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The Fields of Athenry

Irish republicanism

Early 21st Century —

When the Irish Republican Army officially renounced its armed struggle in July of 2005, an Irish friend and I were talking about it.

He told me that when he was growing up, you wouldn't do that. He said that, in his family for example, his grandmother would shush any conversation on the topic. Even at home, behind doors — you just didn't talk about the Republican Army.

Nobody talks about the Troubles in Ireland. Nobody discusses the Northern Ireland problems, generally.

On the street or in the pub, you'd not raise the topic. The topic raised, you'd mostly want to start talking about something else.

Once, in a place called Peter's Bar and Lounge in Cahir, County Tipperary, the radio news told of some particularly brutal killing in Belfast. The barmaid turned the volume down. The two old gents back of my right shoulder kept on with their conversation, with their talk of local hurling. Plaudits for some boy they agreed was good stuff on the pitch.

"Lovely hurlin'."

Ireland is Catholic, republican, but neither overtly. Some lads will play rebel songs on the jukebox. They'll curse the British; but humorously. Being Catholic, the Irish are also pretty easy-going about the Bible. But the church there has ruined people's lives with impunity — an impunity granted by its stewardship of this one book. It's like seeing history in the light of day there, in recent years, as that changes.

I'm American. This is not my native country. I don't ask stupid questions, usually. But concerning Irish republicanism, and anti-British political feelings, I say nothing. There's nothing to say. Independence from foreign rule is a natural human sentiment; and the matters concerning the British northern six counties is complex beyond my understanding.

And, of course, anyone who knows anything isn't going to speak openly. If I've met anyone who had been complicit with the IRA, for example, I don't know it.

You wouldn't. Ireland is changing; but I'm sure the habit of a closed mouth is deeply set in the Irish psyche. Which is an interesting counterpoint to their phenomenal gift of gab....