Three Armies (and the secret to buying gifts)
Have you seen The Simpsons episode where Homer buys Marge a new bowling ball? She goes to use it and finds that Homer had the holes drilled to fit his fingers. I did something similar recently, but it wasn’t intentional.
I bought my mom and sister Aran Goyoaga’s newest cookbook, “Cannelle et Vanille”. I’ve benefited greatly from this gift. My mom and sister are great cooks, and my mom has been firing up one delicious meal after another from the cookbook. The recipes are fantastic, but the book itself is nice to dive into. Goyoaga writes really well and, with an economy of words, will have you bouncing back and forth between kitchens in Seattle and Basque country.
I bought my mom and dad Patrick Radden Keefe’s “Say Nothing”. It’s an incredible book that explores Northern Ireland’s Troubles through an unsolved murder (more on this in a bit). I hadn’t heard of it before buying it. But I find that you can’t go wrong looking for gifts at small, independent bookstores. I bought both of these books from Changing Hands in Phoenix. It’s smaller than Elliott Bay, but it punches above its weight class.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I hardly know anything about Irish history and the various struggles and conflicts between Ireland, Northern Ireland, and the UK (which also includes Northern Ireland). I’ve been to Ireland twice in the past few years, and I’m kicking myself for not having done more research before the first trip or for planning visits to more sites related to those struggles. Luckily, my sister and mother were involved in the planning, so they made sure we visited Kilmainham Gaol and locations that conveyed the magnitude of Irish migrations. I don’t go in for museums as much as I used to – I like wandering too much – but I’d go back to Kilmainham Gaol again and again. My interest in learning more about Irish history was piqued.
I visited Ireland a second time in October 2019. I’d been in London with family, and then I stayed on to try and put together some documentary photography work related to Brexit. The topic interested me for a lot of reasons, one of which was that nobody seemed to understand it. The articles I read all talked about dates and votes, but hardly any of them discussed the terms or what was going to happen. I think it’s because no one really knew what the hell was going on or how exactly things would change. Another reason was the Irish border. Brexit meant the possibility of a hard border going up again between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Would the island see a return to violence? How long does it take for peace to take root?
I did the research before and during the second trip. I picked up two small but dense books that are part of the Haus Curiosities Series.
I struggled with “DRAWING THE LINE”. The writing is good and informative, but as I mentioned earlier, it’s dense. I kept having to re-read sections. One part or impression that surprised me was the notion that many prominent British politicians through the decades wanted to be free of the Irish question, and that there were several policy proposals. It was the ins and outs of those negotiations that confused the heck out of me.
Spending time in Sligo and Belleek really helped put things in better perspective, but I don’t want to overstate it. Belleek is a neat little town that straddles the border, and I had a wonderful, long conversation with some folks in a pub there. But you don’t walk away from a night of drinking in an Irish pub with an understanding of The Troubles or the significance of the border. It’s just a start.
Back to “Say Nothing”. It was the perfect supplemental information I needed. A murder mystery jam-packed with information about the people and lives caught up in The Troubles. It’s set mainly in Belfast, and it can be hard to read because of the content. Humans excel at killing one another. It’s thoroughly, meticulously researched, and the writing is fantastic. There’s an odd structure to it. I can’t explain it very well. Keefe regularly finishes his chapters with twists, little cliff-hangers almost. He’ll then start off the next chapter by filling in some missing details. I stopped noticing it after I got the hang of it. If you read it, and occasionally feel like you’ve missed something, fear not, the information will be provided.
The book touches on all aspects of The Troubles, but it focuses mainly on the people comprising the IRA, their structure and internal dynamics, and their battles with the British Army and British intelligence services. The book doesn’t shy away from their decision to pursue violence or from the consequences of engaging in violence. And as Keefe points out several times, Belfast is small. No one was spared.
I think I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent, or several tangents. I was rushing through this so I could give the book back to my dad. He was about 70 pages in when I stole it from him. That is really annoying. Sorry dad. I also underlined a lot. I used pencil and kept it faint. Sorry again.
Why’d I title this Three Armies? Because after “Say Nothing” I went back to Martin Luther King’s “Why We Can’t Wait”. I got it when I bought the Haus Curiosities books. I’ve been making slow progress through it because I’m not the reader I used to be. Trying to rewire the synapses. I think the key is staying offline as much as possible.
I just finished the chapters in which King describes their efforts in and preparations for protests in Birmingham. There’s a section where King mentions that they happily called themselves an army.
By twenties and thirties and forties, people came forward to join our army. We did not hesitate to call our movement an army. But it was a special army, with no supplies but its sincerity, no uniform but its determination, no arsenal except its faith, no currency but its conscience. It was an army that would sing not slay. It was an army that would flank but not falter. It was an army to storm bastions of hatred, to lay siege to the fortresses of segregation, to surround symbols of discrimination. It was an army whose allegiance was to God and whose strategy and intelligence were the eloquently simple dictates of conscience.
I can’t imagine the courage and discipline it took to commit to non-violence…non-violence in the face of lifetimes of oppression and violence.
I have stood in a meeting with hundreds of youngsters and joined in while they sang “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round.” It is not just a song; it is a resolve. A few minutes later, I have seen those same youngsters refuse to turn around from the onrush of a police dog, refuse to turn around before a pugnacious Bull Connor in command of men armed with power hoses. These songs bind us together, give us courage together, help us to march together.
I’m not smart enough to make any grand pronouncements on the ideas of violence and non-violence. I am glad, though, that I read that section in the King book after reading “Say Nothing”.