Mike Vickers' Blog

December 17, 2013

Mary McAleese at the Royal Society of Edinburgh

Filed under: Europe, Ireland, Scotland, World Class — derryvickers @ 12:31 pm

What can I say – a tour de force – covering her life and Irish times over 50 years.
1 ½ hours non-stop.  No wonder she is an honorary fellow of the RSE.

From being born on the wrong side of the street in Belfast to taking a master’s degree in Catholic Canon Law in Rome and meeting the Pope, passing through on the way, graduating in law at Queens Belfast, Professor of Criminal Law at Trinity Dublin, back to Queens as Pro-Vice-Chancellor, deeply involved in the peace process and two terms as President of Ireland and bringing the Queen to Dublin.

Points she made:

  1. Daniel O’Connell her hero
  2. She chose Law rather than the IRA when her family was driven out of house and home by the B Specials.  Why Criminal Law – ‘don’t enjoy just do it’
  3. Moved to Dublin – expected to find the city of freedom at the end of the rainbow – everything sweetness and catholic light – wrong – Dublin was a place of elites – what’s new!
  4. While as Pro-vice Chancellor one of her tasks was to broaden the teaching base from protestant males to include Catholics and women – she succeeded with the Catholics but much less successful with the women
  5. She took time out to be a TV presenter on current affairs with RTV to get out and about away from Dublin from Kerry to Donegal.
  6. She recalls the 50 year celebrations of the battle of the Somme and the Easter uprising on the same day.  She makes the point that 250,000 Irishmen mainly Catholics fought with the Brits in WWI and 50,000 died and those who did return were outcasts.  Things are so much better now with Irish attending the Cenotaph.
  7. She is particularly caustic on ‘history’ – how it is manipulated to meet the required political standpoint.
  8. To the spade work before the Good Friday agreement she praises the work of a Catholic priest Alec Reid (who died in November) as the originator and go between, between Catholic and protestant fighters; fighters who realised that there were going to be no winners, only long term prisoners.  She also praises the leaders John Major and Albert Reynolds – leaders who had little ego to get in the way of doing business.  On the Irish side Jerry Adams was the man to bring the IRA on board ably supported by John Hume who for his troubles suffered the wrath of God from the SDLP.  A point worth noting in this media driven world, these talks were secret and had to be secret.
  9. As President she has entertained the Orange order.  She delights in the fact that the apprentice boy celebrations in Londonderry are now a carnival where everyone Catholics and Protestants joins in.  The killing of two policemen by the Real IRA did not cause an immediate response from the protestant gangs.  But she recognises that Belfast is at least as badly segregated as it ever was.
  10. And while she respects the Northern Irish right to their own homeland she is happy at some time in the future if they vote for a United Ireland
  11. She retold how she worked over a number of years to get the Queen to Dublin and how it all nearly fell apart when the arrangements were being finalised and the Irish parliament collapsed.  But in the end the 4 day event went ahead as a total success and the Queen came as equal and did honour to the Irish dead of so many years and particularly the Easter rising.
  12. The EU came up only once and that was that the EU was the only Union that Ireland had joined voluntarily!
  13. So to her current activity – the master’s degree in Canon Law.  Her interest is particularly in children’s rights.  She sees no women cardinals in her lifetime but recognises that Pope Francis brought a big spoon with him when he journeyed from Argentina.  However she laughs when he plans to convene a conference on family values in modern times composed of 200 celibate men!
  14. There was little time for questions and the one that got her going was one on the death of shipbuilding in Belfast and the Clyde.  40% of the young people in Europe are unemployed and as the old adage goes ‘Satan finds work for idle hands’.  With Belfast in the past it was the catholic youth who had no work – now it’s all youth.  In Ireland it’s back to the emigration from the short pause of the Celtic Tiger.  Youth require work and dignity.  She recalls a recent visit to the US where education is leaving young people with debts of $250,000 and no work at the end.  But she is not advocating an end to education.
  15. Towards the finish of her talk Mary McAleese repeatedly came back to the theme of good neighbours; England and Ireland and she did not forget to mention Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.  It’s all matter of building bridges and this has to be taken calmingly and slowly – after all England has been holding Ireland down for hundreds of years.  She used the work incubation.

It was the first time I have been at the RSE where the proceedings finished with a standing ovation; and totally deserved.

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