An Irishman's Diary
THE SLUGGEROTOOLE blog is undoubtedly one of the better things on the Irish internet. Despite its main subject matter, Northern Irish politics, debates on it are surprisingly civilised, as a rule.
Decorum is maintained partly by a disciplinary system involving red and yellow cards. And in ensuring that robust exchanges do not degenerate into outright violence, the system works at least as well there as it does as in the Ulster Football Championship.
Even so, the obsessions of the contributors would depress you sometimes. Thus it was on Wednesday last when the Northern psyche was laid bare by the juxtaposition of two fairly typical discussion threads. One was about the marching season. The other was about the planet Mars.
More specifically, the first story – itself a typically reasoned piece by Slugger’s founding editor Mick Fealty – concerned tensions arising from a republican parade past an Anglican church in Dungiven. The second story, part of an occasional series on scientific issues, detailed new findings from the Curiosity Rover’s tour of the Martian surface.
And all right, Mars might be a minority interest on most websites, never mind sites focused on Northern politics. One couldn’t expect stories from the red planet to be anything like as pressing as events on the green and orange planets where most Sluggerotoole contributors live.
Nevertheless, the length of the respective discussions highlighted a severe lack of perspective. Number of comments on the Mars thread (at time of writing): 3. Number of comments on Dungiven parade: 259. Clearly, as Oscar Wilde said, some of us are looking at the stars. Just not very many of us.
IT’S A MAD idea, I admit. But maybe enforced annual visits to Armagh Planetarium should be part of the training for all Northern politicians, community leaders and parade organisers. You never know. An afternoon spent gazing at the heavens, every July or August, might help ease tensions on the ground.
Not that space exploration is devoid of politics either. As the death of Neil Armstrong reminded us, man-made debris on the moon includes US and Soviet flags. And it’s just as well that lunar travel was so prohibitively expensive. Otherwise the Sea of Tranquillity would now probably also have Tricolours and Union Jacks, and maybe banners saying “Brits Out” and “No Pope Here”.
Happily, the debris actually left there includes a silicon disc, left by the Apollo 11 mission, with messages of peace and goodwill from 73 world leaders. The authors included Ireland’s president in 1969, Éamon de Valera. But one of messages I like most was a rather poetic one from the president of Côte d’Ivoire. Among the things he wished Neil Armstrong would do on landing is “tell the moon how beautiful it is at night when it illuminates the Ivory Coast”. And he added, in a message that still has relevance for all of us, not least contributors to Sluggerotoole: “I especially wish that he would turn towards our planet Earth and cry out how insignificant the problems which torture men are when viewed from up there.”