Three decades of needless strife

January 30, 2002|By Tom Mudd

DUBLIN - This day of Jan. 30 is written in blood in Northern Ireland, so much so that its very name is Bloody Sunday.

For it was on this day in 1972 that 13 Roman Catholic men and teen-agers were shot to death during a peaceful protest in Londonderry. A 14th marcher died later.

This day gave rise to the various Protestant paramilitary groups, all the bombings, the hunger strikes and the "dirty protest," which involved smearing feces over prison walls. It led to the assassination of Lord Mountbatten (who, ironically, said before his death that he favored a united Ireland). It led to the horrific bombing on a sunny Saturday in Omagh, where 29 people were killed. It led to a petrol bomb, as Molotov cocktails are called here, smashing through a window in a rowhouse, burning three young boys to death.

It led to three decades of hell, north and south of the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. And it needn't have happened.

If not for this day, 30 years ago, there might be peace in Northern Ireland. Real peace.

Instead, there's a piece of something that feels like peace. But the people on this island will take it. Most of us, anyway.

Not that it's ever so peaceful as to be boring. Oh, no. These days, what the papers call "dissident Republicans" (read: unrepentant killers) and "hard-line Loyalists" (read: unrepentant killers) still create plenty of mayhem, in the original sense of the word - which is tearing limbs off people, or, of course, otherwise maiming them. There's plenty of that.

Earlier this month, Irish police - called the Gardai here - busted seven men and found an arsenal that would have damaged many a kneecap or skull. Also this month, a young Loyalist blew himself to bits when he was making a pipe bomb.

He probably meant to fling it at the little Catholic schoolgirls who have to walk a gantlet of sectarian hate every morning, and then again every afternoon. Or maybe he meant to heave it at a patrol of "peelers," or Northern Ireland police, who are now reviled by hard-line Loyalists because the cops are suddenly trying to be impartial. Or maybe he was just trying to be like his dad.

Who knows? Who can say what vile poisons exist in the hearts of the people there? Most of the people I know in the Republic of Ireland talk about the north the way you'd talk about an acquaintance who has rampant psoriasis, flower-wilting halitosis and a tendency to drone on and on and on and on and on about the most insignificant things.

The Irish people I know listen to the news on the radio, or read it in the paper, or watch it on television, and they shake their heads. The topic rarely comes up at the dinner parties I attend, perhaps because it would cause too long a break from discussions of this tablecloth or that table ornament.

Or maybe it's because no one really knows what to say.

On this day, I know what I'll say at the dinner table. I'll stand. I'll raise a glass of the best wine I have. I'll clear my throat.

"Please," I'll tell those gathered around my table, "let's drink to those who have died because of hate. And let's do what we can to rid the world of it."

And I'll sit down thinking none of them need ever have died.

Tom Mudd, a Towson native, lives in a suburb of Dublin, where he is European bureau chief of IndustryWeek magazine.

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