I HIT FIFTY this Spring. Not for a few weeks yet so hold off on the cake! (Carrot, since you’re asking.)
My mother died only a few weeks after she turned 50. She faced the weeks I’m in now with the certainty that she would soon die from breast cancer. Horrible, debilitating, aggressive breast cancer.
I spent all of my 40s expecting a shortened life like hers, so what do you do when you’ve been entirely convinced you wouldn’t reach 50 – an age taken for granted by the majority, but denied to a significant number, including your own mother? Planning a celebration isn’t what I want. It does not feel right. But it is enough of a milestone to give me pause. And somehow that reflection goes outwards.
Born into a partitioned state, ill at ease with itself, with an incomplete history, I felt unarticulated suffocation. I was in a state founded on violent, unfinished revolution that was censoring its own people and history, and turning its rage inwardly.
For the first time in our island’s history the struggle for Irish freedom is being pursued through exclusively peaceful means.
It was only years later I recognised that the year of my birth was the year of internment and the beginning of an unstoppable escalation of violence, and that all of my life was consciously or subconsciously framed by that. In my mind’s eye 50 years feels like a lifetime of ‘Reeling in the Years’ where lots of other events happened year in and year out, but none eclipsed or silenced the constant death and injury that had become normalised or even accepted on this island.
The years of ‘peace process’ have lasted nearly as long as the conflict itself. No, sorry, longer. Wow. From 1969 to 1994 was 25 years. 1994 to 2021 has been 27 years.
How are we doing with that peace process effort? It’s too easy to say, “Oh, no, look at...” (inserting whatever thing has gone wrong).
And, yes, there is lots going wrong. But while there has been interminable political contest, its expression is nothing like the first 23 years of my life. And a lot has been achieved for the good. When my children pause to reflect, their Reeling in the Years will be different. When we are frustrated it is too easy to dismiss what a remarkable achievement it is to hold on to peace after a long war, especially when Britain has been a bad faith actor most steps of the way. That achievement is a tribute to the conflict generation.
If there has been one constant in this lifetime of war and peace it is that Ireland’s future, as an independent nation, cherishing all of its children equally, is our people’s destiny.
There are people we all know who were entirely certain that Ireland would be free in 1972/3/4. They were the years before the long war was fought, endured, and subsequently peace put together. No-one could have known that long war would have ended a full generation before Ireland’s freedom became tangible. For the first time in our island’s history the struggle for Irish freedom is being pursued through exclusively peaceful means.
Good Friday Agreement was signed 23 years ago today.— Irish Unity 🇮🇪 (@IrishUnity) April 10, 2021
It stipulates that if “at any time it appears likely” to British secretary of state that a majority of voters in North of Ireland “would express a wish for a united Ireland”, they are obliged to call a referendum.#Time4Unity pic.twitter.com/pR0k1oxGDc
The people of a new Ireland deserve that. There has been enough pain and suffering inflicted and perpetuated on this island.
I wish my mother might have seen a new Ireland. Her grandchildren most certainly will. Sure, I might get the chance to see it myself after all.