It is in the unknown places that we discover who we are
The word change has been firmly on my mind. I suppose it was prompted by all my reminiscences of my childhood / teenage years in Northern Ireland around what is called ‘The marching season’.
If we don’t change we fossilise and each day demands that we grow into the day and don’t stay where we were yesterday. We can harden our positions about our identity and our morals though I believe we live best if we remain supple and fresh, who likes hard bread?
Just as we change our clothes each day so we do well to change our thinking and ideas.
By 1989 I had decided to move to Galway in the West of Ireland. I wanted in part to experience life from the other side of the coin. Living in the Republic was very different to living in Northern Ireland. The question of national identity was not debated as it was settled, this was the Irish Republic. It was for me to participate as much or as little as I chose.
It a sense I was experiencing two identities one in Northern Ireland which aligned itself to a British way of life and one in the West of Ireland that aligned itself to what was know as a Christian way of life. Christian had become the word used for non-catholics who gathered in Charismatic Churches. Perhaps anywhere else they may have been referred to as Evangelical Protestant but due to the conflict in Ireland, the word Protestant had negative connotations.
The Christians did not question their national identity as Irish although at times viewed suspiciously by their predominately Catholic neighbours. It was a reminder to me that your faith, your spirituality does not have to be aligned to a particular political ideology. The conflict in the North although political had a religious dimension in that most Unionist were Protestants and most Nationalists were Catholics.
I briefly became part of Young Fine Gael after being invited to join having spoken on Northern Ireland at a branch meeting at University College Galway (UCG). I was so bowled over by the acceptance I experienced that I felt it would have been a snub to say no. I did however resign shortly after when I was reminded that my primary role was peace work and to align myself with a political party would perhaps compromise my work.
I did, however, chose to carry the Irish flag in Switzerland during one my summers away from Galway. I felt that as I was living in the Irish Republic at the time it was acceptable for me to carry the flag. I think though it represented something much deeper. I had reached a place that politics no longer defined me and that I had ventured out from the familiar to the unknown.
The unknown did not have to mean that I was no longer who I was indeed it was in the unknown that I much more clearly saw what had shaped me.