By Ray O’Hanlon
Was it a case of crossed claymores, clashing kilts or simply conflicting schedules? Either way, a visitor from Mars was entitled to be a wee bit confused in Washington last week as the town was invaded by Scots of every hue.
As "IF" recently discovered on an adventure in cyberspace, the U.S. Census Bureau actually has separate categories for Americans who consider themselves "Scots-Irish" or simply "Scottish." Well, the bureau is right on the ball, judging by the scene leading up to Tartan Day in D.C. late last week. Tartan Day, lest readers are lost in a highland fog, is an annual celebration of all things Scottish in the U.S. capital and a wonderful idea it is, too.
All things Scottish in this case resulted in a dilemma for those who needed a bit of plaid Scots after all the green Irish revelry of March. But which reception to attend? On Thursday evening, Tartan Eve, if you will, the British embassy threw a bash for the kilted visitors — arch-Scottish nationalist Sean Connery included — while across town on Capitol Hill, the wee-North-based Ulster Scots Agency — "Tha Boord o Ulster-Scotch" no less — was footing the bill for a few drams of, one would hope, Irish whiskey, as opposed to the Scotch variety.
Tha Boord is one of the gifts to the world of the Good Friday accord, and with funds from both the Irish and British governments, is charged with "promoting greater awareness of Ulster-Scots language and cultural issues in Northern Ireland and on the island of Ireland."
The Boord bash was attended by a host of lairds and ladies, among them Ireland’s ambassador to the U.S., Sean O’Huiginn, a man well placed to deal with linguistic nuances, given his many dealings with the perfidious Sasanaigh over the years.
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Of course, there is some argument as to "tha’" exact status of Ulster-Scotch. Is it a separate language, a dialect of English, or does it even exist at all? Well, who cares? "IF" is all for the evolution of language. Sure, some readers claim that "IF" is another language. Does that qualify this column for a government grant? More on this a-noo!
A ‘Haassle’ indeed
Richard Haass, the Bush administration’s point man on Northern Ireland is on record as saying quite a bit about the wee North, not least in the heat of the 1996 presidential election campaign when he took a few swipes at Bill Clinton for inviting Gerry Adams to the White House for tea and sympathy. But back in the days when Dubya’s dad was president and the U.S. was keeping the wee North at arms length, Haass penned a book, duly published by Yale University Press, called "Conflicts Unending, The United States and Regional Disputes."
Now while some of the man’s views on the North have undoubtedly been modified as a result of more recent events, Haass displayed a fair degree of perception in the part of the book — it was published in 1990 — that was devoted to Northern Ireland. Take this passage, for example: "There are no simple ‘solutions’ to the Northern Ireland problem, neither in the political context nor in terms of security policy. It should also be emphasized that there are no quick solutions. Many of the political and social problems which fuel the Northern Ireland conflict are very deep-rooted indeed. It would be foolish to assume that either loyalists or nationalists can suddenly jettison centuries of real and perceived injustice, oppression and struggle. Such cultural baggage cannot neatly be packed away in some convenient political left-luggage office. Progress and reconciliation in Northern Ireland can only be achieved at a painfully gradual pace."
Haass was writing largely in the context of the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement. He would probably find reason to change little in this particular assessment in the aftermath of the 1998 Good Friday agreement.
Wrath of lord
Lord Henry Mountcharles, keeper of Slane Castle of rock-concert fame, let rip at the British government in a recent letter to the editor of the Daily Telegraph, a rag often read in drafty castles. Lord Henry was "astonished" at the difference in the approach of her majesty’s government and the home rulers in Dublin to the foot-and-mouth crisis. Lord Henry was fulsome in his praise for Bertie and Co. while he was withering in his scorn of a government that once ruled an empire stretching as far as, well, Slane Castle, among other places.
"We have cancelled sporting fixtures, political meetings, public gatherings and attendance at Mass, closed public buildings and taken widespread precautions to restrain the movement of livestock and people," Lord Henry thundered.
By contrast, our ‘enry pointed out, life was going on across the water "as if nothing has happened." Ah well, no gig at Slane this year, a venue where some of the greatest concerts in Irish rock history have taken place — in a cow pasture astride the banks of the Boyne.
€ "There is a growing responsibility on the British government to demonstrate how they will address the continuing concerns in and around the murder of Pat Finucane and others." SDLP policing spokesman Alex Attwood, commenting on the latest call for an independent judicial inquiry into the murder of the Belfast attorney made by UN special rapporteur Param Cumaraswamy.
€ "Meanwhile, it looks like we could be runnin’ outta luck on de Foot and Mout front. Joe Walsh says dere’s a suspected case in Loud. . . . De mood was somber as I told the Dail dat de case had been confirmed. It’s a crisis whatever way ye look at it, but eh, it could be worse. Our boys in Brussels are already on the job, stressin’ dat Loud is not really an integral part of the state. Dat we won in it in a card game during de Treaty negotiations in 1921, and dat really it’s a law unto itself, like Sout Armagh. It’s not dat far from de trute, in fact. But if necessary, we’ll introduce emergency legislation to make Loud independent. . . . De Eurocrats have bought the line so far, anyway, wit the result dat de automatic EU ban on food imports applies to Loud only, and not to de 25-county Free State area." From Phoenix magazine’s satirical "sSecret Diary" of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.
€ "Pizza [Lent] and refreshments will be served after." From the newsletter published by AOH John Cardinal D’Alton Div. 3 in Pearl River, N.Y.