In a Word. . . Yesterday

Photograph: Getty Images

Photograph: Getty Images

 

Yesterday, all our Troubles seemed so far away. Then it looked as though they were here to stay.

It came so suddenly. I won’t ever forget October 5th 1968 and the ferociously tribal feelings it unleashed south of the Border with Northern Ireland, 50 years ago. Yesterday.

For many it represents a beginning to the Troubles which would last until April 1998. Thirty years of slaughter, a shadow hanging over us.

No one in Ireland, now, longs for yesterday.

I remember with crystal clarity the reaction of adults in my world then to film by RTÉ cameraman Gay O’Brien of those peaceful civil rights marchers in Derry being battered into the tar by berserk RUC men on October 5th 1968.

The day our music died.

And that image of former West Belfast MP Gerry Fitt with blood streaming down his face after he too was beaten with a truncheon. How were we to know so much worse was to follow, and in Derry?

Rage “down south” was fuelled by the savage contempt which energised those RUC batons and what it said about attitudes in Belfast to Irish nationalists “up there”.

Paralysis

We had stood by, idly by, for almost 50 years.

Our response through those decades was, paralysis. We might talk about them at election time or sing sentimental songs in pubs, but only to sink into a familiar stupor once more as nationalists in Northern Ireland became trapped in a place as inferior and as real as that of black people in the deep South USA.

All our yesterdays, of nothing. No wonder so many Northern nationalists regard us “Free Staters” with less than restrained contempt.

History is on their side.

The violence of that day in Derry and the regime it represented bred the violence that was to follow. It was inevitable as a law of physics, and as amoral.

The real tragedy of Derry, Saturday, October 5th, 1968, was that it became the beginning of the end for peaceful means of change in Northern Ireland, with all the blood that was to follow.

Yesterday from Latin hesternus: “of yesterday”

inaword@irishtimes.com

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