There's something of a political revolution sweeping these isles
Published 20/09/2015 | 02:30
If the truth be told, I found him a bit fearsome sitting there beside me on the bus. The bulky frame, the shaven head, the single dangling earring and, to be blunt, a faint aura of menace, all made for a certain uneasiness
As our coach motored through the Scottish lowlands, the odd sideways glance made it impossible not to notice the tattoos, ranging down his sleeveless right arm. Pride of place was the image of a dagger superimposed on a map of Northern Ireland. Emblazoned underneath was that chant of not so long ago - Ulster Says No.
An attempt to strike up a conversation was met by a rebuff delivered in staccato Belfast sounds. "I never talk to anybody from Eire unless I know who they are.''
And so we succumbed to what in time became a kind of agreeable silence.
Meanwhile, the bus trundled on through the greenery of the Ayrshire countryside. All those lands that the antecedents of my travelling companion left behind more than four centuries ago. They went to seek their fortune, across that narrow strip of sea that divides Scotland from the northern parts of Ireland.
Listening to his mobile phone conversations, it was possible to glean he had been on a visit to his brother in the still all-too-tough town that is Glasgow. His guttural Belfast vowels seemed to chime in comfortably with the Glaswegian accent of our driver as the latter made his announcements over the intercom. It would be easy to believe they were both part of the one tribe and just a bit different from us "down south".
But earlier that week there had been a chance to sample the understated delights of Edinburgh. The annual Festival Fringe was in full swing, and the university precincts were awash with creative energy, wrought by comedians and a range of other performers.
Among those strutting their stuff was our own funny man from Tallaght, Al Porter. Any concerns that his very Irish brand of humour would not travel quickly evaporated. Word of mouth soon became his biggest selling point, when night after night he provoked the belly laughs that remain the lifeblood of all comedians.
Meanwhile, the city's castle, and the solidity of its brownstone streets built in another era, bore witness to a time when the British Empire ruled much of the world. Yet Edinburgh is a city determined to reinvent itself, willing to embrace whatever an uncertain future may bring.
Edinburgh is in the vanguard for a modern day Scotland, a country sometimes conflicted in its identity, which is manifest most of all in the stunning electoral successes of the Scottish National Party. But where now for the SNP, given that the Scots baulked at going it alone when the independence referendum was defeated?
One wonders if it will all end in tears for party leader Nicola Sturgeon as she battles to fulfil the wishes of an electorate so unsure of what should be their hearts' desire.
South of the border in England, things are also in a state of chassis following the extraordinary decision of the Labour Party to make Jeremy Corbyn its leader. It just might be akin - and with due deference to the talents of the Wexford TD - to making Mick Wallace leader of, say, Fianna Fáil.
But the move cannot be totally dismissed as an aberration. It is proof positive that across a huge swathe of the UK there is seething dissatisfaction with the way the political game is currently being played out. And of course we have our own version of mould-breaking on this side of the Irish Sea with, for example, consistently high showings in the polls for Independent TDs.
Something is afoot that is changing the political landscape in these islands.
Apart from the disaffection of lower income groups, there are also many subterranean changes blocking traditional middle-class aspirations. The world of work remains convulsed by the endless challenges of technology, and getting on the infamous housing ladder becomes ever more daunting.
Financial mandarins in Frankfurt, Brussels and beyond seem to have too much power over all our destinies.
Even the great European ideal - the belief that all in the EU club should pull together in times of trouble - has taken a hammering, not least with the wayward response to the refugee crisis.
And so it would have been nice to have had a chat with my travelling companion. It might have been possible to suggest that the old quarrel that still casts too long a shadow over the North's sectarian divide is no longer as important as it used to be. Is it not dwarfed by all that is happening in a wider world so convulsed with change?
It was not to be. The last time I saw him we were both boarding the ferry back to Belfast. He gave a half look of recognition, born of a kind of togetherness we shared from our long journey on the bus.
Just for a moment he seemed kind of friendly. But he never said goodbye.