From the Editor…

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 1 (Jan/Feb 2007), Letters, Letters, Volume 15

An end to foolishness

‘. . . there is an end to foolishness; the time for talk is ended’—not a cynical comment on the current (seemingly never-ending) negotiations to form a Northern Ireland executive but, as Kevin Haddick Flynn relates in this issue, the last words penned by Seán South 50 years ago before he headed north on the ill-fated raid on Brookeborough RUC barracks. While South was to become immortalised in song and Sinn Féin reaped an electoral dividend in the 1957 general election, in the long run the border campaign demonstrated how marginal and impotent the IRA had become and sowed the seeds of the ‘Official’/‘Provisional’ republican split of 1969. It is indeed ironic that many of the leading figures in that bitter rupture participated in the Brookeborough raid.
It also cleared the decks for an alternative, and more effective, challenge to unionist hegemony—the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) of the 1960s. While the historical circumstances were different, in its style, modus operandi and even songs, NICRA was heavily influenced by Revd Martin Luther King’s movement for African-American rights. Quincy Lehr outlines the background and course of that movement in this issue’s curriculum section.
So what are we to make of Seán South of Garryowen 50 years after his death? His detractors paint him as a deluded Catholic nationalist fanatic, while his apologists point to his idealism and natural talent. The time for talk (dialogue rather than rhetoric) is never ended. The tragedy for South and O’Hanlon was that no such dialogue between the political traditions existed in their time. Times have changed. For the politicians of the DUP and Sinn Féin today the talk (i.e. real engagement) is only just beginning.

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