March 27, 2016

#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - Ian Acheson

Ian Acheson is married, is 48 years old and is living in south west England. He is a "council house culchie made good via amazing parents and grammar school." Born in Enniskillen he was educated at Portora. He is a former senior civil servant with the Home Office, now living off his wits in the private sector with the odd diversion into troubles poetry you can see here in a collection called '51% British: writing the Troubles out of my head'.

Brian John Spencer: "When did you first learn about the Easter Rising of 1916?" Ian Acheson:

"We weren’t taught Irish history at my school to O’level but there were attempts by a very inspirational teacher, Richard Neill to get us to understand our co-religionists through inter-schools projects. This meant that I knew more about the 1798 rebellion than 1916!"

BJS: "Do the men, the act or the stated ideals in the proclamation mean anything to you?" IA:

"I’m ambivalent about the men. There was a desperate courage there and the voice of Pearce is seductive but at heart, I don’t like fanatics because they destroy more than they build. The unity of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter is nice in theory but, as today, the reality is that violent republicans think unionism is a temporary aberration, which unification would remove rather than a deeply held core identity."

BJS: "When did you first learn about the Battle of the Somme?" IA:

"Surprisingly late. I think the full impact didn’t emerge until I saw Observe the Sons of Ulster, probably at the Lyric, maybe Coleraine, in the late 80’s."

BJS: "Does this act, the men and their determination to show their loyalty to Britain mean anything to you?" IA:

"That sentiment is certainly admirable but the enduring feeling I have is of the terror and hopelessness of their situation and the criminal waste of life. But so much good and bad has been built on this blood sacrifice. People have killed and died for it since. And you must not forget the Irish boys in the trenches too, fighting and dying for a foreign King."

BJS: "As an Irish person, is the 1916 Rising important to you and your sense of identity and sense of belonging on this island?" IA:

"I have grown comfortable lately with the idea I am an Irish Unionist. My Britishness is contingent on the other Irishpart of my identity being valid. The Troubles played a much greater role in cementing my irrevocable Britishness than either event in 1916. Living as a Protestant near the Fermanagh border boiled down the issues at stake. People were trying to remove my identity by force by murdering people I knew in the cruellest and most intimate fashion. Events I lived through ‘cured’ my identity better than any historic event. Of course our version of peace has allowed other ideas to flourish and I am much more relaxed about my identity now. In fact I am sure that a British identity in Northern Ireland cannot now survive long-term without Catholic unionists being persuaded that their future is better in the UK. So that gives we Protestant Unionists some very difficult questions to settle about the past. But I’m very hopeful this can be settled."

BJS: "As an Irish person, is the Somme offensive important to you and your sense of identity and sense of belonging on this island?" IA:

*See above*

BJS: "Will you be commemorating or celebrating either of these two events in April and July of this year respectively?" IA:

"I will follow both with interest!"

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?"  IA:

"I think Arlene has been principled and honest. I write about the intrusive hand of ‘the busy mandate of peace’ in my poetry. There is a need to carefully unwrap the past and The‘16 Rising is an event still freighted with negativity for the Prods. In time there will be more generosity, when we have properly expunged the hurt of ’69 onwards. 
I think the Irish state is perfectly entitled to celebrate the momentous events that gave rise to Modern Ireland. I expect that it will be used to reach a hand of friendship to Northern Unionists. I hope that is reciprocated. At any rate it is a chance to reflect on how far both bits of this small Island have come and how much remains to be done."

BJS: "What are your hopes for the future of this divided province and island?" IA:

"If you want those things to be realised and to flourish(and I do) in the North, the answer is simple: compulsory integrated education. End of."

BJS: "Please share any future thoughts these questions may have stimulated?" IA:

"I’m incredibly optimistic about Ireland. We’ve come so far. But the foundations are thin. We have to get away from ‘circular firing squad’ Executive politics. There must be an opposition. Unionism must become more outward facing and forgiving. Republicanism must accept that no amount of desperate revisionism will absolve them from the horror of what they largely created. Loyalism needs to get away from the gym and the dealing and start thinking about youngsters in the attainment basement. And in the meantime, the vast bulk of other people will grow together. Sure, we’re a mongrel nation anyway, and all the better for it!"
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