|Jack Kyle, rugby player and surgeon, born on February 10 1926. Aged 88 he passed away on November 28 2014.|
[UPDATE - Read my essay on Jack Kyle and free speech in Northern Ireland published by Eamonn Mallie here]
We know him as the rugby great and for his work as a doctor. But Jack Kyle was also a man of letters and ideas. Throughout his life he shared comments on the Irish Question that were lucid, forceful and profound.
On rugby in Ireland he said, "There was never any religious business about rugby. That was the wonderful thing about it." At more length, he said about Irish rugby:
"That was the wonderful thing about [Irish rugby, the absence of religion]. When the various unions were splitting up, the Irish Rugby Union said: “we play as one country”. Those of us from Ulster were very fortunate that happened. It was also a much greater honour for us to play for the whole country. I think it says a lot that during all the Troubles, never once did a southern side fail to come north or a northern side fail to go south."Speaking more politically, he said: "I was born into a divided Ireland and, like most people, feel that the history of Ireland is a tragic one." He was a soft spoken man, subtle and under-stated. Perhaps that is why I was so astounded when I came across his letter to the Irish Times sent in the 1960s, and updated commentary shared just before he passed away. The tone was direct and uncompromising. A plain expression of events as they were. Before we look at his 1966 letter, here's his updated commentary, as published in ‘Conversations with My Father - Jack Kyle’ written by Justine Kyle McGrath (published September 2014):
"I am greatly saddened by the thousands of people who died in Northern Ireland as a result of the troubles. During the troubles when my friends in Zambia heard I was going home on leave and then they would hear the latest report of a bomb going off or yet another shooting, they used to say, "You’re not going back to Belfast, are you?" I would shrug and wonder how to explain the necessary resilience that all Northern Irish people grew up to have when living with the threat of violence every day.
In 1966, I felt compelled to write to the Irish Times [the letter was also published in the Belfast Telegraph and the Belfast News Letter] from Chingola, about what I felt was the increasing level of intolerance and religious hatred being perpetrated at that time by the Reverend Ian Paisley. I also felt very sensitive about the fact that I had many friends from the Republic of Ireland and many liberal-minded friends in the North, and I wanted them to know that I in no way shared these views.
The reason I raise the topic of this letter here is to show not only what I believe history will, in time, make of the Reverend Ian Paisley, but to show how strongly I felt about the spreading of hatred in a country I loved and was proud to call home."Here's the letter written July 27 1966 and sent to the Irish Times, published also in the Belfast Telegraph and News Letter:
"Sir, Irishmen of all creeds on this part of Zambia have been saddened, dismayed and finally sickened at the recent happenings in Ulster, for the exploits of Mr Paisley and his followers have reached even in this part of Africa.
The spirit of toleration and regard which has been growing in Ulster between Catholic and Protestant appears to have been shattered by the tragic events of the past months.
We have read that the Prime Minister Captain O’Neill has finally had to denounce this man and his bigotry. Doubtless, he would have done so sooner, only he had no desire to make a martyr of Mr Paisley and probably felt that the man was hardly worthy of attention. He hoped I would suppose, like many of us, that he would eventually disappear and his ideas with him. However there are times when the insignificance of the accuser is lost in the magnitude of his accusation and the evil he creates, and so Captain O’Neill has had to speak out against this man. One can only hope that all liberal minded Irishmen, especially Protestants in Ireland, will support the Prime Minister in his condemnation of this man and let Mr Paisley see that he hasn’t the following that he claims.
In the eyes of the adherents of Ian Paisley is already almost a martyr and I believe he has mentioned that he is ready to suffer like the martyrs of old for the case of Ulster Protestantism. An old friend used to say somewhat cynically in speaking of the martyrs of bygone years, that some of them were so anxious for martyrdom that if they saw two faggots burning [faggot means a pile of sticks burning on the ground], they immediately jumped on the flames. Mr Paisley has been searching for his two faggots for a long time, and after his recent denouncing, may possibly be considered in some circles as the Saint Ian of Ulster. The martyrs of old suffered nobly in a cruel age for a worthy cause. Mr Paisley’s talk of suffering is ludicrous, and his cause, religious intolerance, which inevitably brings with it hatred of neighbour, is just about the lowest for which anyone could suffer.
One wonders sadly what further garage has to do, to add to his self-imposed and and worthless martyrdom.
The late Adlai Stevenson in speaking of Eleanor Roosevelt shortly after her death, said ‘she was always more ready to light a candle than curse the darkness’. Mr Paisley has lit no candles of love, goodness, magnanimity or tolerance. He has spent his time and energies cursing what he considers to be darkness and unfortunately he has managed to recruit followers to his creed.
Mr Paisley’s ‘darkness’ however is not darkness to us all. Many of the finest, noblest and most likeable people I know are members of the Roman Catholic Church and I am glad to be able to call them friends. One does not have to live long in underdeveloped countries to, whether is Asia or Africa, to see the magnificent and altruistic work done by priests, nuns and Roman Catholic lay people in hospitals, in all forms of service to the community, leper colonies and in education - to mention a few. To have to write such things should be entirely unnecessary - they are self evident truths - but they have to be said to counteract the creed of those who believe they have a monopoly on the Christian religion, and that nothing good can come from anything or anyone outside of their own narrow-minded and prejudiced ideas. What a pity the misdirected energies of Mr Paisley and his followers couldn’t be used to build, like these people, instead of to destroy.
Some time ago a minister from Ireland stated that he would never come back to speak in Ulster because the place was so full of ‘spiritual nightclubs’, places where the ‘religious’ went along to be entertained and have their emotions stirred. Ulster is be-devilled by such religious clubs, where men like Mr Paisley entertain, making feeble and inane jokes, and obviously in some of these ‘night clubs’ stirring up the base emotions and religious intolerance, bigotry and hatred. The spiritual gain to the community resulting from such meetings is nil. Such entertainment always seems to collect its followers. It reminds me of the verses:
The folk that live in our town,Their hearts are in their bootsThey all go to hell they do,
Because the hooter hoots
Mr Paisley has hooted and the mob obediently falls in to fulfil his commands, without thinking of the consequences. One can almost hear in parts of Ulster the usual excuses for such deeds - we didn’t start it, we are only answering them in their own fashion, for their past actions. Are we in Ulster so spiritually poor that we can only return violence with violence? Surely a so-called minister of religion could find a better solution than the fanning of the flames of hatred between neighbours.
Mr Paisley is consider by many to be a sincere man doing what he considers best for Ulster. There is no man more dangerous to a country or to a cause than the ‘sincere man’ who is wrong and whose sincerity is not combined with wisdom, intelligence and respect for the individual of whatever class, religion or colour. Mr Paisley is possibly displaying much sincerity but the latter qualities are sadly lacking. Do Mr Paisley and his followers really believe that the building off barriers between Catholic and Protestant and the formation of a religious apartheid is for the good of the province?
What exactly are Mr Paisley and his followers trying to achieve? The fruits of their policy so far have resulted in riots and death. Would they like to massacre all Catholics, burn the chapels and have Ulster all to themselves? That is what Mr Paisley’s roaring throughout the Ulster countryside would appear to suggest. Whatever would he do then? One hears he is not keen on ‘High Church’ Anglicans.
All this nonsense he talks would, of course, be extremely humorous and Mr Paisley a good subject for cartoonists, if it wasn’t for the fact that the seeds he is sowing create such evil and from them spring despicable actions. One can only hope that as few people as possible will be ‘taken in’ by this man’a obsessional ravings and that all Irishmen will realise that he is a menace to the country.
As I write this letter, I am wondering if I was living in Ireland now, would I have the courage to post it? After the recent events in Ulster, I am doubtful. Some time ago a protestant friend was striving to increase the harmony between Catholic and Protestant - word of this reached the ears of the staunch upholders of Ulster Protestantism - his home was subjected to day and night telephone calls for a month, many of them revolting. The culmination was a threat to the life of his wife, which forced him to ask for police protection. Such is the state of democracy in Ulster - freedom of thought, word and deed; so long as you think, speak and act according to the rules of the man who formed his own ‘Free Church’.
Distance from Ireland in this instance does being its compensations and so I post this letter."