“We’re terribly sorry.” “Yes, it was only half a mile from here. We’re very embarrassed.” “So sorry this happened on your first night.”
That’s what Belfast hotel employees said when I engaged them on details of the previous evening’s riots. Shame on a news junkie talk show host and newspaper columnist for sleeping through it.
Honestly, I was softly caressed to an early, travel-weary sleep by the “Belfast Lullaby” of gunfire and sirens.
On the street the next day, locals were more direct. “Those (expletive) are just lookin’ fer a fight. No one cares anymore.” “We get money from the U.K. Ireland is broke.” “We’ve already voted. Sinn Fein has political clout and most of us support the Queen.”
It started when hundreds of mostly Catholics who support joining Northern Ireland to the south legally paraded through Belfast toward over a thousand mostly Protestants loyal to the Queen. The loyalists had gathered purposefully to protest against the unionists on this anniversary of internment.
As one police spokesman noted, “They (the loyalists) were bent on violence.” Each group sees themselves as supporting victims of the other in a brave fight for what is right. Gerry Kelly, Sinn Fein Stormont Assemblyman for North Belfast and former top IRA member, said: “As a Republican, we don’t expect unionists to accept our view of history and neither should they expect me to accept their view of history.”
Each side points to acts of terror and killings of innocents by the other.
Each can readily point to examples of the other honoring those who have killed innocent civilians.
It’s a side of Ireland most tourists don’t encounter. Most don’t want to. It seemed to me that most Irish, North and South, don’t want to, either … especially to an American … except in their music.
My bucket list has a checkmark next to the sentence, “Enjoy local Irish musicians playing traditional music in a local pub.”
When a couple of the patrons order their Murphy’s and Guinness in Gaelic, you know you’re in the right place.
So it was in Cork, on Main Street. The Irish bouzouki player entered first and downed the first of many tasty porters before the minstrel in charge, “Kathy,” whirled in with her fiddle and Jameson and coke.
By the time they had breezed through “She Moved Through the Fair,” “A Parcel of Land,” “Whiskey in the Jar,” “Molly Malone” “The Town I Loved so Well,” and a few more that I didn’t recognize, the troupe had grown to 5 musicians and the crowd at An Spailpin Fanach (Gaelic for “itinerant farmer” or “traveling farmhand”), had grown to standing room only at 11pm on this typical Wednesday.
The band took a break and I ventured outside through their cigarette smoke with a question.
“You are all such good musicians. Does anyone get paid for playing at pubs?”
Kathy explained, “The pubs pay two, maybe three players to come in, then others join throughout the night until they get one to pay them. It’s not very good, though. They pay me 40 euros and my Jameson and coke cost me 6 and 40. I’ll be lucky to go home with 10.” She smiled and said, “I get a might thirsty.”
The only rioting in Cork was the fun sort.