“There were no aborigines in Ireland,” was a pithy saying attributed to the late Douglas Gageby. He was the distinguished editor of The Irish Times from 1963 to 1986.
(The word “aborigines” is here spelled with a small “a,” as it is used to refer to the indigenous people of any country. When spelled with a capital A, it refers to the original people of the Australian continent.)
It was quoted in an excellent opinion piece in The Irish Times over the holidays by the author Paul Murray. He explained Douglas Gageby’s point, which is, “that our ancestors are (all) descendants of invaders, planters and settlers of varying kinds.”
In other words, there is no such thing as a pure Irish race. “We’re all mongrels,” as a friend once put it.
Maybe it’s a point some Protestants and the descendants of settlers are fond of hearing. It gives us some assurance that nobody can rightly claim to be more Irish than we are. But it’s also an important point for all Irish people to remember.
Because we’re all hybrids, nobody has, “the right to write us out of the national story,” as Mr Murray puts it. It follows that no one small group of Irish people has a right to wage war on another small group of Irish people. That should go without saying but given our recent history here in the North maybe it’s a point we need to be reminded of.
Past wrongs don’t justify present wrongs. Later in this column I make the point that Ireland wasn’t partitioned because of a democratic vote but because of the threat that “Ulster would fight and Ulster would be right.” The concept of the ballot box in one hand and a rifle in the other wasn’t a republican invention. Fortunately for us, the genius of the Good Friday Agreement is that it has given us a road map to get out of past difficulties.
Now that most of us in Derry are looking forward to a peaceful 2013 with many cultural events happening, it’s a good time to
remind ourselves that, “There were no aborigines in Ireland.”
Incidentally, holidays can be bleak times for newspaper columnists.
Usually there’s not much happening. Ok, we’re a week
into January now but the after effects linger on.
For at least ten days the papers were filled with reviews of last year and quizzes. Mr Murray’s article was a worthwhile exception.