Belfast reflection – Frank MacGarry, 1971

April 12th, 2010

In 1926, just five years after the Northern Ireland state had been set up, the 1st battalion of the Sussex Regiment which had been on garrison duty in Londonderry sailed home taking with them 150 Irish brides they had found in the city.

They were given a uproariously friendly traditional Irish farewell. Five years before, on 22nd June 1921, that simple and good man, King George V, who played a large part in establishing peace between the peoples of the two islands over which he ruled, pleaded at the Sate Opening of the Northern Ireland parliament:
“I speak with a full heart . . . I appeal to all Irishmen to pause, to stretch out the hand of forbearance and conciliation, to forgive and forget, and to join in making for the land which they love a new era of peace, contentment and good will.

Today, just half a century after the king’s appeal there’s less than little light or heavy romance for the British soldier in Londonderry, Belfast or half a dozen other lesser towns. For him, few Irish eyes are smiling and sentiment in this reputedly most personally sentimental of countries has nothing personal about it and is purely communal, Catholic for Catholic and Protestant for Protestant.

I went to Belfast on a strictly personal sentimental journey.

Just over sixty years ago my father and mother married in Belfast and lived in a street called Harrybrooke which is, though they were Catholics, a Protestant street. As long as they lived they spoke with affection and respect for their Protestant neighbours.

I tried to find the house in which they lived but Harrybrooke Street did not really want to know me. They would cautiously half open a door, listen to my tale, say, no, they didn’t know anyone old enough to remember, ask me in what church my parents were married and promptly shut the door.

In the Falls Road area, where as a young member of the Royal Irish Constabulary my father had patrolled, my co-religionists do not open their doors to strangers and in a pu blic house I was told it was a `quare’ accent I had got. A pug-faced looking young man said “It’s a spy y’are for the British army”, and another echoed “So y’are” and a third in a more kindly way advised me to go. This man had told me that years back policemen could walk the beat in the Falls Road and even be treated as a friend.
So many years and so many centuries back.

Memory is as communal a sentiment and both sides dig themselves into ghetto types which are labelled Orange and Green, Protestant and Catholic, which may have something to do with sectarianism but have nothing at all with real religion.

Responsible liberal Protestantism, of which this province once had a great tradition, has lost its control to Paisley extremism and a determined Marxist communism has taken the domination of the Catholic nationalism away from the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

There are men of good will and reasonable mind on both sides, men such as Mr.David Bleakley, Minister for Communal Relations and a member of the Northern Ireland cabinet.

This Protestant Socialist told me “Mine is the newest Ministry. It should have been the oldest. My post exists by a personal act of Prime Minister Brian Faulkner which as born of desperation. We are fundamentally two tribes, one of them broadly Scottish Protestant, the other Catholic Irish. One tribe wants to weep on the shoulder of Dublin and the other on the shoulder of Westminster. Neither wants us. We are on our own. In Dublin I was asked `Why should we take on a million and a half mad Irishmen?’ and why should London or Westminster take us in? We can’t behave ourselves.”

He added; ” I am a short term pessimist and a long term optimist. I am getting supper across the religious spectrum. I must hope it is possible to build a society free from tribalism”.

But in Belfast people are condemned to tribalism from birth because of sectarianism. The Rev.Ian Paisley alarmed because the Catholic school population equals the Protestant though Catholics are only 1/3 of the population, has urged Protestants to produce more children as a patriotic duty. The Catholics didn’t need urging; it is part of their Faith.

I left Northern Ireland in a state of deep depression and on this fiftieth anniversary the only men there to whom I am prepared to lift an anniversary hat, apart from the sadly scant scattering of Bleakleys, are those incredibly patient, courageous and suffering the English, Scottish and welsh soldiers.

If the British soldier is not to be stationed in Ulster for another half-century, if his patience and that of the British people lasts that long, there must, in my view, be these progressive steps towards 20th century reality by all the people of Northern Ireland.
– An end of the baring of backsides to each other and the burning of all sashes, Orange and Green.
– An end to religious segregation in education by taking religion out of the schools. Perhaps if children can play together they can one day even pray together.
– A re-united Ireland on a federal basis which would enable the fears, and there are real and justified ones of the Northern Protestant community, to be set at rest, and the return of Southern Ireland to the British Commonwealth in the creation of which Irishmen, North and South, played a great part. The surrender of sovereignty would be much less than that which Dublin is prepared to face to join the Common Market.

Maybe then I’ll be able to find out just where in Harrybrooke Street my mother and father lived.

Welcome to

March 17th, 2010

Welcome to our work in progress, this website will be filled with fun anecdotes and interesting things found by the MacGarry family. Unfortunately, finding time to actually do these things is harder than I would like to admit. So far you can enjoy my attempts at testing out this website, for example my lovely picture of this award ribbon fail:

Or perhaps you would prefer to watch a video: Jake vs Mark