Saturday, 18 July 2009

Some Mother's Son

Destination Iraq
© Joe ÓNéill 2009
U.S. troops in Co. Clare Ireland enjoying an Irish wedding party
I have decided to exclude names and locations in this article for obvious reasons, which I hope you will understand as you read on.
The movie, 'Some Mother’s Son', which starred Helen Mirren and Fionnula Flanagan, dealt with the agonizing choice faced by the loved ones of the Long Kesh Hunger Strikers, intervention at the last moment to save their lives, or to watch them die a long and agonizing death. Almost 30 years later, the decisions taken continue to arouse controversy and within the last several months public meetings have taken place in the north of Ireland to request a public account of decisions made during the 'Hunger Strike' by leaders of the Republican Movement.
While the phrase 'Some Mother’s Son', is better know for it’s association with the 1996 award winning movie, written by Terry George and Jim Sheridan, and directed by George, those of a certain age will remember the initial coining of the phrase. My own recollection is of a TV street interview in Belfast after the shooting of a British soldier, and a woman from the neighbourhood lamenting, that regardless of the rights and wrongs of the war, at the end of the day, the British soldier was 'Some Mother’s Son'.

Fionnula Flanagan (Centre) with Gerry Adams (Right) and members of the San Francisco Irish-American Democratic Club at a recent meeting in San Francisco "A United Ireland and How Do We Get There?"
The poignancy of the phrase came back to me several days ago, as I sat watching groups of young United States soldiers, many of them in their teens, catching a little R 'n' R while in transit to Iraq, many for their first tour of active-service duty.
En route to Iraq they were delayed by mechanical problems at Shannon Airport, and were being fed and watered at a local hotel many miles from the airport, where my nephew was holding his wedding reception. Guests at the wedding were taken aback at the numbers of U.S. military personnel in battle fatigues, wandering the corridors and grounds of the premises. Several people, some with young children, a familiar feature of Irish wedding parties, expressed concern at the security implications of being in such proximity to troops, technically in-the-field, and en route to a war zone.
As the soldiers began to mingle into the private wedding party banquet area they were told by their Commanding Officer that the area was a private party and off limits. Common decency, and Irish hospitality however, overruled personal political opinions, and the groom, a fine young man, accepting that I might be a little prejudiced in this respect, informed the Commanding Officer that they were welcome to join the party. It didn’t take long before the combat fatigues were manoeuvring to the strains of ‘The Walls of Limerick’.
After the initial surprise of the encounter with so many combat ready soldiers, I believe the groom’s brother summed up the general feeling of wedding guests when he said, “If my own son happened to be in that situation in a foreign country, I would hope that someone would show him a bit of a good time before he had to face what they are going to.”
While I have no wish to turn what was a joyous family occasion into a political soapbox for a debate on the rights and wrongs of the Iraq war, some questions need to be addressed by the Irish government regarding our obligations under our neutrality laws.
I cannot claim to be an expert on Irish neutrality laws. Many Irish citizens feel that our government are acting outside the law in this regard, and there have been many protests at Shannon Airport over this issue. Having lived outside the country for many years, I admit that I am not as educated on the subject as perhaps I should be. Those issues I will leave to people better able to answer that question, and to the professional and semi-professional protesting classes.
This is what I do know however. Many wedding guests were uncomfortable at having to be in such proximity to foreign soldiers in our country, who were technically in-the-field. Irish citizens at this hotel were not given a choice or a say in this matter. Britain has suffered several attacks by Muslim extremists causing loss of live. As recently as yesterday, Muslim convert, and former public schoolboy, Isa Ibrahim, was convicted of making and planning to use explosives against civilians in Britain. I don’t claim to be an expert in security matters either, but to my untrained eye, security in this hotel was non-existent. There was certainly no uniformed police presence.
The implications of this are obvious. If we are required by our neutrality laws to host foreign combat troops that mingle with our civilian population then we need better security arrangements than those that were, or were not, as the case may be, in place this week.
This posting is over the weekend. I will be sending it to both U.S. and Irish government agencies for comment come Monday. Any replies will be posted.


  1. Very interesting - mixed feelings myself - On a human level would have huge sympathies with soldiers who are often unwitting pawns in the ever more complex field of international relations and wars and conscious that for some it may be their last party before oblivion. Not a supporter of neutrality myself as I think it is an 'amoral' stance but would also have sympathy with guests at a wedding feeling uncomfortable and certainly such a large number of uniformed soldiers would change the dynamic of an Irish wedding - Mind you at least it would relieve the monotony of Beef or Salmon! Re the security risk - that I think is overstated and symptomatic of the growing hysteria re terrorism which statistically is a minute threat to anyone anywhere, except perhaps Iraq or Afganistan. Reading Dan Gardner's 'Risk - The Science and Politics of Fear' and it suggests to me that we need to resist allowing our lives to be determined by Fear. One interesting statistic he comes up with is that an extra 1500 people died on the roads of the US in 2001-2002 because of the abandonment of air travel in the wake of 911!

  2. I just want to let the bride,groom,and their families know that as a parent of a soldier in the group thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Our soldiers were so happy for your hospitality. You all showed the world what can happen when we show a little kindness to our neighbors even if they are from another country in their battle uniforms. May your marriage be blessed!

  3. My brother was there. We're Irish (among other things) and have always wanted to see Ireland, but I'm sure this was not the way he had wanted to experience it. However, he loved it and wants to go back. Your warmth and hospitality gave me comfort all these miles away- and even a year later I think about it. Many blessings and many many happy years wished to the couple! Thank you again- I don't think you'll ever truly know how you touched so many people that day! ~