Grafton 1988. ISBN 978-0586203552
|The Crack is a book for readers
interested in the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland, (or more specifically Belfast)
so I should image that plenty of English and Southern Irish readers will go to some
lengths to avoid it.
Northern Ireland counts as one of the top "boring" problems because it's complicated, insoluble, seemingly senseless and it's been running for hundreds of years. As Sally Belfrage points out, the Protestants had settled in a Catholic Northern Ireland before the Mayflower sailed for America.
However, the Troubles have some unusual aspects and she gives some statistics towards the end of the book to support this:
- A poll conducted by the Belfast Telegraph in 1986 (the year before she wrote this book) showed that only 21.2% of Catholics favoured a united Ireland, i.e. the majority of northern Catholics don't support what the I.R.A. is supposedly for fighting for.
- According to a Gallup Poll conducted world-wide in the mid 1980's, 39% of the people in Northern Ireland define themselves as "very happy" (compared for example, to 15% of West Germans and Italians and 10% of Japanese). This, is in the midst of what is in effect a long running civil war.
If this isn't puzzling enough, the expected mass emigration from the Troubles, unemployment and lack of opportunity doesn't happen. They can easily obtain British or Irish passports but they don't do it, and the odd few who go to work in Scotland or England miss Belfast and seem to return the first chance they get.
Survival at a basic level is guaranteed by weekly British Social Security payments (the "broo") to Protestant and Catholic alike, including those who are actively trying to destroy the British government, with extra compensation for victims of violence - whoever caused it.
Belfast is a real "tangled bank", with a mass of illogicality and selective blindness to violence, so for 15 of the 16 chapters Belfrage talks and makes friends with many there, recounting their stories and events and presenting things how they are in a complex portrait rather than being judgmental or looking for grand solutions.
Finally as a summary to an excellent but difficult book she has the last chapter, "Living With War", which has to count as one of the most sociologicaly interesting that I have ever read. (top)
|She shows Belfast as a cauldron
of emotions with the people glorying their tradition, music, fighting easily, constantly
talking and visiting, sharing the little they have. Among a constant press of people there
are stories and rumours and a pure kind of tribalism transposed to a modern environment.
It's them against us, and the fact that the Catholic and Protestant poor live in an almost identical way doesn't allow socialisation in schools, work or pubs.The separation creates a sort of warlike tension and solidarity in each community with the exaggerated symbolism of marches like the July 12th Orange Day Parade.
It seems to be this excitement and solidarity that turns life into a kind of daily show with reporters buzzing around and everyone getting interviewed - in fact a surprising life of stardom for a small economically depressed region of the British Isles. The British are there like umpires in this strange game. The army stops a real Lebanese style civil war from happening and the Social Security office pays for the family support that allows the unemployed "heroes / hard men" to get on with it.
Belfrage suggests that there is a war feeling without its true realities. She quotes Shakespeare in Coriolanus; " Let me have war say I, it exceeds peace as far as day does night: it's spritely, waking, audible, and full of vent. Peace is a very apoplexy, lethargy, mull'ed, deaf, sleepy insensible ..... and it make men hate one another."
Or more recently Nietzsche; "The man who has renounced war has renounced a grand life". And it's a fact that in northern Ireland there's an inverse relation between the homicide rate and the rate of death by suicide.
This is an interesting view from someone who arrived impartially and got to know these people very well. Nevertheless, the book was published in 1986. Since then the Irish Republic has progressed from being the basket case of Europe to one of it's leading economies. European traditionalism is fading fast and the 9/11 New York terror bombings have stopped American I.R.A. funding in it's tracks.
The Troubles are not so serious as 20 years ago and maybe one way or another Belfast is becoming a more normal sort of European city but it's still a very valuable book.