is what I remember:
had flaming red hair. I had met her at a gathering of scholars
in London. It was the summer, and I realized I had spent the
entire year in England. It was time to explore the Continent.
suggested going in the opposite direction, to her native Ireland—Northern
pounds later, I was in Derry/Londonderry.
a hundred yards or so from my hotel, a memorial service was being
held for a “Volunteer.” I wasn’t sure at first if it was someone
who had died recently, or a long time ago. I understood Northern
Ireland so little, then. Kill me, I’m Irish.
a few days before my arrival, a man had been shot—Protestant, I
believe. In just a few days, the infamous Apprentice Boys—grown
men in bowler hats—would march, commemorating a Protestant victory
in some battle that took place 300 years ago.
met Helen in a cafe dedicated to Che Guevara; his image adorned
the walls. She asked me if it felt unusual to be the only
black person. (It didn’t.) She said she was meeting
her friends in Belfast in a few days, in a hotel that I learned
had the dubious honor of being the most bombed-out in Northern Ireland.
I planned to meet her there.
last day in Derry, having bought my nephew a T-shirt commemorating
the Battle of the Bogside, I strolled around the walls, then moved
on to Belfast. As I checked into my hotel in Belfast and turned
on the television, I saw the very same place I had walked by hours
before, in flames.
went to places I later read about, such as “The Short Strand,” a
Catholic enclave in a Protestant area. I went deep into Protestant
territory, safe probably only because both tribes must have realized
I was a foreigner—ironically, one of the few times my black skin
made me safer in a white community.
Protestant Belfast, there were murals of masked, armed men, and—I
shuddered with disgust—Confederate flags. (This was only months
before those same flags would drape my coffin.) In the Protestant
museum, photo captions protested that it wasn’t just Catholics who
were deprived. The whole place stank of the excuses we have
heard from Afrikaners and white American Southerners.
Catholic Belfast, I went to the Felons Bar, the place where IRA
convicts worked when no one else would hire them, and chatted with
a man there.
attended the Faill. In a hall seating several hundred, I spoke
with a young mother and heard, from afar, Gerry Adams, the head
of Sinn Fein, the political party linked with the IRA. To
my surprise, he sounded less like a mealy-mouthed politician than
a left-wing activist, speaking on behalf of oppressed groups in
other lands. I felt welcomed.
went to Sinn Fein headquarters.
their bookstore, I picked up one or two of Gerry Adams’ books.
I then saw a man in the small store who resembled the person whose
photograph was on the cover. He left through a side door.
I went to the cashier and asked her if that was in fact him.
She offered to go get him for me, left, but came back, saying he
be sure, if someone were to scream at me that Gerry Adams condones
murder, I would not bother to argue (or agree) with them, having
long since become bored of that tiresome debate. Gerry Adams was
condemned by the English press when he served as a pallbearer for
a Volunteer who had been killed while planting a bomb. What
I find interesting is that Gerry Adams cares less about what the
oppressors think about him than he does about supporting his own
oppressed group. And the Irish Catholics repeatedly return
him to Parliament. This kind of steadfastness in the face of opposition
is unknown in black America, Jeremiah Wright being just the most
memorable recent example.
I traveled through Belfast, I saw a mural dedicated to African-Americans
and the Civil Rights Movement. I found a mural celebrating
the lives of the IRA hunger strikers. It was, ironically,
not a celebration of violence and death, as in Protestant Belfast,
but of life.
I saw a serene memorial in black marble. Engraved in the stone,
in gold letters, was a tribute to Fenians who fell to realize their
dream, of an Emerald Isle free of English domination. It read:
“the fools, the fools, the fools!—They have left us our Fenian dead,
and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never
be at peace.”
stood in silence, in awe. I loved this people.
white Americans celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, little do they know
that Gerry Adams and African-Americans have much more in common,
that the Irish in Northern Ireland are nothing like the people who
call themselves “Irish” in America. The snakes St. Patrick
got rid of moved
to Southie and became trigger-happy cops.
the difference between black Americans and the Irish remains stark.
The English never enslaved the Irish; but merely to end the offense
of having their nation occupied by foreigners, the Irish were willing
to go through—and give—hell.
Americans would have a prayer breakfast.
is what I remember: I walked into the restaurant of the most bombed-out
hotel in Northern Ireland. I saw a group of women at a table,
including an Irish girl with red hair, an emerald aflame; but, instead
of approaching, I turned, and walked away.
Guest Commentator, Dr. Jonathan David Farley, is the
2004 Harvard Foundation Distinguished Scientist of the Year.
He is currently Teaching and Research Fellow teaching mathematics
at the Institut für Algebra Johannes Kepler Universität
Linz, Linz Österreich Click here
to contact Dr. Farley.