was ultimately blamed for. (As head of the 9-member Military Executive it was his casting vote that would continue or end the war.)
After Liam’s death the “Republican Idea” was essentially dormant for four decades, until the Civil Rights Peace Activism brought it to life again in the sixties. This was soon followed by the 14 deaths of Bloody Sunday (1972), which then was followed by a particularly violent two decades. The IRA had split and it was the Provisional IRA and the Loyalist-Unionists on the other side, who were responsible for the violence and the atrocities.
The early 1980’s saw the Hunger Strikes of Bobby Sands & The 9 others, which intensified the sense of violence. Even the many who might have agreed with the IRA political aims disagreed utterly with the violence. Everywhere was a sense of despair and helplessness and exhaustion.
But even in that dark time –and probably, too, because of the very darkness– a couple of people (John Hume of the SDLP party and Gerry Adams, head of Sinn Fein) began, in 1988, regular discussions to explore the idea of peace.
In 1998 John Hume would win the Nobel Peace Prize –with Unionist David Trimble– for the efforts that he & Adams started ten years before 1988.
Over the next years a team of would be peacemakers gathered. The preceding period of violence had extended from 1968 to 1988 –twenty long years in which almost 4000 people died. This new Peace Process as it was called would last another twenty years, more or less. Many people –known and unknown– were involved. The former included as well as John Hume and Gerry Adams, Bill & Hilary Clinton, Tony Blair, Senator George Mitchell, John Major, Mo Mowlam, David Trimble, several Irish Presidents –Mary Robinson, Charles Haughey, Albert Reynolds, Bertie Ahern, John Bruton, –and a host of writers, artists, poets, clerics, ministers, priests, teachers and on and on.
All of them had to demonstrate that it was the pure Cause of Peace that motivated them and not Politics. Some fine individuals who nonetheless failed to rise above politics, lost the moral authority that is the basic strength of the peacemaker.
Because of the convictions and the drive and the persistence of the reconciliation team, the most formerly recalcitrant figures in the conflict — for example, the Reverend Ian Paisley, Unionist-Loyalist, and Martin McGuinness of the IRA– eventually developed extraordinary positive cooperative relations. Both, incidentally had been elected to Parliament. The Rev. Paisley has even shared with Martin McGuinness the thought that they would be able to run Ulster together, by themselves. Separate from Britain. That thought could not even have been uttered without complete assurence of equality and justice and trust in both directions.
There is no doubt: the Peacemakers and Reconcilers worked miracles!
How did they do it?
That is the essence of the second part of my Liam Lynch: the transcendent brilliance of one man whose whole life had –I discovered– been dedicated “to moving towards something better” and to moving “beyond bigotry and blame”; to making a language of peace; to going “beyond revenge” .
I am talking about the poet Seamus Heaney!
I will tell his story in “Part Two” of “This Should Never Have Happened”. The Ulster that is now possible; that is on the brink of becoming a full reality –though very very different from what Liam Lynch had envisaged as his 32-County Republic back in 1923, is in one over-riding respect exactly what what he had aimed for.
I tell the story –really, for the first time; nobody else has put it together (nobody else has “connected the dots” in the way I have). I tell how Seamus Heaney did it –after so much failure. It is an extraordinary story.
I will give you the central message which is a 33-line poem wrapped in an allegory, that Heaney wrote into an adaptation of a 5th C. B.C.E play by Sophocles, “Philoctetes”, called “The Cure at Troy” (1990). The brilliance of his concept is clear on every line; his language (a Greek Chorus delivers the poem) is in the wisdom of its overview, powerfully authoritative; and –in my view– Above Question by any audience. (Exportable to The Middle East? And elsewhere? No reason why not. Except that our addiction to the drugs of conflict, partisanship, blame, and the status-quo, is strong.
[Twelve Steps That Shook The World, anyone? ]
Does Poetry have the power to change our world? Yes! Yes! Yes!
The poem was written. That took a lot of doing. In fact it took Heaney his whole life, and those before him.
[I am by the way intrigued in the way my book throws together these two men of Ireland, Seamus Heaney and Liam Lynch. I sense that there is a lot contained in that particular twinning. It speaks –I think– of Ireland in a way that is provoking of both past and future. We will see.]
But there was one more step that had to be taken before the miracle — one particularly brilliant line has it “Call the miracle self-healing!”– could come into being.
It was NOT the effect the play had on the audience that was significant in my story. It was the effect it had on the team of peace-makers and concilers. The “Outstanding Moderators”. I do not know exactly how they heard about, but they did, and they utterly embraced it –literally as their Formula for Reconciliation, a vision of Hope and Faith –these, by the way, are NOT religious concepts, but part of our humanistic aspiration.
HOPE is the vision of Peace that we want, that we apply ourselves and dedicate ourselves to, and FAITH is the belief in ourselves collectively that we can and will work for that vision of peace and achieve it. And will not give in or give up until we get it.
The Reconcilers embraced Heaney’s poem –John Hume was a lifetime close friend of Heaney’s; they –and playwright Brian Friel– were Old Saint Columbs’s boys together. Tomas O’Fiach –later Cardinal O’Fiach– was a teacher of their. Saint Columb, of course, is my old pal Saint Colum Cille (521-597). They all are old Derry boys, dedicated to a peace beyond partisanship, beyond revenge. Beyond Religion! (What am I saying? Look around, folks! )
I don’t know the answer, but that is my guess of how the reconcilers found the poem. But it is known that the entire team embraced the poem, and took it up. Many of them memorized it completely; some learned chosen lines. And would quote it to each other, in encouragement, to persist, to understand, to take heart –just like one might quote a meaningful prayer or a biblical passage, or a poem, or any well known line of accepted wisdom and applicability that your grandmother used to come up with.
As a gauge of the poem’s special impact: two of the Peace Process team of reconcilers used the same line from Heaney’s poem as titles for their books –“between Hope and History”. They were Bill Clinton and Gerry Adams! That gives one a sense that ….something was going on.
The poem’s ideas are transcendental.
Its language persuades.
It is a message for our Better Angels, and for the ages.
I think it may well be the change we want.
In this play, we really can all end up in the right.
[I hope you get a chance to read this blog. I look forward to answering your questions. I’ve already had a number of requests to do readings and discussions. I hope you are inspired pass the word on, and even –who knows– to reserve a copy yourself by email. Thanks for your patience.]