The second part of Sean McGouran’s review of MIke Parker’s book, ‘The Irish Scene: Gay Guide to Ireland”
Derry’s being denied the second university in the mid-1960s was of the first insults the city refused to take lying down. (The only other place that could convincingly have been given the new university was Armagh [now a ‘city’ again, due to a piece of paper signed by Bessie Windsor], on the grounds of its historical importance and relatively central location. But Derry had Magee College, ironically, a state-funded Presbyterian foundation set up in the Anglican-Ascendancy city of Derry, in the 1820s to get trainee Ministes away from radical Belfast. Injury was added to insult when the O’Neill government gave the university to Coleraine, which patently did not want it, and is now complacently watching most of the degree courses being moved to the Maiden City. If o’Neill, the only genuine bigot to rule Northern Ireland, had given the city the university we may not have had to put up with twenty-five years of war).
Limerick’s acquisition of a university was less tortured, a section of the National INstitute for Higher Education (rather more similar to a ‘Poly’ in the UK then the IHE’s) about twenty years ago and it became a university about 1992 – it is a very handsome set of buildings in a big park – too good for mere students [Paul Calf lives!].
As hinted above, Mike Parker has distinct quirks, and he clearly doesn’t like Belfast. This might make for entertaining reading, but I suspect that Mike hasn’t bothered to visit the place. He obviously drove around the Mournes (which he describes as “bucolic”), and along the Antrim Coast road, and seems to have been impress by the Giant’s Causeway (I’ve never been). Anyway, about Belfast, the industrial revolution sort of happened (this is the usual reason why Brits dislike Belfast – it looks like an industrial city – a handsomer version of Oldham). There’s no mention of the United Irish-persons (Wolfe Tone is mentioned on page 13) or of the 1798 Uprising. Odly enough, the Gay law appears to have changed of its own accord, no local agency or agent is noted. Paisley gets abused, and the DUP is called “tiny”; which it is, in UK terms, but it is a major part in local, or even Irish [geographical expression] terms. Mike also describes our newspapers, “The staunchly Unionist News Letter (including some stomach-churning attitudes to progressive social ideas) sits against the Republican Irish News. Straddling the two is the responsible Belfast Telegraph”.
I’d have thought, being a journalist, Mike Parker might have taken an interest in the oldest newspaper in the world (it has been regularly published since 1737). During the 1790s, when Belfast was the revolutionary foco for the whole of these isles, it was somewhat less revolutionary that the Northern Star, which was the organ if the Society of United Irishmen. As for “stomach-churning attitudes to progressive social ideas”, he doesn’t quote anything; could it be an attack on our (unselected) rulers in Stormont Castle closing down a bit of another hospital? Is this ethnic solidarity on MIke’s part? Would the Irish News relish the description of itself as “Republican”? The Bellylaugh is taken by most people in Northern Ireland – for the advertisements for houses, cars and jobs. Its editorial policy was smugly suimmed-up about ten years ago as dealing with the “real-life Unionist/Nationalist conflict” (ie no class politics, please, we’re the Ulster bourgeoisie). As readers know, our community has had more hassle off the BT than the Irish News or the News Letter (which has given Gay ~ er ~ leaders, column-space, in its time). You’d also have thought that a journalist might have noticed the growth of small, and not so small, publishing houses in the Six Counties, a walk around any bookshop would have done the trick.
COULDN’T BE ARSED?
Mike clearly does not like Prods; Bushmills is described as a “tight-arsed little Protestant town” – as opposed to slack-arsed little Papist towns, undoubtedly.
MIke rather sells the tourist short, practically nothing is written of County Londonderry, Tyrone, Armagh – or Fermanagh. No Belleek, no Marble Arch caves, no Bo Island, no mention of the Lakes. Enniskillen is described as a “nationalist town” – the good people of Skin Town must have been keeping the rest of us in the dark all of these years. Even in County Down (or “Downshire” is you are an aspirant West Briton) thee is no mention of Mount Stewart, or say, Hillsborough – the list could go on, and there’s plenty of info as the Tourist Office.
If Mike’s little book goes to a second edition, a sub-editor should cast a cold eye on it. The “history” is rubbish (the Ulster Plantation led to Partition apart from anything else, this is the One Big Boat theory of the Plantation. It was not a complex series of events spread over more than a century involving from south west Scotland, as well as State-run Plantations in west Ulster, the Hugenots, the Moravians, the Quakers as well as a fair number of villains). The attitude to the majority of people who live on this geographical expression, is p[atronising (Mike Parker may well be outraged at this assertion, but it is) and to the Ulster Prods is pretty racist.
All of the above may seem like taking a sledgehammer to the proverbial … but there is no reason why GMP should be allowed to add to the gigantic pile of nonsense written by English sentimentalists about, “Ah-land” or the BBC’s “Eye-land”.
Mike Parker isn’t a good enough writer to make the prejudices witty or sardonically memorable.
Editorial – this review was written by Sean McGouran in our paper magazine ‘upstart’