Crossmaglen is a border village in County Armagh, Northern Ireland. When I say border, I mean the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Years ago my now deceased friend Jim Wallace, a retired tailor from Wexford town, told me about that border country, which has been immortalized in the verse "From Carrickmacross to Crossmaglen, there are more roads that honest men. "
While Crossmaglen is predominantly Catholic and situated in Northern Ireland, it lies just across the border from Carrickmacross in the Republic of Ireland. Criss-crossed by so many small, twisting roads it 's long been referred to as "bandit country. " A hot bed for strife between northern Unionists and Irish Nationalists for years, Crossmaglen has at times represented the worst in both Nationalism and Unionism.
On my first visit to Crossmaglen, I was stunned when I first saw the Royal Ulster Constabulary station just off the main square. Surrounded by anti-bomb fencing, it had been splattered so often by paint bombs thrown by despairing locals, that it resembled nothing as much as a cacophony of wild rainbow colors, something made perhaps by small children. The Crossmaglen RUC barracks is possibly the most-photographed military installation in all of Northern Ireland.
The atmosphere was filled intermittently with the "whack, whack, whack " of British helicopter blades, as the khaki-colored birds flew in and out of the relative safety of a nearby fenced compound. I remember being in a bakery once in the middle of the village, when a British patrol swept through the town on foot, bristling with guns pointed in every direction.
This month the Brits, who treated Crossmaglen as little more than a garrison throughout most of the Troubles, finally began to dismantle the hated watchtowers that dotted the hilly countryside, and symbolized oppression to the Nationalist Catholic majority.
Thanks to the efforts of Bill Clinton, Senator George Mitchell, former and current British Prime Ministers John Majors and Tony Blair, former Ulster Unionist Party head David Trimble, and Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, the demilitarization process of South Armagh by the British is moving forward, following last year 's announcement that the Irish Republican Army (IRA) was abandoning its 30-year armed struggle.
While things are better in Crossmaglen, by no means is sectarianism dead in the north. Unfortunately, Trimble 's Ulster Unionist Party lost control of the North to the Democratic Unionist Party of Ulster political demagogue Reverend Ian Paisley. Paisley might best be described as the Northern Ireland version of Pat Robertson---except even crazier.
Here are a few of this hateful political demagogue 's more pungent comments over the years:
In 1958, he denounced Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother for "committing spiritual fornication and adultery with the Antichrist " by visiting with the recently ordained pope John XXIII.
In 1968, Paisley justified discrimination against Catholics in employment and public housing because, "They breed like rabbits and multiply like vermin. "
During a papal visit at the European Parliament, Paisley was ejected for screaming, "I denounce you, Anti-Christ! "
I suppose the closest thing to Paisley that we have in America is Pat Robertson, with his recent calls for the murder of political leaders he doesn 't like.
For over a year now, the Irish Republican Army, long associated with the Nationalist Sinn Fein (Ourselves Alone) party, has put down the gun, and committed itself to peaceful methods towards eventually reuniting Ireland as a single country. The Unionist paramilitary groups, such as the Ulster Freedom Fighters, Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force have refused to put down the gun, but at the moment have backed off the Nationalist Catholics somewhat, and are primarily involved in killing each other over drug wars, gang turf, etc.
On April 4th, outside the quiet little village of Glenties, County Donegal, the body of Denis Donaldson, former highly-ranked member of the Irish Republican Army was found. Last year it was discovered that Donaldson had worked for years as a double agent, spying for the British and the Unionists against the Nationalists.
As a sign of the complexities of the troubles in Northern Ireland, at this time it 's impossible to know who murdered Donaldson. It could have been done in retaliation by former IRA members, but just as easily by the British agents for whom he worked, or Unionist (Protestant) paramilitaries. Such are the vagaries of the North.
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