We're coming up on St. Patrick's Day, the celebration of all things Irish in America--corned beef and cabbage, Guinness, parades, blarney and wearin' o the green. It's a great day, even if it's mainly an American thing...Irish-Americans know how to party. But I wanted to remind everybody that even though we have those great verses, "in the lilt of Irish laughter...you can hear the angels sing," life hasn't exactly been sweetness and light for Irish people this century, particularly in the six counties of northern Ireland.
An instructive example of this is the life and death of Rosemary Nelson, who lived most of her adult life in Portadown, n. Ireland, a flashpoint of Catholic-Protestant conflict. She was a lawyer, an advocate for human rights, with no connections to radical groups like the IRA. She quietly fought the deck that was stacked against her--the Protestant-dominated police, the Protestant paramilitary groups, anyone who unfairly targeted Catholic citizens. She defended victims of police abuse, she spoke out against victims of sectarian violence, and she tried as best she could to prevent the annual "in-your-face" Protestant parades on the notorious Garvaghy road that celebrated Protestant victories over Catholics and kept the pot of resentment and incitement boiling. She did all that she could to defend Catholic citizens and advance their cause, i.e. obtaining the same rights as other citizens of the United Kingdom. But that was too much for some Protestant extremists, who booby-trapped her car and murdered her on March l5, l999. Evidence emerging since that time has implicated the security services, police and paramilitaries, just as people familiar with the case alleged.
The point of her life is that Irish people, especially Catholics in northern Ireland, have had a lot more tough times than smiles
this century and last. Rosemary Nelson's life teaches us that much. It also shows us that no government gives concessions unless people press for them, agitate for them, are willing even to die for them. I guess in the end, Rosemary Nelson and the other non-violent advocates for justice in Ireland give real meaning to the phrase, "freedom isn't free."
I hope that when you hoist your Guinness on Saturday, you'll remember Rosemary Nelson and all the Catholics and Protestants in Ireland who have worked to put an end to injustice for Catholic citizens in the six northern counties.. They deserve all our admiration.