Monday, January 09, 2006

My favourite Irishman

One attraction that graced many an Irish blog last year was an invitation to vote for your favourite Irishman of all time, with most of the praises going to people like Wolfe Tone, Eamon de Valera, Padraig Pearse; even Mary Peters and George Best.
Each of us comes this way only once and there's surely not one of us who hasn't spared a thought for what history will make of him or her. It's interesting that, for many people, their image in the great record of world history is made or broken by things they said or did, often during a small part of their lives - even an instant. We don't know, for instance, whether King William III had a good sense of humour, all we know is one day he killed a lot of Catholics near Drogheda. Similarly, Bobby Sands is known for the fact that he starved himself to an early death on a principle he held dear, not for what a wit he may have been in the pub. More pointedly, Oscar Wilde is remembered for being a poof, and Jean McConville for being murdered by the IRA, yet there must have been so much more about these people that was interesting and of value to us.
Every person has a public image, and a wise man does well to guard it. But there's always so much more behind the image, so much we don't see. The reason I mention this is that I believe everyone has their moments of being a hero, usually in their private lives, and often inwardly in ways others don't notice. The woman who overcomes alcoholism or cancer, the man who survives the death of a child, the young man whose parents live in different homes. It all requires strength and calls forth great character.
That's why my favourite Irishman doesn't have a name - because there are too many and because even the most unlikeable characters can have their moments of Bigness. In everyday terms, the Protestant who walks up an unfamiliar drive to pay his last respects to a Catholic neighbour and crosses himself at the funeral, and the Catholic schoolteacher who runs a youth club for Protestant kids (like me, once) are living out the kind of respect and tolerance that Ulster aches for and which all of us - in our hearts - want to see.
Although Georgie and deV were big Irishmen, the Big ones are often everyday folk. And the best thing is, everyone can be a hero.


At 8:41 a.m., Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

I agree that the things you remember about people are often the little kindnesses. I will always remember two old men on an isolated Turkish road who waited for me to catch up so they could give me a lift on their horse and buggy back to the village. We shared no language, but the kindness said it all.

At 9:06 a.m., Blogger B.U. said...

Funny, a German friend of mine can tell you a similar story. BU.

At 8:28 p.m., Anonymous maca said...

Very good post John, as usual.

At 9:34 p.m., Blogger United Irelander said...

Good post. I'm sure we've all encountered heroes in our lives.

At 8:51 a.m., Anonymous levee said...

Wise words, John. I like where you're coming from with this one.

At 9:50 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

You sound like an over-bloated psuedo-intellectual full of hot air of no real substance .Why someone as ignorant as you would want to blog is beyond me ,why dont you do us all a huge favour and take up knitting or tiddleywinks, anything that doesnt give you an outlet for your boorishness .

At 5:00 p.m., Blogger The Phantom said...

Very good post. Agreed.

Please remain anonymous. It suits you.

At 5:15 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

ha haha ha ha ha


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