Last week’s column on Martin McGuinness has, to say the least, prompted a great deal of debate. While a lot of it was regarding the rights or wrongs of the circumstances of McGuinness and by extension Republicanism in general, some involved the nature and rationale of the conflict itself. But really, what possible reason could there be for a united Ireland?
There are certainly no logical reasons for such a move. In a lot of cases, it seems to me, the desire to unite Ireland comes from a deep-seated case of geographical obsessive compulsion: Ireland is an island, that stands alone on the north Atlantic, and having another country administering a small part of it is just plain messy. The anti-partition school of thought in favor of a United Ireland is related to this, in as much as they claim every political problem from social inequality to the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa could be solved by scrubbing the border.
And then there’s the good old irredentists, the ones who maintain the Brits are occupying the six counties and that Ireland is for the Irish, whatever the hell that means. None of these have any real life application. I’ve lived on the border basically all my life and I don’t understand the fervency towards what is and has always been an infeasible pipe-dream.
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The reality is that green post boxes in Strabane will not make Strabane any happier or more prosperous a place to live in. It will not make the villages between Strabane and Derry that paint their curbs red, white and blue and brandish union flags and ensigns any more favorable to Ireland, or any less attached to Britain. It will not change the fact that whatever the nationality of the people who live in those villages, they can probably trace their family roots as far back on this island as anyone.
Besides, a lot of Donegal Catholics have Scottish planter lineage too who converted at some point along the way. They’re hardly more Irish because of that. Britain handing over the deeds to Northern Ireland would not have any positive transformative effect. Combining our forces will not create a land of milk and honey.
As the recent Life and Times survey bears out (see link above), this isn’t a niche opinion. Most people in Ireland, northern Catholics or otherwise, are much more concerned about tackling social and economic matters than eternally gazing through a national prism. Besides, Ireland has always been much more complex and interwoven than the irredentists like to imagine.
Taking Donegal as an example, we have much more tangible connection with Glasgow than we do with Cork, lovely a place as it is. It’s much easier and quicker to get to Glasgow from Letterkenny than it is to Cork too. People where I’m from who live in the Republic often do a lot of their shopping, socializing and even working across the border, the presence of which forms no impediment to traveling or interacting. In Padraig Pearse’s proclamation nearly one hundred years ago, he talked about freedom and liberty, about equal rights and opportunity, about pursuing happiness and prosperity.
As our access to the world and its different cultures becomes greater and greater, so long as we fight for those principles does it really matter what flags are flying overhead?