By John Kelly
When I was a kid in Dublin, the guy who had the greatest potential to create mayhem was the one who owned the ball. Never did an urchin wield such control. If he didn’t like the way the game was going or if he got a sharp boot on the tenderest part of his shinbone, he could spoil the whole epic. All he had to do was pick himself up from the tarmac, grab the ball – his ball – and snarl that he was going home.
No more ball, no more game. That was the end of it. He was always a spoilsport, of course. But you have to be careful with spoilsports. And, most of all, you had to be as gentle as a brain surgeon with the guy who owned the ball. He was a potential chain reaction waiting to detonate with mega effect. The likes of him could destroy an entire day or even a week.
A bit like the Orange Order, in fact. Not alone do they claim to own the ball; they also want to keep kicking the other players around, in full view of the referee. They do it for several weeks every summer. And they play the game with an odd combination of KKK-type militarism and perverted Christianity. Not alone do they own the ball, they want to have it blessed.
My apologies for the unmistakable influence of the World Cup competition in this week’s column, but that’s the way a billion people or so have been thinking for the last few weeks all over the world.
Possession, defense, midfield domination and attack are the buzzwords of the time. That is why one of the most chilling quotations arising from the shocking intimidation at Drumcree and other parts of the North, blew a resounding whistle this week, reminding me of the horrible childhood horror called the “guy who owned the ball.”
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Eugene Moloney in the “Irish Independent,” quoted a middle aged farmer facing Portadown’s Garvaghy Road, who said: “If they block us, the country will burn. It’s as simple as that. We’ve our friends all waiting across the province, if we don’t get down. It’s as simple as that. The country will burn. We don’t care. It’s ours, we can do what we like. We don’t care, we can burn it.”
There it is again, the whine of the spoiled kid who shouted: “I don’t care what youze think! I own the ball – and unless youze allow me to score a goal, I’m going home. And so is the ball!”
That sort of kid was bad enough to burn it. He could also kick it over the wall. Or he could take it home. His attitude was that if the world did not play his way, it would not play at all. The only possible response was to grab the ball, belt him over the ear and tell him to go home without it.
That would have been stealing, of course. It might also have led to violence and would certainly beg immediate parental punishment from one side or the other. However, unless this was done or unless, miracle of miracles, one of the other players had enough cash to buy another ball, the game was effectively over.
The Rev. Ian Paisley must have owned the ball when he was a kid; he certainly plays the game as though he did.
The Northern electorate decided very substantially that the peace agreement should be endorsed. They dutifully recorded their votes, understandably to a lesser extent for the members of the new Assembly and the Assembly dutifully sat together for the first time.
Then what happened?
Ten Catholic churches were burned, just for openers.
In a carefully coordinated fashion, the Orange Order displayed its formidable team in strategic areas of the North. It picked the easiest holes in the Nationalist defense, intimidating the opposition, intimidating Mo Mowlam, the Northern secretary, at every opportunity.
Catholic schools were firebombed. Catholic families in isolated houses were surrounded and attacked. The father of a young family from Lurgan broke down and sobbed during a TV interview as he recounted the terror of what he still endured.
Just barely in the background, Big Ian gleefully whipped it all up as Catholic families who are prosperous enough to do so, left the North for their annual trek across the Border to Donegal or much farther afield.
Many do not know if their homes will be intact when they return.
In Dublin and other parts of the Republic, families have invited the beleaguered families to send their children south of the border. One of the main organizers bringing the temporary refugee children to the Center for Peace and Reconciliation in Glencree, tucked in the foothills of the Wicklow Mountains, is Alice Kearns, the mother of Phillip Kearns, kidnapped when he was only 12, believed to have been murdered. The case made newspaper headlines for years.
Thus, the Orange Order, which opposed the peace agreement and the establishment of the Northern Ireland Assembly, only to be roundly beaten in the polls, is now trying to win what it has lost, the overthrow of the agreement.
The Orangemen claim, in unison with Paisley, that they are determined to achieve their aims in a perfectly peaceable fashion.
Tell that to the residents of Dunloy, in the heart of the Paisley constituency in North Antrim, near Harryville, where the local Catholic church and worshipers have been barracked by Orange supporters for some considerable time. In the last week, Nationalists, surrounded by a circle of Orangemen from the surrounding loyalist towns, had to protect their property, holding only hurley sticks in their hands.
The condemnation of Nationalists who opposed the Portadown Orange march is rich, coming from Ian Paisley, a man who first hit the headlines in the 1950s because he organized protests against every display of republican symbolism whether in Nationalist enclaves or not.
It was he who also organized the Divis Street riot in 1964 because residents had dared to hoist the tri-color.
That particular bit of bullying convinced Gerry Adams that he would have to join the republican movement.
Dangerous characters – those kids who owned the ball.