Protests and poetry – what a contrast

Loyalists Against Democracy - a Facebook page with in excess of 5000 followers.
Loyalists Against Democracy - a Facebook page with in excess of 5000 followers.

It’s a funny old world.

What can you say about a society that throws up the greatest Irish poet since Yeats along with an underclass of uneducated, uncultured, violent bigots? The contrast is stark.

Writing about loyalist protestors, the commentator Newton Emerson says, “It matters that those causing disorder over ‘culture’ are totally uncultured, reflexively violent and seething with gormless hatred. However, to say so commits the terrible crime of snobbery…”

Yes, it is snobbery to criticise a group of mainly working-class people, in this case the loyalist ‘fleg’ and march protestors, and it’s politically incorrect as well. We have a lost tribe that polite, middle-class, garden-centre society has left behind and we’re not supposed to mention them, never mind to describe them as they are.

Actually, as Emerson points out, a satirical Facebook page goes a step further. The Loyalists Against Democracy page cruelly mocks them.

It’s hugely popular. That might make us uncomfortable but even if it does leave us open to a charge of snobbery shouldn’t we face up to reality? Shouldn’t we call a spade a spade?

The problem is that the political representatives of these people are unwilling to face reality. They daren’t criticise even the worst of their downright bad behaviour. After all, they marched them into their metaphorical cul-de sac in the first place so their unwillingness to criticise them now is hardly surprising.

For instance, Belfast’s Lord Mayor was roughed up by a mob and there was severe rioting in Royal Avenue with barely a word of condemnation. Some politicians were too busy whipping up new anger over a republican march.

But it’s not just that unionist politicians are reluctant to criticise bad behaviour. Their whole political agenda is based on the demands of the angriest elements of their tribe. It’s the politics of the lowest common denominator. The elected representatives are careful to lead from a few steps behind. They march along like camp-followers behind the band.

It’s remarkable too, that these elected representatives are the loudest champions of selective education. It has left a long tail of underachievement in its wake. It has helped to create a social underclass of urban working-class Protestants (and Catholics). Despite that, many unionists are happy to pedal the old myth that we have a world-beating system of education.

At the other end of the scale we can take pride in our great poet, Seamus Heaney. His roots were in rural South Derry but he was schooled in the city. Hasn’t St Columb’s College produced more than its share of distinguished old-boys?

Heaney was an educator. His poetry is accessible. It isn’t difficult or obscure but it makes no concessions to the second-rate or to trite sentimentality. It’s searingly honest. Alexander Pope defined poetry as “What oft was thought, but ne’er so well express’d.” That captures Heaney perfectly.

Seamus Heaney wasn’t a snob. Unlike Yeats he didn’t adopt affectations he thought suited a distinguished poet. Heaney carried his genius lightly.

When a journalist asked him how he managed to stay sane with so many public demands on his time, including meetings with monarchs, presidents and celebrities he spoke of his two brothers and said, “They come with me wherever I go”. One of his brothers drove a furniture van and one worked for the local creamery.

Seamus Heaney has enriched our human experience. Elsewhere in this page is an appreciation of just one of his poems.