March 20, 2016

#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - Willis McBriar

Willis was raised on a farm in Mid-Down. After studying at QUB he worked for BBC as an engineer/trainer. Willis is now a trainer in Creative Digital Media living in Belfast.

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

"In History class at Regent House. Our History teacher was from Dublin and had witnessed the Civil War as a small child. Bodies in the street with sandbags to mop up the blood. 
I also remember seeing Irish stamps with the picture of Tom Clarke on them which touched a chord as my mother’s family were Clarke."
BJS: "Do the men, the act or the stated ideals in the proclamation mean anything to you?" WMcB:
"To me the Proclamation and Rising was a wrong fork in the road, just like the Ulster Covenant. It is inevitable that it will get most of the publicity. 
There is the problem of the justification of violence. Regarding Pearse And others as heroes and as justified asks the question: “When do we stop? 1922, 1994? Is Dissident Republican violence still justified by the same argument. When is the cut-off?"
BJS: "When did you first learn about the Battle of the Somme?" WMcB:
"Two contrasting views, hearing about the neighbours of my Grandparents who never came back. What it was like looking through the paper to see who else had died.  
Then the banners on the Twelfth, also with my parents, getting a visual history lesson. 
Again History lessons with Howard. The Somme in the context of the Western Front and also the expectation that the Blood Sacrifice on the Somme would be rewarded just as Pearse expected his Blood Sacrifice to be rewarded."
BJS: "Does this act, the men and their determination to show their loyalty to Britain mean anything to you?" WMcB:
"I was aware that if anything the Redmondites were more loyal to the Crown than the Ulster Division. This is obviously a reflection of my History master’s view but if anything it has been re-inforced by events.  
The war poetry of Wilfred Owen and Seigfried Sassoon, ‘Lions led by Donkeys’ etc, mean that I have a jaundiced view of parades with fife and drum."
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?" WMcB:
"Absolutely not. I regard it as a mistake which only forced Ireland North and South to become Confessional states. My sympathies lie with Redmond and Collins rather than Connelly and Pearse. So if there is a scene in Irish History (lite) that gives me a sense of identity it is Liam Neeson as Michael Collins taking the British surrender."
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?" WMcB:
"The Ulster Division were the best trained and most capable of the Allied forces thrown at the unbroken German wire on July 1. There is a counter-theory which says that they were given the most difficult task to tame the Uppity Ulstermen. That perfectly encapsulates the Loyalist view of Loyalty to the Crown and to Britain. Better to be betrayed by the British than to sit down round the table with Fenians."
BJS: "Will you be commemorating or celebrating either of these two events in April and July of this year respectively?" WMcB:

"Unlikely. My abiding memory of Orange celebrations of the Somme is having to eject half a flute band from my back garden because thet felt it was their right to use it as a urinal. I have only done one military-political pilgrimage. To the statue of Charles DeGaulle in Carlton Gardens, London."
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)?" WMcB:

"I don’t know much about them but they seem to be inclusive. By acknowledging all who died, including Police, British Army and children they are for the first time challenging a hierarchy of victims. It is too much to expect NI to have reached this position given the short time which has elapsed since the end of ‘The Troubles’. 
As for Arlene Foster, she has now made good on her commitment to attend a symposium-type event. Many of those who cheered on her initial refusal to attend any ‘commemoration’ now want to equate the CofI event with a commemoration. No surprise there, but wiser heads will see that she has talked a tricky path well."
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?" WMcB:
"The ending of violence (largely), has to be welcomed but NI is not a happy or contented place. The biggest problem is the sense of victimhood which pervades politics. We find it hard to look forward together, continually picking over the wrongs of the past. We need serious economic growth, not mediated or funnelled through the narrow confines of the ‘Great and Good’."
BJS: "What are your hopes for the future of this divided province and island?" WMcB:
"That the ROI gets a second phase of technological expansion without the Boom and Bust. That the North stops holding out the begging bowl and finally accepts that we have to stand on OUR own two feet. The GFA with modifications is the settled will of the people of NI. The ROI has no great interest in a United Ireland. The buffets that are to come will be to do with Europe. I hope we stay in. How unionists can think ‘Ourselves alone’ is a good slogan is beyond me."
BJS: "Please share any further thoughts these questions may have stimulated." WMcB:
"I hope that revisionism in Irish History goes a bit farther. Just as the History of the Munsters and Connaughts was written out of official history, so was the betrayal of Irish Unionists by Ulster Unionists. 
A lot was lost through partition. I don’t see any way back unfortunately, only a closer bonding of the Nations of Britain and Ireland in being able to work with each other better. Whilst I do not want to leave the EU, it needs to work better, more democratically, more compassionately."

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