When Bernadette Devlin — MP for Mid Ulster, Northern Ireland — crossed the floor of the Westminster Parliament in 1972 to slap the British Secretary of State’s face for saying the British Army fired in self-defense at the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry, she probably would have found it difficult to imagine Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuiness shaking hands with his nemesis Ian Paisley as co-leaders of the Stormont Parliament in Belfast today. But back then, Ms. Devlin – a leader of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement, and survivor of Domhnach na Fola (Bloody Sunday) – was caught up in the struggle for equal rights in housing, education, and employment, all the while trying to avoid being killed herself.
The survivor of an attempted assassination in which she was seriously wounded while British troops stood by, Bernadette Devlin – whose name in Irish means ferocious bear – was understandably outraged by the English government’s tolerance of miserable conditions of the native Irish in the north. Not to mention the covert supplying of arms to Loyalist terrorists running rampant in Belfast and Derry. The fact that Martin McGuiness — also a survivor of Bloody Sunday, and current MP for Devlin’s previous constituency — has managed to put aside the brutalities of British rule in his homeland to participate in power-sharing arrangements in the Northern Ireland Assembly, is testimony to both the determination of Sinn Fein to establish a united Ireland, as well as to their commitment to never return to the terrible violence of The Troubles they lived through for thirty awful years.
If there’s a lesson to be learned on the island of Ireland, and there are indeed many, it is that the hunger for liberty and the need to be self-determined cannot be denied when the will and unity of a subjected people remains strong. It can only be delayed, and with much bloodshed at that. We only hope the Good Friday Agreement will usher in a lasting peace in Ireland, something for which the indigenous Irish have suffered enormously for over eight hundred years. Ironically, the name of their island in Irish – Erin — is the Gaelic word for peace.
[Jay Thomas Taber (O’Neal) derives from the most prominent tribe in Irish history, nEoghan Ua Niall, the chief family in Northern Ireland between the 4th and the 17th centuries. His maternal family name in Irish means champion. Jay’s ancestors were the last great leaders of Gaelic Ireland, and in 1999 he walked the fields of Kinsale where they once fought. His grandmother’s grandfather’s grandfather emigrated from Belfast to South Carolina in 1768.]