A week when we learned so much about ourselves

It is at times like the past few days that I bemoan the decision to remove history as a core subject in the secondary Junior Cert cycle. A true understanding of what has happened in this country over the past 10 days, over the past six months, over the past three years in particular, is potentially lost on those who do not have a grasp of the backstory of this country. And how the lashin' of the rain and the lashing of the school leather shaped us into the people we became.

Our backstory was one of hidden scandals, of the sleeveen at the corners, the doffin' the cap at the gentry and the Church. A deference forced into us by conditioning. A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture, is like a tree without roots. A people who do not know what the past brought, and why it brought it, cannot know the lessons that will prevent that again. One of my fears in civic society at the moment is that people who are too keen to forget their past, or too ignorant of it, are the perfect receptors for the fake news that allows unscrupulous people to create a false agenda.

There are parts of this world where those who bomb and destroy want to eliminate history, so that they can create their own narrative. By making the unacceptable acceptable, by driving down the bars of appropriateness. History is not everything, but it is a gauge for us, a starting point; a clock that we use to tell our political and cultural time of day; it is a compass that we use to find ourselves on the map of human geography.

The events of last weekend can best be understood through the looking glass of history. The juxtaposition of the papal visit with the scenes in Tuam and at the Garden of Remembrance shows a country in rude health. One that is no longer prepared to accept a given; one that values human rights, one that wants to protect a spirituality, one that is prepared to stand up to those who preached to them but did not honour them.

I know hundreds of people who were in Knock, others who were in the Phoenix Park, others who were in Tuam, others who went to the Garden of Remembrance. They are all a very similar people. All with the capacity to be decent, idealistic, honourable, spiritual, content, angry, upset, betrayed, and many who were ultimately left disappointed by the outcome of the weekend's events.

A generation ago, it would have been unthinkable to hold or even cover the marches and the demonstrations that were held last weekend. The lack of respect would not have been tolerated; there would have been a phonecall from the Bishop's Palace....but we live in a different time. And we are more tolerant, and that right to be tolerated should extend to us all being more tolerant to others. Sometimes in debate, the maxim 'to the victor the spoils' allows for greater intolerance.

In our pages this week, we have photographs from Knock and Tuam, two locations within the same archdiocese, different but similar expressions, but both attended by people who cared, who wanted to see change, to see the right thing done.

It could be said that nobody left this weekend totally satisfied. The words that were expected and spoken were for many people not far enough; for others, they were seen as the start of a process; for others again, the process is too long for those who have suffered. In truth though, there are no words that can ever repair the damages done to people whose childhoods, whose entire lives, whose relationship with the world was taken from them and shattered.

For a few days, Ireland was at the centre of the attention of the world, at a time when the Vatican was enduring a crisis of its own regarding the same issue of abuse. It is hard to know if we saw two Irelands last weekend, or just one new one. Watching both sides was fascinating viewing, an insight into the same issue being handled by different groupings of our communities.

And so to history; The history of '79 was already tainted by what happened in the interim. It will be interesting if the history of the visit of 2018 will have been shown to have been a catalyst for change, for a determination that the likes will never be seen or tolerated again.


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