Dublin in the 1970s and 80s was hardly a beacon of inclusivity. It was poor, right wing and tolerant of cruelty. However that generalisation does not do justice to the world I grew up in.
When I bring my family on a walk around that area I point out Mrs Bernstein’s house. A refugee from Stalin’s pogroms, my mother loved her gentle interest in our family and Mrs Bernstein loved the Christmas puddings my mother made with butter instead of suet so it might be considered ‘Kosher’.
The house where the ‘Communist’ lived. I’ve no idea how left wing the man was but his daughter was a painter who put her work in the window to dry and their roses were shared with everyone who came to their flower filled garden.
The Protestants whose grandfathers had been part of the ascendency but who lived in only three rooms of their big Georgian house because they couldn’t afford to do up the rest. She was a close friend of my mother’s as they tried quite successfully to grow vegetables in their tiny backyards.
Difference was not viewed as much with suspicion as it was with interest and curiosity. We didn’t live in a Utopia by any means but we lived together with acceptance. I sub-consciously thought that this was how the world worked given half the chance.
I moved to Belfast in May 1994. To this day I am called a Free Stater – a term more burning in insult than I can express. But that shock of partitionism was small beer.
In July that year I realised something I had not understood, but has been confirmed every year since. I had moved from Dublin with all of the arrogance of being 24, a politically active republican and thinking the difference was British occupation.
I had not fully realised what the 12th July meant and the associated celebration of the fact that I was hated by virtue of my nationality, by people who didn’t know me. I realised I had not understood hate. How unreasoning or unyielding that is. Being exposed to this “culture” was indeed a culture shock!
I hadn’t understood how expression of hate on the 12th July would affect me. I’d already been missing the freedom of Dublin to travel wherever you want. But this restriction was different. Hate stopped travel. The smell of hate filled the sky with the burning of pallets and tyres. I didn’t feel fear, I felt desperately sad. And suffocated by much more than the bonfire fumes. That hasn’t changed in 21 years.
Acts that deliberately intimidate and hurt others, are not an expression of culture or memory – especially in our post conflict context. They perpetuate the context of conflict. We all have an obligation to ensure we do not contribute to that.
The idea that the current forms of expression transform into a festival that promotes understanding or tolerance is a conceit for the official assimilation of hate. And the BBC calling it “glorious” compounds the official pretence and denial of reality.