Patriotic feelings can be good or bad. “Breathes there a man with soul so dead/ Who never to himself hath said/ This is my own, my native land!”
That’s how Scottish poet Sir Walter Scott put it. But patriotic emotions also come with a health warning. They can be taken too far and get us into terrible trouble. Aren’t all human emotions best kept under control? “The last refuge of a scoundrel,” was how 18th century writer Samuel Johnston described patriotism. But surely we’re emotionally stunted if we never allow ourselves to feel proud of our native land.
The question for many northerners is which ‘land’ do we allow ourselves to feel proud of? For me, the answer is a resounding, “Ireland”. As I say, it’s an emotional thing.
That’s partly why I was pleased to accept an invitation to speak at the recent Bogside Féile. The discussion was about reconciliation and nation building.
That sounds very grand! Apart from a spot of patriotism, there’s nothing like a wee bit of nation building!
Seriously though, it was a good discussion. Sinn Féin’s national chairperson, Declan Kearney accused some unionists of pursuing a “wrongheaded strategy” which “pays lip service to reconciliation”.
“Ordinary Protestant, unionist and loyalist citizens deserve and should ask for better than that,” he said. I agree.
The next day on Radio Ulster, Mitchell McLaughlin spoke of the, “huge legacy of hurt and division”.
He also conceded that, “the conflict may have been avoidable,” although he said he didn’t think it was. That’s where we differ. I do believe the conflict was avoidable.
It’s too late now. We can’t change the past but it’s not too late to prevent it happening again.