However, this is not the point of my story. What I am interested in is the psychology of punters which I got a great insight into that evening.
We met up with a well known punter from Tyrone who had a dog running in the first race. He backed the dog heavily and lost the equivalent of at least a month’s wages on the race.
In the next race he went to the Tote office and did a £2 forecast and won £26. He jumped with delight and shouted that ‘now we’re winning!’ Even I, who am a complete amateur at these things, knew that if you lost £400 in the first race and won £26 in the second, you were not winning.
FW de Klerk knew that he had lost and Nelson Mandela knew that he had won. De Klerk understood that South Africa could not go on with apartheid in the modern world and that some arrangement for the handover of power to the black South Africans had to be made.
De Klerk was lucky in the enemy that he had.
Nelson Mandela was a man of forgiveness, foresight and compassion who knew that victory is not all that it is imagined to be. He also knew that if he was to lead South Africa in a period of reconciliation and into a period of democracy and economic growth, that he would need the experience of the whites.
For many years the whites had ran successful businesses and were seasoned managers. It was the same with the men who ran the large farms and the agriculture business in general. Then there were all the professional people; doctors, lawyers, judges, nurses etc.
Mandela knew that the new South Africa would require these people; business managers and good farmers don’t just appear out of nowhere. The blacks had no culture of democracy, the professions or business and Mandela was shrewd enough to know that he needed them to help him rebuild the country.
He was also a man of forgiveness who used his inauguration as an opportunity to show that he had forgiven those who had treated him badly while in prison. He invited some of the people who had made his life hell in Robben Island to the event.
“FW de Klerk, who as South Africa's last white president ordered Mr Mandela's release, called him a unifier and said he had a remarkable lack of bitterness.
FW de Klerk told the BBC Mr Mandela's greatest legacy ‘is that we are basically at peace with each other notwithstanding our great diversity, that we will be taking hands once again now around his death and around our common sadness and mourning’.”
Mandela was not like the wee punter from Co Tyrone; he did not need to imagine victory. De Klerk and Mandela sat down and talked out how they were going to make a peaceful transition from white minority rule to black majority rule. For De Klerk, the game was up.
What has all this to do with us?
A lot and here is why.
Almost twenty years ago the Provos called a ceasefire which to all intent and purposes ended the civil war (for that is what it was) in Northern Ireland. That night the people of West Belfast had convoys of cars on the streets, flags hanging out the windows, celebrating an imagined victory over the British that had never taken place.
To keep the unionists happy the British had to tell them that the union was safe, the Provos now accepted that, and that they also had won the great battle to remain British.
We ended up in Northern Ireland with the only war that both sides won: now that’s an Irish solution to an Irish problem!
In the fullness of time both parties began to realize that neither side had won; what had really happened was that Britain, Ireland and America, along with the rest of the world, had become fed up with the Paddies fighting.
By now, as we approach Christmas 2013, ‘the vast majority of good decent law-abiding Northern Ireland people’ (to paraphrase many a unionist politician) have realized that no one won and couldn’t care less anyway. The mortgage needs paid and the youngsters require presents and these are slightly more pressing problems than a united Ireland or the protestant ascendancy.
So what do you do when you haven’t won and can’t admit it to yourself?
You become like our punter from Co Tyrone and you begin to see every small victory as proof that you are the victor and every small loss is proof of betrayal by all and sundry.
When you start to think like this a flag, up or down, on the pole everyday or seventeen times a year, takes on the importance of an enormous battle to some people and in their desire for victory they just can’t let it go.
And you also forget that for a balanced society we need both the Protestant AND Catholic tradition here; the differing views of both religions could, if we allowed them, help maintain a healthy balance in society.
At the time I can recall thinking to myself, ‘is this what Unionism is reduced to, fighting over the 11 plus?’ I had not figured out how important it is to have a victory, even an imagined one.
That is why the flying of the flag over the City Hall became such a big issue for Sinn Fein; they needed a victory and they were able to dress up the flag controversy in such a way as made it look very important.
“We can’t get a united Ireland but we can get rid of the flag over the City Hall,” you can imagine some wee shinner saying. Wow! Over three thousand people dead and we got the flag down from the city hall.
To the poor old loyalist, the taking down of the flag was a ‘bridge too far.’ This was defeat that could not be allowed. Loyalism, being a culture based on traditions, memorials and anniversaries, decided to hold a march to commemorate this betrayal, on the busiest shopping day of the year in the heart of their dear city of Belfast, that bastion of the British Empire on the island of Ireland.
The parades commission were approached, permission was given for 10,000 people to assemble outside the city hall at noon on November 30th and probably some even believed that the flag would magically appear on the pole at midday.
Well, in the end, 1500 turned out. It appears that ‘the vast majority of good decent law-abiding Northern Ireland people’ have mortgages that need to be paid and the youngsters requiring presents and these are slightly more pressing problems than a united Ireland or the protestant ascendancy.
By coincidence, I was driving to Dublin that Saturday afternoon. I was in Randalstown when I heard that the parade had passed off peacefully so I decided to drive down the M2 through Belfast and on to Dublin.
When I reached Belfast the M2 and Westlink they were about as busy as a Sunday afternoon; the busiest shopping day of the year and Northern Ireland’s capital city or Ireland’s second city, depending on what way you look at it, was dead.
Now, at the A1 in Lisburn the turn off to Sprucefield was chock-a-block. The only losers on that day were the shopkeepers of Belfast.
That’s the second big problem of Northern Ireland; we have not got the desire or willingness to forgive the other side for what happened during our little splat, which went on for 25 years.
We don’t have a Mandela, a man of forgiveness and real leadership. We don’t have him because we never needed him; both sides won so who forgives whom?
We don’t have a de Klerk because no side has had to admit that the game is up, no side has had to face the reality that this wee state of ours, built on hatred and distrust, is no longer tenable and can’t continue in the way it was.
So we fight a phoney war, a proxy war, where flags and marches take the place of guns and bombs. The weapons have changed but the fighting goes on.
As I write this on Sunday afternoon I see that we in the nationalist tradition have scored another great victory: our proud defenders have fired twice at the police over the weekend. Ireland shall be free on Monday!
Give my head peace!!!
And so it shall continue until outside circumstances force us to change. We are a people apart; we are not an integral ingredient of either the British or Irish community; we are like a garage built at the side of a house, not quite attached and not quite apart, sort of sitting out like a sore thumb.
Thomas Beresford, of Hollywood, shall be spending Christmas in jail. Thomas was convicted of playing the Sash at an Ulster Covenant Parade outside a Catholic Church where he shouldn’t have been playing it.
“Criticising the sentence, DUP assembly member Nelson McCausland said the parade had ‘passed virtually without incident’.
‘This is an extremely grave situation for Mr Beresford and his family,’ he said.
‘To be sentenced to three months in prison for playing The Sash as part of a parade is an extremely draconian sentence to be handed down.
‘Whilst the rule of law should be respected and upheld, I am at a loss to understand why such a tough and disproportionate sentence should have been handed down.’” (BBC News)
Poor Nelson is beginning to see the world of Northern Ireland from the perspective of the average Fenian from the Falls, a place where the law was always used to keep you in your place.
Then last week we read this:
Hundreds of loyalists took part in the march, which came days before the first anniversary of a council decision to limit the flying of the union flag.
Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr said the unnamed organiser of the parade had been spoken to by police.
He said he would be prosecuted for breaching a Parades Commission ruling.” (BBC News)
We are going nowhere. Our battle is now being fought in petty wee ways that belittle both the Unionist and Republican cause. Haas wants a Northern Ireland flag that we can all owe allegiance too. The words, ‘snowball,’ ‘chance,’ and ‘hell’ comes to mind.
There will be no new Ulster or Northern Ireland flag. We don’t want one just as we don’t want to agree. The most common thought when that enters our head about the ‘other side’ is ‘could you trust them?’
We don’t trust each other and we don’t want to trust each other. We won’t forgive because forgiveness would be a sign of weakness and we must be strong during this phase of the war, even if it is only a phoney war; we owe it to our comrades.
Meanwhile de Klerk mourns the death of his friend who was once his implacable enemy.
Our so called leaders, who can hardly bear to speak to each other, will probably turn up at the funeral.
Hopefully while they are there some of the great man’s qualities shall rub off on them! One can only hope and pray . . .
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