Am I trying to ‘Reach the future through the past?’

After writing my post the other day I couldn’t stop asking myself, why have I not encouraged my children to learn about the Ireland I grew up in? The one in which there were ‘The troubles’ in Northern Ireland? Why have I not spoken eloquently to them about the 800 years of English rule and the sacrifice of those who gave their lives for us, for them, so we could live in an independent country?photo credit: Republic of Ireland flag in Quarndon, Derbyshire via photopin (license)

I wondered, as they smiled and nodded, before rushing out of the room every time I tried to interest them in the Easter Rising Centenary celebrations, had I made a big mistake? Then on facebook yesterday I got my answer. (Yes facebook is good for something other than wasting my time). I listened to two songs back to back, and they summed up my thoughts exactly, and why I’ve kept my republican feelings to myself.

The songs were, ‘The Town I Loved So Well’ and ‘The Island’.

The Town I Loved So Well is a most beautiful, haunting song of the Ireland I knew growing up. The Ireland torn apart by bombings and killings. It tells the story of a man growing up in Derry, living life and finding his wife, in the town he loved so well. For a time he leaves, but when he returns the Derry of his youth is gone.

“But when I returned, how my eyes have burned
To see how a town could be brought to it’s knees
By the armoured cars and the bombed-out bars
And the gas that hangs on to every breeze
Now the army’s installed by that old gas yard wall
And the damned barbed wire gets higher and higher
With their tanks and their guns, oh my god, what have they done
To the town I loved so well”

As I listened to that song the other day I remembered. So many wrongs, so many killings, on both sides and I felt so strongly my children should know about it.

However, moments later I heard another very different song. It was Paul Brady singing ‘The island’.

They’re showing pictures on the Television,
Women and children dying in the street,
And we’re still at it in our own place,
Still trying to reach the future through the past,
Still trying to carve tomorrow from a tombstone..

Those last two lines spoke to me in particular. Was that not what I wanted to do, reach the future through the past? Carve tomorrow from a tombstone?

And as I further listened

Up here we sacrifice our children,
To feed the worn out dreams of yesterday,
And teach them dying will lead us into glory

I knew that no matter what my heart was telling me, my head was speaking sense. So I’ll continue to listen to it, albeit sometimes a little begrudgingly. M

And you never know, maybe I’ll get away with telling my grandchildren about it instead someday!

In case you have time and the inclination, here are the two songs I am referring to. They really are worth a listen and the videos tell the song perfectly.

The Town I Loved So Well. (Great photos with this one)
Written by Phil Coulter.

The Island,(also with wonderful photos which tell their own story)
Paul Brady.

photo credit: Dublin Bread Company via photopin (license)
photo credit: Republic of Ireland flag in Quarndon, Derbyshire via photopin (license)

10 thoughts on “Am I trying to ‘Reach the future through the past?’

  1. I think it’s worth taking the time to tell them about it. You know the old saying about history repeating itself. The only way we can try to defend against that is to educate ourselves and those around us. Hopefully, that will keep it from happening again.

    I know how kids are. Mine always give me the roll of the eye and the “here she goes again” look when I start to tell them certain things about the past. That’s how they are. Perhaps they will listen to someone else. And if so, that might mean that others will listen to you. Keep talking. Keep trying. Even with others not related to you. Someone will listen.

  2. Hi Tric, a fascinating post for me to read as I was told a lot about Irish history by my parents from a young age. They came from very different perspectives mainly because they were from different sides of the so-called religious divide.
    When it eventually came to Catholics and Protestants killing each other, I was shocked and saddened as I knew that LOVE could be the nature of the relationship as I witnessed everyday in my Irish parents, both of whom adored this country.
    Growing up in that environment made me very aware that there are a multiplicity of stories to be told and a host of different views which we somehow have to understand if we are ever to live in a country peacefully.
    I was always far more concerned about people not being killed and maimed than I was about the political shape of things.
    That has been the story I’ve told my son who was born in 1995 when it seemed like peace was on the way.

  3. These are two of my favorite songs Tric. On my very last night in Ireland of my last trip I sang “The Island” with the crowd at Durty Nellie’s. They were surprised I knew the words.

    1. There was a concert on last night to celebrate the Rising. You would have loved it. You might be able to see it on RTE player international. it was called Centenary. It was fabulous, full of songs, dance and celebrations.

  4. two great songs, tric – and wonderful images to accompany them

    the island is a song I know well – [can’t believe I haven’t posted it as a weekend pick on madhatters!] – the first is new to me

    I agree with Corina about the importance of teaching history to avoid (hopefully) repeating the same mistakes in the future

    and you never know, your kids may take in more than you realise!

    when our kids were small, we took them on holiday to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and I tried to enliven long car journeys by telling them about Scottish History and translating the gaelic place names into English for them – an endeavour that was most often greeted with moans and groans and seeming disinterest (damn sassenachs!)

    a couple of weeks ago, though, our youngest surprised me – I was telling him of some friends of mine planning to visit the west coast of Scotland who I’d advised to visit the island I used to stay on, when he asked me – did you tell them the story about the trousers?

    now when he was just 9 year old, I could have sworn he wasn’t paying the least bit attention when we crossed from the mainland on to Seil Island and I told him the Inn we had just passed – Tigh an Truish (‘house of the trousers’ in english) was so called because after the failed 1745 rebellion, the British Government banned Scots from wearing the Kilt (amongst other things) so when crossing over to the mainland, islanders would remove the kilt and change into trousers at the Inn and reverse the process when journeying in the opposite direction

    yet here he was 27 years later showing that despite his seeming disinterest at the time, he had actually listened to and remembered my words !

    so don’t give up on your kids, they might be taking in more of their Irish history than they currently show or are prepared to admit 😆

    1. I think you could be right Duncan. They do cast their eyes skywards but today they held a pretend table quiz at dinner and two of them could name five of the rising leaders (up from one last week).
      I’d love if they at least knew the history. They don’t have to have the passion, but just know the stories.
      My hope is somewhat restored by your son’s memory, but I’ll have to come up with a few quirky stories to hook them. Or make them up!

  5. I think your kids will benefit from your stories of the Ireland you remember! While I grew up listening to stories of the Freedom Struggle from my grandpa or those of my father’s childhood from him, I did think of them as boring and repetitive. but today, i’m glad I know them because I can now relate to the changes that have taken place since and understand why my parents react the way they do to certain things. Most of all, I respect their lives and their achievements (they have achieved so much, considered what they started with!) much more. 🙂

  6. I think it is important to tackle subjects like this, but it has to be done with care. In 800 years of history, there are going to be many, many horrific incidents that can be pointed to, probably on both sides I’m guessing. The trick is to let our children know about the past without letting it poison their views about people alive today who had nothing to do with what went on.

    I don’t think there’s a country or region on the planet that hasn’t been the victim of a terrible atrocity, an outrage, a colonial takeover, an invasion or whatever at some point, but the danger on dwelling on this is that we all end up feeling like victims and hating one another.

    I’m not sure how best to handle such issues, but I guess the goal should be to increase understanding without increasing hatred and bitterness.

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