When I was a child one of my mother’s best friends was a neighbour called Rose.
My mother, a Protestant, was tall, Rose, a Catholic was small yet they had one main thing in common – both had large families and not a lot of money.
In the days after the end of World War 11 life was hard for everyone and in our part of the country – South Derry – money was scarce and jobs for men hard to find. Many fathers left their families to work on farms in England, as Nationalist MP Bernadette Devlin reminded Westminster when she made her maiden speech back in 1969.
Rose dreamed of having a united Ireland as though it might one day change her fortunes. My mother, a clever woman, though not very politically minded and who refused to vote, would tell Rose it would never happen in their lifetime. But Rose clung to her dream.
The two of them would talk about life over cups of tea and I often sat at their feet listening to the chat. I never tired listening to grown-ups talking.
The IRA campaign in the 1950s concerned them both, the two of them expressing sorrow for the mother who would get the bad news of a death. “Somebody’s son,’’ they would sadly agree. Wasn’t it hard enough bringing up children without having them blown up for no good reason they would say? They had many sad conversations then. I learned valuable lessons about family and friends in those days.
Christmas was a special time for both and no matter how little money they had they exchanged gifts over a glass of sherry – a rare luxury – and forgot about politics.
Rose’s nationalist views remained with her until she died, her dream of the united Ireland never realised. My mother cared nothing for politicians of any hue right up until her death too.
If both were alive today I wonder how their conversation would go at the prospect of His Holiness making a visit to Northern Ireland as is the plan within two years as part of his visit to the South?
I wonder too what they would think of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams having talks with the militant Palestinian group Hamas – my mother and Rose knew about their 1950s conflict with Israel too.
And then there’s Gerry today trying to woo Protestants as he talks about having another ‘border poll’ to deal with the issue of Irish unity with lots of promises attached including recognition of the Orange Order in a new united Ireland.
Rose would have laughed at that. She never had any problem with Orangemen and the Twelfth. Equally my mother never had a problem with the Ancient Order of Hibernians and indeed used to dress us up so we could watch their annual March 17 parade in our part of the world which was equally divided between nationalists and unionists.
That united Ireland may come one day as a natural economic process but most likely not in my lifetime because Sinn Fein still won’t say sorry for the misery which has left a generation of broken families or admit to their evil role which still leaves us still with four Disappeared victims. Because of her love for people and the Church I doubt if Rose would have wanted a united Ireland in those circumstances either. My mother always said the killing would get them nowhere and would be no basis for a peaceful unification.
So many mothers like them held their families together when chaos often raged around them. This Christmas I remember them both with pride and wish they could still be around to enjoy that tot of sherry.