Ulster Border Seven

A man from Strabane

#Strabane of the 1950’s and 1960’s was bombed and developed into history. The Town Hall, the Convent of Mercy, and many shops exist now only in my memory. Also gone is my father’s pub on Quinn’s corner with the old mirror depicting the full jug, admired by #Flann O’Brien when he visited his grandparents in #Strabane. The chorus from an Irish Traditional song honours the beloved jug of King Bacchus. O grádh mo chroidhe and mo mhúirnín are powerful terms of endearment in Irish and the verse names the full jug as the love of the heart with a toast to the darling jug which is always full and gives us the strength to defy death itself. #Flann O’Brien’s satirical column in thre Irish Times was named after the always-full-jug and is testament to his resurrection in posthumous publications and the Irish stamp.

O grádh mo chroidhe mo crúiscín,—
      Sláinte geal mo mhúirnín.
      Grádh mo chroidhe mo crúiscín lán, lán, lán,
            O grádh mo chroidhe mo crúiscín lán.

The only building in Strabane which still carries some of Strabane’s history is the historic Gray’s Printers with history hidden above a café. Gray’s Bookshop opened a door into worlds beyond Strabane. As convent schoolgirls in the 1960’s,Gray’s bookshop opened a door into worlds beyond Strabane. We had access to paperbacks unavailable across the border because of censorship.The lens on a wider world helped us see Ireland beyond the narrow focus of sectarianism on our doorstep. We went beyond collecting pennies for children of African famines into discussion of apartheid in South Africa.

Reading and debates on human rights sowed the seeds of action for Civil Rights as students in Belfast. In 1968, we were confident Orange Protestant Unionism and Green Catholic Nationalism as binary poles would become irrelevant. How did sectarianism and nationalism subvert demands for civil rights into decades of simmering violence? How do we resist the binary polarisation fuelled by politicians and paramilitaries?

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