Memories of The Troubles fade like a 70’s LSD haze
THIS week the world is marking the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock Music Festival which some at the time hoped announced the arrival of New Age of peace and love.
But this week also marks the 40th anniversary of the start of another three day event which is going largely unremembered - an event which turned out to be a better presage of what the 1970s were going to be like than the events taking place at the same time in upstate New York.
On 12 July 1969, Northern Ireland - whose peace had been growing ever more precarious as the Civil Rights movement gathered steam - finally erupted into violence as the Catholic residents of Londonderry and the Royal Ulster Constabulary battled for control of the Bogside.
The rioting later spread to Belfast and by the time the tear gas had cleared troops were on the street of a part of the United Kingdom for the first time since the 1920s.
Though it was 18 months before the (then still unformed) Provisional IRA would kill its first soldier, the Battle of Bogside marked the end of hopes that Northern Ireland’s problems could be solved without violence.
Back in the 1970s anyone who told you that one day Ian Paisley would one day head a coalition government that included Sinn Fein and that Nelson Mandela would celebrate his 90th birthday as the happily retired President of South Africa, while the Soviet Union was ancient history and a black man had just been elected the president of the United States… well you’d probably have assumed they’d taken some of the bad acid at Woodstock.
In those years the first overseas news item in Australia - after the local stories about rising inflation and striking SEC workers - always seemed to be about the Troubles and would feature soldiers patrolling, or a riot, or a march that turned into a riot.
Or the funerals of IRA men shot by soldiers, or the funerals of soldiers shot by IRA men.
Or RUC men who had been blown up, or just the funerals of ordinary men, women and children who had had the bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But when in 2007 Paisley finally formed his government with Martin McGuinness, most Australian papers relegated the story to foreign news.
To anyone who was alive in the 1970s - even as a child - that fact was almost as improbable as the situation the stories were describing.
Sectarianism may have been on the wane in this country but it was a long time dying and long after it had ceased to be overt or acceptable in polite society, it didn’t take much to bring it to the surface.
And Troubles of Northern Ireland was one of the issues that brought it to the surface.
Today I would bet that most Australians under 30 would struggle to tell you whether the IRA was a predominantly Catholic or Protestant organisation and as for the INLA, UDA, UFF and the other acronyms of conflict, well you may as well be asking about the Hutus and the Tutsis.
For once instead of lamenting the ignorance of youth, we should quietly rejoice that sometime between the Battle of the Bogside and today, sectarianism in Australia, already on the wane in 1969 has quietly died.
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