THE First Minister has suggested Northern Ireland’s centenary could provide an opportunity to examine the creation of a single education system in the region. "2021 can be an opportunity to re-examine the past decisions that shaped Northern Ireland," she said. “Lord Londonderry’s early proposals to create a common education system were not implemented. Is 2021 the time to re-start that debate?”
A FRIEND of mine missed out on going on a trip to see the continent of Europe last summer because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite his disappointment he now has his sights set on going there next summer on a longer trip. When I saw him last week he was wearing earphones, had a phrase book in his hand and was mouthing foreign words with the help of phonetic symbols. His efforts jogged my memory for I remember a chap doing the same thing well over fifty years ago. A neighbour of ours had been working in Central Europe and had brought home a phrase book which covered many languages including the Queen’s English. (It might well have been the King’s then.) However, the English was very different from the language we used. I can still recall him saying: “I myself wash at eight hours.” and “In the garden of my uncle and of my aunt there are of plum trees and of peach trees.“ Of course, there were no recorders in those far off days but listening to my friend last week I'm not sure that much has changed. When I asked my friend what he was saying he told me he was practising the equivalent of “How are you?” in Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, Norwegian and other languages too numerous to mention. I have to admit he has lofty ambitions. I did not want to dishearten him so I listened to him and congratulated him on his great achievements and then got off the bus. I had noticed other passengers giving queer looks in his direction as they listened to his strange utterings. On crossing the road a motorist wound down his window and shouted, “Wjatabout ye, mucker?” and on reaching the footpath another man said, “Howyeh?” It dawned on me that nobody says, “How are you?” in English except people who don’t know English and are using a phrase book and perhaps a recorder. Nearly all the people you meet regularly use a variation of ‘Howyeh’ but it is an empty greeting. They are not in the slightest way interested in how you are because they see you frequently and can make their own judgements just as they do about your sobriety when the pubs and clubs are open for business. It is when you meet people who haven't seen you for a while that the greeting takes on real meaning. I find this when I head down the country to a funeral. “How's the health?” “How's the heart?” These are psychological queries which don't really need an answer. A smile suffices. They are the equivalent of “It's good to see you.” There's no subtlety. A man might be eating well, sleeping well but still slicing his one iron drives on the golf course or gasping his way from payday to payday. He may have an appetite like that of a horse but it may be down to trudging around looking for a job. When a man drops in beside you and says,”Howyeh doin’?” you know he's seeking information. You can answer, “Everything I can.” Or you can counter, “How are things with yourself?” which might include the family, receding hairlines and/or receding bank balances.
Being confined to the house has many drawbacks but it leads to many unforeseen moments too. Last week I was doing a ‘bit of redding up’ in the loft when I came across a box of tin whistles. The first one I pulled out was an old black Clarke’s. I attempted a few toots on it and I was glad to find that I could still get a few notes.However, I was aware that no-one could hear me (you have to be careful nowadays as being overheard playing the scale of D might give grounds to an unseen listener for a committal order). In no time at all I was halfway through my imaginary Armagh Pipers’ book and was quite pleased with my efforts on Roddy McCorley. I managed a Kerry polka and a slip jig before I decided to place the box close to the loft door where I could reach in, pick up a whistle and play when I knew the coast was clear and I could be sure no-one would be listening. I can remember my first attempt at blowing a tin whistle. Away back in 1961 on St Stephen’s Day my Uncle Paddy arrived at our house with two Basset hounds. He had been out hunting, had retired to the local pub and was now visiting his sister for “a bite to eat”. My mother told him about me passing my driving test earlier that week and Paddy told her that he had heard that and the reason he had called was for me to give him a lift to Mary Ann’s where the huntsmen were gathering for a social evening. Having dropped the hounds in an outhouse we arrived in Mary Ann’s to find the place full and an evening of song and music in full flow.
You have to hand it to Boris Johnson. Sometimes we snigger at his remarks but most of us have to admit that he is unpredictable. Often when he makes a pronouncement the press have a field day and then all is forgotten until the next big story, which in many ways is a pity.
I LISTENED to Boris Johnston last week telling us about his love for the ‘union’ and the forthcoming celebration of the centenary of “this wee place.” I found myself wondering how much he knows (or cares) about the north of Ireland and the conditions and atmosphere here when partition was introduced here almost 100 years ago.
I WAS in Belfast city centre last week for the first time in three months. I was to meet a 'returned Yank', a man who has returned to these parts after nearly sixty years in USA. I was told he had two hours to spare.
SOME things happen by chance. In 1985, two men, one from Japan and the other from Donegal, were awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine for the discovery of the anti-parasite drug ivermectin. That was in 1978, but it was a few years later before the two men met.
So another year has passed. It was a year that will not readily be forgotten. Islamic State extremist attacks in Belgium, France and Germany, the destruction of Syria, the ongoing refugee crisis and the rise of the right wing vote throughout Europe, the fallout from the Brexit referendum in June and the election of former Apprentice host, Donald Trump, as US President and leader of the so-called free world are just a few of the events which few of us could have foreseen.
Belfast born artist John Lavery married Kathleen McDermott in 1889. Shortly after the birth of their daughter Eileen she died of tuberculosis early in 1891. In September 1903 while painting on the beach at Peg Meil in France he was introduced to Hazel Martyn, a 17-year-old who was accompanied by her mother and sister. Hazel fell in love with Lavery but her mother didn’t see him as a suitable partner since he was “a mere artist” – the Martyns were from Chicago and extremely wealthy – and was more than twice her age. She whisked her away to Paris and contacted Dr Pierre Trudeau a young New York doctor who was an admirer. Three days after Christmas they were married. They had barely settled into their apartment in Park Lane when Trudeau developed pneumonia and died leaving Hazel to give birth to their daughter the following October. Clandestine contact between Lavery and Hazel resumed and when she returned to Europe in July 1905 to the health spa at Malvern Wells he visited her and painted her portrait as “A Woman in Black.” Her mother was still opposed to the friendship and insisted on a six month separation. She brought Hazel to Rome and was delighted when she fell for a secretary at the US Embassy named Leonard Thomas. A second marriage was quickly arranged but Thomas jilted Hazel.
JUST before the start of the GAA Championships it is customary for the President or one of his acolytes to call a press conference to gravely inform the public that the Association are determined to eradicate foul play. Last year we were told that referees were going to concentrate on “cynical fouling” which was a “matter of grave concern” and referees wouldn’t hesitate to produce black cards.