A very curious and unsettling reaction...

After a very full day at worship yesterday - including a number of meetings after church - I was at our Irish band practice for St. Patrick's Day for five hours It was mostly lots of fun albeit hard work, but during the day I found myself having a very curious and unsettling reaction to some of the tunes. Specifically, I found myself more and more uncomfortable with the IRA "fight" songs that not only celebrate taking up arms in romantic (and probably drunken) passion, but also demonize parts of my extended family. My Scots-Irish family, you see, is a mixture of both the Orange and the Green - on both my father's and mother's side - Protestant and Catholic together from Scotland and Ireland.  (No wonder I found greater comfort in this tune...

What's more, my exploration of my own Celtic roots - and current spirituality - leads me closer to a U2ish commitment to end the violence, bigotry and terrorism on both sides of this sad divide than partisan rants that keep waving the bloody shirt.  To be sure, my grandfather's people in County Clare knew the horrible effects of an Gorta Mor - the Great Hunger when over a million Irish men, women and children died of starvation - as well as the corrosive effects of England's historic greed and religious hatred.  And as I learn more of the mean-spirited and self-righteous response of the English to Ireland's starvation during the famine, I better understand the roots of the Easter Rising of 1916 and the eventual rebellion that gave birth to the modern nation of Ireland in 1921.

Nevertheless, while I can appreciate the context and commitment of the early IRA warriors  - and honor their sacrifice and vision, too - their legacy in my generation has been barbaric.  Their actions at home and abroad are not romantic to me - they are terrorists who are as vile and unholy as their former oppressors - and every bit as violent as England, too.  Which isn't to excuse my Orange forebears their sins either:  I remember the death of Bobby Sands, the viciousness of the Royal Ulster Constabulary during "the troubles" and the economic and religious discrimination the Orange side of the family enforced upon my Green relatives with diabolical vigor.

But my soul just doesn't resonate with "The Merry Ploughboy" or "The Soldier's Song." My heart sings the lament U2 created after the IRA-inspired violation of the Good Friday Peace Accords in Armagh or the earlier "Sunday, Bloody Sunday." And  I am an ally of the Community of Peace People like Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan who were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977.  So I wonder... is this because the Orange and the Green are so blended within?  Does it have to do with choosing to be an MLK-like Prod for Peace and interfaith cooperation?  What fears and confusions are evoked by these old IRA war songs?  This has been a very curious and unsettling reaction that I want to explore more deeply.

At the end of the day, no matter how you cut it - Orange, Green or both (like me) - there still a TON of wonderful reasons to be proud of being Irish.  Check this out for fun - and share a pint with me on St. Patrick's Day...http://vinnymurphy.blogspot.com/2010/11/10-reasons-were-still-proud-to-be-irish.html


BanksyBoy said…
Yes, well put. Trouble is I often have the same 'curious and unsettling reaction' to a lot of stuff we sing in church, both old and newer... 'test all things' perhaps?

Best, PB
Black Pete said…
Check out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pwld86XndSY0

My father's side were Orange: I once discovered a certificate of membership on the Orange Lodge tacked up on a closet door in my father's father's house. Years later, when I knew more what it meant, I sorrowed. My mother's side may well have been Irish Catholics who fled Cromwell's genocidal push through northeast Ireland in 1649-50, and converted to Protestantism to blend in in southern Scotland.

There is such anguish either way.

PB's point about the hymns is also well taken, although unlike him, I am much more comfortable with the newer ones, at least in our denomination. So many of the older ones are not singable, to me, in terms of belief or experience of faith. Check out: http://www.morevoices.ca/
RJ said…
I totally resonate with both of your comments re: hymns - and every week I have to work at finding ones that are both theologically compassionate and musically satisfying. I love the new hymn book of the United Church of Canada for that very reason. Thanks for your wisdom and insight, my friends.
the videographer said…
I don't normally spend time listening to Irish music, but a similar encounter happened several years ago pre a Maunday Thursday service. Seems this one song kept coming back to me. One on Madison Avenue trying to sell "stuff" to people that they really didn't need but would support the greed and avarice of the rich and powerful while keeping the middle class down and make the poor, poorer. And wouldn't you know it, the song was "Satisfaction" by the Stones and in church of all places. Then again why should we not resonate with modern parables aka Stones version? First you need to understand today before you can go deeper into the wisdom of the ages.

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