15 June 2010


So, the British Prime Minister apologized for Bloody Sunday.

Thank you, God.

For 841 years, these two peoples have been involved in a deadly tug-of-war that has robbed them of justice, has robbed them of hope, has robbed them of basic human decency.

The survivors and the victims' families are elated, and everybody else seems to be taking the news and the apology well. Less well-taken is talk of pursuing charges against the culpable soldiers. I commented on Facebook about the healing power of a basic apology. A friend of mine commented that he prefers prosecutions.

It's that kind of thinking that has mired first the English, and then the British, and the Irish into eight hundred years of conflict.

Think about that. This all started when Diarmait Mac Murchada, the new former-king of Leinster was rather put out at having been, well, put out. It turns out it makes the High King (then Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair) pretty damn cranky when you abduct the wife of one of your brother kings. Well, he ran to Normandy, and while Henry II was too busy either sticking his wife in a tower or having the Bishop of Canterbury murdered, he introduced Mach Murchada to his man Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke. In order to seal the deal, Mach Murchada's daughter Aoife married de Clare. And--and this is the kicker--Mach Murchada swore to be de Clare's man. The only dumber move in Irish history was when the Irish Parliament literally voted itself out of existence in 1800. To make an already long story short, they were extremely successful, and when Mach Murchada died his kingship passed to de Clare by the authority of Mach Murchada's oath and de Clare's position as Mach Murchada's son in law. This was so successful, several other Norman noblemen launched invasions of Connaught, Munster, and East Ulster. So eventually Henry II had to come over with a sizeable army to make sure that de Clare and the others didn't get out of line and challenge his authority, and wound up adding Ireland to his empire almost by accident.

The year was 1169. The Christian West was uniformly Roman Catholic. Astrology was still an integral part of medicine. Indoor plumbing had been lost three hundred years before, and would not return for six hundred fifty more. This is hundreds of lifetimes we're talking about. Eight hundred forty-one years of prosecution.

And what does prosecution get you?

Prosecutions, done right, yield justice. The Irish, both Protestant and Catholic, have had a bellyful of justice, at least the tit-for-tat that passes for legal justice, or the bloodier exchanges that are the justices of war. Justice does not guarantee peace. Justice does not guarantee that no more school buses get blown up. Justice is the marble idol clung to by the bitter and twisted. Justice is important, justice has its place, but prioritizing it over compassion and common sense has resulted in one of the longest running civil disputes in the world, if it doesn't actually hold that dubious title.

This does not even address prosecutions conducted ingenuously or by the corrupt, which leave both sides deeply divided and mired in anger.

The good news is that the last time there was a bombing, no one rallied around it, and there was no surge in violence. The current apprehension is all based on emotion. Put bluntly, the generation of combatants hasn't died yet, and while the problem is as fixed as it can be, and while the majority is happy with the solution, there are people out there with grudges and a really solid knowledge of how to build a bomb.