Thursday 22 August 2019

The persecution that seems to go on forever

'Are Protestants not still smeared with the stereotype of privilege powermongers?' (stock photo)
'Are Protestants not still smeared with the stereotype of privilege powermongers?' (stock photo)

Fiona O'Connell

Another year is nearly gone. For time doesn't stand still - not even around this country town, where meadows become McMansion plots, and the motorway extends its mixed blessing of less traffic but more noise over an otherwise idyllic landscape.

Yet some aspects of life seem frozen. Fox hunters gallop over the bridge, their costumes from another century visible through the industrial-looking railings that replaced the stone wall decades ago. This is also hare coursing season, the blood sport that was popular among the Black and Tans, who were a frightening fixture in the nearby village of Inistoige for a poor Protestant girl called Jane. Though she was hounded from her homeland by another form of persecution - bigotry that is also still alive and literally kicking, judging by the recent desecration of a place of worship in the west of Ireland.

As one local remarked, you just knew without being told that it was a Protestant church.

For this was not some random act of mindless vandalism. It takes focus, vindictiveness and likely a fair few perpetrators to rip an altar rail from its fixings, all the pews from the ground; to smash a church organ and split a pulpit in two.

Because even if we have given the green light to gay marriage and attempt to make amends for the Magdalene Laundries and other religion-based brutalities from our past, where is the acknowledgement of the lingering prejudice against this minority in our midst? Are Protestants not still smeared with the stereotype of privilege powermongers?

How else to interpret the pious churchgoer who leaned towards my ear some years ago to sneer "Inistoige Protestants!" about another local? Reverend Evans was at pains to exonerate the wider community from responsibility for the attack. Though this area has sectarian skeletons in its closet, like the IRA attack on Clifton Orphanage in 1922. Which was the same year that Jane's future brother-in-law was savagely beaten and told to get out of Ireland. Making Jane roughly the same generation as the 92-year-old parishioner in Clifton for whom "that church has been her life and she is just devastated".

But the attack explains something that struck me at the end of the interview conducted by Jane's nephew, Roger Buisson, in 1999. "Have you had enough?" Jane asks him. "I think we've done very well. Covered a lot of ground."

She pauses. "I hope you don't show this to any of the people involved. Like the Catholics," she laughs nervously. "You better cut it out - skip over it. I don't want to be tarred and feathered out here."

Now I understand why an elderly woman, living on the other side of the world, feared repercussions for talking about what happened, back when this Republic was born. For the poison ivy of religious persecution still chokes its growth. And shamefully, 100 years on, remains intact.

Sunday Independent

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