Saturday’s tremendous Irish Grand Slam victory will secure this Irish team’s place in rugby history.
Those from Ireland’s four proud provinces, North and South striving constructively together with its inclusive Irish -British identity to achieve greatly. Even if constitutionally we remain apart. It illustrates what the past should have been and certainly the future should be.
You see the England match at Twickenham always carries mixed emotions for me. I often recount the story of how I once united the people of Ireland.
On 19th March 1988, we were playing England at Twickenham. I was unfortunate enough to allow my opposite number, Chris Oti, to score three tries. People from right across the island united to say that it was time I retired.
The selectors subsequently agreed and I had played my last international rugby match for Ireland.
After the match, I was depressed about my performance. However, when I turned on the television at the team hotel, reports of a terrible atrocity soon put events on the rugby pitch into perspective.
The broadcaster showed graphic coverage of the murders of two army corporals, David Howes and Derek Wood, who were killed by the IRA at a paramilitary funeral.
Rugby was insignificant in comparison to the tragedy that unfolded that day in west Belfast. Those deaths were the culmination of a series of killings that undoubtedly heightened tensions in the area.
It’s believed that the two corporals drove by accident into the vicinity of the funeral procession of an IRA member who had been murdered by Michael Stone.
The theory is that the crowd may have anticipated that the soldiers were loyalists, planning to carry out another attack. With that in mind, you could say that the men who initially overpowered the corporals showed bravery.
This bravery was matched by Howes and Wood, who, despite their terrifying predicament, fired only one warning shot to try to put off their attackers.
Unfortunately, the initial courage of members of the crowd soon evaporated and some of the same people failed to protect the soldiers.
What subsequently happened to them was barbaric and, as I watched, I saw some of my people, because I was born in west Belfast and lived there when I was young, acting reprehensibly.
Years later I told this story, not realising that I was speaking to one of the murderers.
And now, after thirty years, it would be significant to hear someone from west Belfast apologise on behalf of ordinary people to the families of Corporals Howes and Wood.
A leader could stand up and say “this was not done in our name and we reject those who used such violence” as I am confident that, like me, many people from the area would like such an apology to be given.
Equally, similar sentiments could be echoed by people from the loyalist communities in which loyalist paramilitaries operated. And, as someone with associations to the security forces,
I am among those who might apologise for the times when their members acted outside the law. I would be happy to do so on an appropriate occasion.
The vast majority of people on the island are good people. We became embroiled in an unnecessary conflict which brought tragedy to far too many.
The savagery of the murders of Corporals Wood and Howes were among many low points during that period of history.
As we move through a series of emotive anniversaries of these events, some of the wounds are still raw and some of the hatreds that caused the conflict are still alive.
It is important for our future that we acknowledge that violence was never a justifiable way to promote constitutional change in Ireland.
We should also understand the full extent of the consequences of the brutality that was inflicted on Corporals Wood and Howes, as well as so many others.
It’s important to think about who they actually were as individuals and, if their families would share it with us, the impact their tragic loss has had on them.
It’s through this kind of knowledge that we can better educate our children never to repeat such savagery again and so ensure we bring out what’s best about us and achieve greatly in so many ways even if constitutionally we remain apart.
Trevor Ringland, Co Down