An Irishman's Diary

Sat, Feb 16, 2013, 00:00

Make love, not war, was a concept understood in my native Fermanagh long before the love-in began in San Francisco with the flower people.

It came to my mind again when I read the census reports that the Roman Catholic population in the North is within a few points of the Protestant population.

This instantly made me recall the outpourings of an old reporter friend of the family who coined the phrase, “The terror of the bedstead”.

He was a strong loyalist and Protestant from darkest Fermanagh and was a frequent visitor to my home when my older brother was working as a cub reporter in the Fermanagh Herald in the 1960s.

They would travel together to report on the latest Border incidents at that time. They would visit Border posts that had been bombed or RUC stations that had been attacked.

They would arrive back to our house where there was always a nip of whiskey and people sitting around our fire visiting. These “ceilighers” were a common feature of rural Ireland at that time.

Eventually, the talk would get around to the goings-on around the territory now known as Quinnland and on one famous occasion our friend came up with his theory on republican terror, from a Fermanagh loyalist point of view.

“We don’t mind your bombs. We don’t mind your guns. What we fear is the terror of the bedstead. You are going to breed us out and my God, you are going to enjoy it,” he proclaimed.

Those days when Orange was Orange and Green was Green and there was nothing in between.

A Unionist Party MP, EC Ferguson, had talked about the terror of the bedstead in his own way just a few years before. “The nationalist majority in the county, ie, Fermanagh, notwithstanding a reduction of 336 in the year, stands at 3,684. We must ultimately reduce and liquidate that majority.

“This county, I think it can be safely said, is a unionist county. The atmosphere is unionist. The boards and properties are nearly all controlled by unionists. But there is still this millstone [the nationalist majority] around our necks.” Mr Ferguson resigned from Stormont in October 1949 to become crown solicitor for Co Fermanagh.

Then there was another man who came from our Green side of the fence who said there was no need for violent action to “liberate” the North. “Join the Nappy Brigade, not the Old Brigade” was his advice. “Breed like blazes and we will have a majority soon and there will be no stopping us,” he said.

Of course, the Nappy Brigade and the Terror of the Bedstead were constant threats to the unionist majority in the North. That was why they had to discriminate against the nationalist community by denying them local authority votes, local authority houses or jobs.

Had the kids that filled the nappies been allowed stay and breed more children, had they been given jobs, in a very short time there would have been a clear nationalist majority in the Northern counties.Over the past 90 years, there has always been a majority of Roman Catholic children in the North.

Apart from the very poor Protestant families, the majority of the Protestant population had much smaller families than the Roman Catholic population. Roman Catholic families were normally double those of their Protestant neighbours.

Of course, at the foundation of the Stormont government, there was an immediate problem for the unionists because a nationalist majority existed in counties Fermanagh, Tyrone and Derry. The unionists’ survival depended on ensuring the kids from the minority tradition could not stay where they were born. They had to go.

However, in the past 30 years, with more transparency and a fairer deal for the minority community, it appears the “terror of the bedstead” is coming to pass despite the dilution of the power of the Roman Catholic church on the evils of contraception.

Clearly the advice we were getting back then, essentially “make love not war”, or indeed “use love to make war”, is beginning to take hold in and around the dreary spires of Fermanagh and Tyrone.

And who knows, the emergence of a new breed of creature in the North which according to the census report describes itself as “Ulster Irish”, may stabilise the whole lot and the entire community may get on with living normal lives in this part of western Europe.

According to the census, this new grouping represents 25 per cent of the community there.It may be they are a splinter group of the “Ulster Scot” community or a breakaway group from the nationalist community, but exist they do and perhaps they are a positive sign.

One thing for sure, they are a new breed, but out of what bedstead or what colour of nappy they wore, I do not know.

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