DEV'S TWELFTH OF JULY
Dev on the Cave Hill, Belfast?"
That's a new one. And it is told by James Kelly, long time northern political editor of Independent Newspapers. The story came from the Chief's own lips when, unusually, he was addressing a Belfast audience. That was on invitation in Queen's University, in 1959.
Kelly writes in Bonfires on the Hillside (Fountain Press, Belfast), which will no doubt be thoroughly reviewed in this newspaper and others, that Dev told his audience this was not his first time in Belfast. Many thought they were going to hear of his experience in Belfast Gaol. But no. "I came here as a young student. It was on the Twelfth of July", he said. The crowd, writes Kelly, thought they were going to hear his reactions to the Orange parades. But no. He confessed that he had spent the day at McArt's Fort on the Cave Hill, communing with the spirits of the United Irishmen. There, in June 1795 as everybody knows Tone, Russell, McCracken and others took "a solemn obligation . . . never to desist in our efforts until we had subverted the authority etc."
Kelly tells us that Dev's 1959 audience gasped and broke into chattering reaction. They felt, Kelly believes, that Dev should have faced the truth by watching the Twelfth march" this manifestation of the tribalism which gave the colour of orange to the Irish Tricolour." Dev, of course, may have come across the white painted advice often found on rocks near the fort, such as PREPARE TO MEET THY GOD or even political slogans. He can hardly have missed, in the city, the pictorial and verbal eruptions which are more evident than ever at that season. His private archives may tell us more about this youthful expedition.
In those days the heather around would have abounded in grouse and other game, and in treading in the steps of the United Irishmen he may have been fulfilling a very personal pilgrimage in his own mind. Or keeping a promise.
The book abounds in stories of very many of the major figures on the northern scene of his time and some touching aspects of Kelly's own memories.