By Des Wilson (for the Andersonstown news)
What a good idea it was to have a ceili on the worn out site of the old British military/police barracks on the Andersonstown Road junction.
It gave a new dimension to the saying, “Our revenge will be the laughter of our children “ - our revenge will be the laughter of our adults as well! It says something for the spirit of people that when they celebrate the end of a torture house it is by dancing and not by sullen hatred nurtured in secret lodges. We can be thankful for that. And we can be hopeful that as the last traces of the torture houses are wiped away we shall replace them with something good and wholesome, something which everyone can enjoy.
However hard we find it to say, there has to be a place even for the torturers in a new society, that is of course if the torturers behave themselves in the future and repay some of the hurt they did in the past.
Forgiveness has always been a noble part of the tradition of nationalists and republicans. Their religious ideals were often at odds with their political ones, but they were able to give value to each. There could hardly be a more powerful symbol of the wisdom and maturity of a people than their dancing together on the site of what seemed like their torturers’ triumph. Many many times when the torture was at its height gentle men and women used to turn to face the soldiery and their local helpers in the police and say, “Listen, when you are gone, we will still be here”. So it turned out to be, and on that empty site not only were the people there but they were dancing.
To be fair, somebody will say that Andersonstown barracks was not specially known as a torture centre like Holywood (what an irony that British torture chambers were situated in a place called Holy Wood, what a corruption of our life story, to begin as an Irish holy wood and end up as a British torture chamber! Fortunately there is still time to purge the disgrace and the hurt and the evil. We have, as many good people pointed out many many times, a good history before us, the torturers have a disgraceful past). But although Andytown barracks was not known specially as a torture centre it was a staging post to torture centres. Nobody knows how many people were passed through those doors on their way to their suffering.
Just as nobody knows today how many people are being passed through our airport Shannon on their way to be tortured in God knows what country, some country where torture can be done to order while The Respectable of their own countries will not be held accountable for it.
One of the most touching and haunting stories of the old times is that of a republican who was flung into jail at the whim of those in power in the old one party state. When he was released he did what he had always done, went to worship God in St Mary’s Church in the centre of Belfast. And going in and out of the church he used to see blessing himself and genuflecting a man who had been one of the worst tormentors of the helpless prisoners.
The torturer was worshipping in the same church as his victims. Did he fling the holy water font at his tormentor now that he was free? No. He blessed himself and went on with his praying. Maybe he even went to a ceili and gave his tormentor a ticket.
Out of all the destructiveness - for which governments were mostly responsible - we had to create, he believed, a life which appreciates our people. All our people. One of the great ideals of the old times, the times when the literature was written which we refer to as The Bible, people used to long for the day when the weapons would be melted down and made into useful tools to give people food and shelter and enjoyment. It is an ideal that lives eternally in people’s minds, no matter what the arms manufacturers do or say. In the 1960s and 70s we used to get tired demanding equal jobs in Shorts and said, “Take those arms dealers away and give us decent industries”. A pity that powerful people did not listen.
It was echoing an ideal that was centuries old. The ceili in the Spas Siochana at Andytown showed that while our people want to see their weapons turned into tools for peace and prosperity they also demand that the government’s weapons be turned into what a peaceful people want, not what a corrupt government and its Irish supporters demand.
The moment the music started, the people decided what should happen, not the government.
The government wanted torture, the people wanted music.
And the people won.