February 09, 2016

#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - Justine McGrath

Justine McGrath was born in Zambia in Central Africa. Her parents were both born and brought up in Belfast. She can call upon a famous father, the late Jack Kyle OBE, Irish rugby legend and International Rugby Hall of Famer. Justine attended boarding school at Victoria College Belfast and Methodist College Belfast. Following school Justine enrolled at Stirling University and completed a degree in French and Spanish. She is now lives in Dublin and is self-employed, doing the following: career coaching, writing, freelance French and Spanish teaching and book reviewing.

Of special note, Justine's book ‘Conversations with My Father - Jack Kyle’ was published September 2014. This was a superb book, candid and engaging. I was particularly gripped by the feature on Jack Kyle's 1966 blast against the destruction of Paisleyism. Something I looked at here.

But now to the interview.

Brian John Spencer: "When did you first learn about the Easter Rising of 1916?" Justine McGrath: 
"I can honestly say I don’t remember learning a thing about it at school. As with most things in life, it would have been my father who told me about it. I think it was the first time I came down to Dublin when I was about 14."
BJS: "Do the men, the act or the stated ideals in the proclamation mean anything to you?" JM:
"Yes, they mean a great deal to me, as I think they should to every Irish person. Rightly or wrongly, freedom is to be taken very seriously, as I am sure any individual without it can testify."
BJS: "When did you first learn about the Battle of the Somme?" JM:
"At school. I think I was about 15, so it would have been about fourth or fifth form. 
Once again though, my father was very interested in both the Great War and World War II and he taught me a lot more than I ever learnt at school."

BJS: "Does this act, the men and their determination to show their loyalty to Britain mean anything to you?" JM:
"Yes, of course. There was a catastrophic loss of life and the men who laid down their lives in this Battle and in the war deserve our utmost respect."
BJS: "As a (British/Irish/Northern Irish*) person, is the 1916 Rising important to you and your sense of identity and sense of belonging on this island?" JM:
"I have to confess to feeling somewhat confused about my feelings towards it. I was brought up both in Zambia and Northern Ireland, but I have lived in Dublin for the last 15 years, so it has come to feel more significant somehow. I feel Irish and so it is important – these men and women died for our future country, our ideals and our freedom. My identity is a bit confused though, so it makes that aspect a bit harder to answer!"
BJS: "As a (British/Irish/Northern Irish*) person, is the Somme offensive important to you and your sense of identity and sense of belonging on this island?" JM:
"Yes and I would give the same answer as above."

BJS: "Will you be commemorating or celebrating either of these two events in April and July of this year respectively?" JM:
"I have no plans to, but I will be very interested to follow the events happening to commemorate both events."
BJS: "Are you happy with the series of commemorative events put on by the Irish State? And what do you think of Arlene Foster's take on the events of Easter 1916 (she has refused to attend any commemorations)?" JM:
"To be honest I am not totally au-fait with the events being put on by the Irish State. As for Arlene Foster, while she is entitled to her views, it is sad that it doesn’t surprise me at all. How is Northern Ireland ever going to grow and change when we still have people who cannot see past the end of their nose?"
BJS: "As a person on (or from) the island are you happy with the where we are now at in terms of culture, cosmopolitanism and broad-mindedness?" JM:
"Yes and No. I think Ireland, both the North and South have made incredible progress during the last ten to fifteen years. I hardly recognise Belfast now when I visit, and the Republic has made enormous social and cultural changes as well. However I still find some of the attitudes in Northern Ireland make me sick to my stomach. Some of the opinions and ideas demonstrated by certain leaders are so narrow-minded; I find it hard to believe. Northern Ireland needs to learn that some things are better left in the past. I am not talking about justice for people or forgetting our past, but smaller rituals and beliefs that do nothing but increase bigotry and hatred need to be left behind once and for all."
BJS: "What are your hopes for the future of this divided province and island?" JM:
"That’s a hard question to answer. I would like to see the nonsense that goes on every 12thJuly (and I fully respect the tradition) to stop – by that I mean the minority who cause trouble year in, year out. I would like to see some of the politicians in Northern Ireland and some of the representatives of the Orange Order try and practice a bit of tolerance, and open their minds. 
In the Republic I would like to see more accountability for bankers, builders and anyone else, who feels it is permissible to ruin lives for a fast buck. 
Also, I would love to see (although this is clearly a pipe dream) everyone both North and South drive with a bit more care and consideration. Why are people so incredibly rude on the roads? The levels of speeding and danger I witness on the roads every day are ridiculous. Probably not what you meant by the question, but putting it in regardless!"
BJS: "Please share any further thoughts these questions may have stimulated." JM:
"These questions have further stimulated thoughts on what exactly 1916 does mean to me, and why. It is an interesting one alright and I am sure I am not the only person from Northern Ireland who feels the complexity of our history. My father always said that the history of Ireland was such a tragic one and I think that is so true. We are making progress but there is a long way to go yet."

Read the previous interviews by clicking the links: Jonathan Drennan, Kylie Noble, Andy Pollak, Duncan Morrow.
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