Mixed legacy and cultural appropriation

[3/22/17 Edit to add audio from soundcloud]

On Friday I had a half-hearted attempt to explain to our 8-year old why I wouldn’t wear green, and why I could NOT celebrate St Patrick’s Day. It’s really quite staggering the level of cultural appropriation St Patrick’s Day has achieved. A celebration of the worst caricatures of the Irish, drunk, leprechauns, and four leaf clovers

Then today, on reporting the death of Martin McGuinness, former deputy first minister, and A former Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) leader. I was listening to BBC Radio, and among the people to be quoted was former British Prime Minister John Major. I never held Major in great esteem but what he had to say, for the most part summed up my feelings.

I do think that is unforgivable and will neither be forgotten nor forgiven when one looks back on the legacy of Martin McGuinness, and I don’t excuse any of that. I cannot find any redeeming quality in what he did over those years.

But I do recognize what he subsequently attempted to do and the part that he subsequently played in building a peace process.

Go 3-generations back and you’ll find Protestant Irish blood, my grandfather’s parents were from Northern Ireland, but that’s not it. Ireland was a non-issue when I was growing up, it was rarely mentioned. sure, we knew what was going on. Events like Bloody Sunday and “the Troubles” had been constantly in the news since 1969.

What followed was years of activity in England and London, throughout my formative years. Starting in 1972 with the Aldershot barracks bombing, and stretching through the Old Bailey Bombing, I was first working at the Rupert St market in London in 1974 on Saturdays. That year was the worst year for IRA bombs, they killed over 50-people, and injured more than 1,000. This included throwing bombs in two London night clubs. Bombs were behind and inside Post boxes, in publish rubbish/trash containers

Through the remainder of the 1970’s it’s hard to explain the content I had for the Irish people. In the summer of 1980, I took my first business trip to Dublin, and during that trip was spat at, and had lighted cigarettes flicked at me while walking down the street, because of my accent. And so it was, that the Irish were just Persona non grata.

We spent most of the 1980’s in the USA, specifically in New York. At that time, fundraising for the IRA in New York and Boston was a big thing. The likes of Adams and McGuinness were often on TV News giving very one sided views of their campaign against the British Government, and the British people.

Having returned to the UK and joined IBM, the random bombings carried out by the IRA continued, while often focussed on military targets, they were not always. Two IRA bombers blew themselves up in our town center while trying to set and detonate a bomb. I was working at the London computer center for the TSB Bank, on an upgrade to their software early morning in London on April 24th 1993, when at 10:27 am, the Bishopsgate bombing occurred. Their office off St Dunstans Hill was just half a mile from the bomb site, we heard and felt the blast. It followed another massive City of London blast in 1992 at the Baltic Exchange(now the site of The Gherkin).

So, no I was never in a bombing, as far as I’m aware none of my family were impacted by a bombing, but somehow it seems like asking a New Yorker to celebrate Al-Qaeda day on September 11th, to expect me to celebrate St Patrick’s Day.

As I said to the 8-year old, I’m happy you are having a fun day, I’m glad there is peace now in Northern Island but I can’t really dress up.

Author: Mark Cathcart

Formerly an Executive Director of Systems Engineering and a Senior Distinguished Engineer at Dell. Prior to that, an IBM Distinguished Engineer working for the Systems Group in NY and Austin. I'm currently "retired until further notice".

2 thoughts on “Mixed legacy and cultural appropriation”

  1. I understand your position. However, my family goes back a bit further so I have a somewhat different perspective. “The Troubles” of 1916-1921 is one aspect, my grandfather fought as a Royal Irish Fusilier in WWI and was blinded in the Second Battles of Ypres. They had retreated without orders in the face of gassing. For their cowardice and insubordination The British officers lined them up and every tenth man was summarily executed (shot). That’s my father’s side of the family. Go to my mother’s side and the story is even more disturbing. My great-grandfather was born in 1849 (one year in the famine). The British landlords and actually the British government exported corn, wheat and livestock from Ireland while easily one million Irish starved. Another two million emigrated.

    So the sins of the 1960s don’t stand alone.

    1. Appreciate the perspective Tom, and totally agree that it doesn’t stand alone. I was just dealing it it from a very personal perspective.

      We can trace our family back to the 1750 in Ireland when William Cathcart, son of Hugh Cathcart emigrated to Ireland from Scotland. We can trace the Scottish part of the family back to the 1200’s through both wars of Scottish Independence with the English.

      My grandfather was the first last of my direct lineage that was born in Ireland, and as I said, I don’t remember him ever making anything of it. He was shot down evacuation of Malta as the Germans invaded in the last British government flight to leave. He lost his leg in the crash. That was always more important than what came before.

      I just just have vivid memories of the fears the random bombings created in London in the 70’s and 90’s.

Leave a Reply