On the side of humanity

On the side of humanity

MARIA Fusco is a writer from Belfast who has written a small book about something Ireland likes to think doesn’t exist. Who Does Not Envy With Us Is Against Us is published by Broken Sleep Books.

Strictly speaking Maria Fusco is directly reflecting upon her experience growing up in Belfast but what she writes about has been subsumed on this island behind a variety of covers. Nationalism, unionism, we’re on the one road, lazy anti-Britishness, sure we were all poor, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, that’s only an English thing.

But in this little book Fusco eschews all that and explicitly tackles her experience of being working class.

Class, the great invisible element of Irish life. The Irish reality that dare not speak its name.

Well, Fusco does speak it and does so with great wit and humour and fearlessness. Those of us who come from a similar background will recognise many of the piercing aspects of class that she describes, full in the knowledge that the reality of this experience is not even acknowledged as existing. Not that this is a heavy, intense reading experience.

Fusco’s description of her Belfast mother’s wonderful swearing ability will surely bring a smile to even the most puckered of middle class lips. The book consists of three short, wonderfully written, chapters and exposes an aspect of Irishness long hidden away in the shadows. For those of us from similar working class Irish lives there is the joy of recognition and for the rest of you, well, don’t just rattle your jewellery. Buy it. Read it. See Ireland and more from a completely different angle.

Ellen McWilliams, a native of the west Cork area she writes about, has also written a book about something Ireland has had no wish to acknowledge. Resting Places: On Wounds, War and the Irish Revolution is Ellen McWilliams deeply personal reckoning with sectarian, or at least identity-based, killings in west Cork.

The book is a deeply personal accounting with the murderous events of, in particular, April 1922 when exclusively Protestant members of the community were killed by the anti-treaty IRA. McWilliams strength is that she not only tackles a markedly overshadowed episode of Irish history but does so as a local, as a woman, as an academic, and first and foremost as an Irish person.

This book is not happy to leave things alone because they are uncomfortable to deal with or because they fray the acknowledged narrative.

Indeed, McWilliams is more tenacious than most in insisting that the dark corners be lit because not to do so is an unforgivable betrayal.

Of course we are all aware of Irish revisionist history and the good and bad that sits alongside that but Ellen McWilliams is refreshingly free of side. She is not protecting the ‘green’ she comes from or cheerleading the other she writes of. She is simply obsessed with digging at the truth and making it clear that the deaths of fourteen Protestant males in a small area around her home in the days of 1922 were the deaths of ten flesh and blood people. Their deaths are a stain on our Irishness but our subsequent silence is the pain that McWilliams gives voice to and, indeed, so eloquently feels.

The book is on a par with books like Lost Lives, a detailed account of all the dead of the most recent Troubles, and The Dead of The Irish Revolution, a detailed account of all the dead of the original troubles.

Whilst those two books are deeply important and moving listings McWilliams book is far more; it is an ache that the writer somehow translates into a coherent story.

There is a plaque outside a graveyard — not far from where I write this — dedicated to my great-uncle who was an IRA gunman and who was actually involved in one of the few IRA shootings on American soil.

My mother recalls her grandmother saying of him, sure what did all that carry-on get him but an early grave.

My own grandmother often recalled being stopped by drunken Black and Tans when she was only eight years of age. I have heard all the family stories and the songs. What Ellen McWilliams does in this book though is remind us, especially now, that if we are to take sides we can only ever take the side of humanity. Do yourself a favour and buy and read this brave, moving book.