It was only a few evenings ago that I was compelled, reluctantly, to re-consider the Famine Song issue.
RTE were re-showing their brilliant “Where was your family in the Famine?”
The programme uses three Irish TV celebrities to trace their family history in the Famine period.
Most of the programme I found fascinating and very well done.
The final part, where my friend John Waters finds documentary proof that his great grand uncle “died of starvation” in a Sligo parish, I found very difficult to watch.
Towards the end of the piece John stood in the graveyard where some of his people were dumped in an unmarked grave under Ben Bulben Mountain in County Sligo.
He said, “this mountain looked down on these people with more compassion that did the British authorities during those times.”
As my father is from Mayo and his mother’s people are only found in the county.
Subsequently, the Famine was always something in the background of our family’s story. Last year, with the help of the Mayo Family Research centre I found that a brother of my maternal great grandfather in Mayo had been born in 1845 but had not been in the family census in the same modest abode in 1851. There is a strong possibility-the genealogist said-was that he had died as a toddler in the Famine.
This is my grandmother’s uncle, hardly ancient ancestry.
My grandmother, of course, did not know him as he died as a child before she was born.
As John Waters said of his own great grand uncle:
“ Take this crime and multiply it by a million. For that is what it is –a crime!”
My great grand uncle has no grave-there were mass graves-there are mass graves-all over this island.
A reasonable person might ask:
What type of mind makes mocking, “humour” out of such a tragedy?
I think I know.
My last day job in Glasgow in the 1990s before I relocated to Donegal was with the City Council.
I worked in the Social Work dept and, in the main; I carried out the tasks of a Probation Officer (although no one actually had that title in Scotland).
The bulk of my work with probationers was rather prosaic one-to-one casework.
The legislation empowering the Supervising Officer states that he/she should “assist and control” the offender.
Must of the “assist” part was simple enough Social Work that would be recognisable under general welfare work.
However they’re under a probation order from the courts as an alternative to custody.
This is the “control” part.
The offender’s behaviour and attitudes have to be addressed or they will be back up in front of the courts again and again.
I particularly enjoyed working with these offenders in a group work setting.
Often we would use a tool like an educational video to tease out why they had got to where they were.
Remember these are lives that are not going well.
If your life is going well then you are not processed through the courts and you are not subject of a probation order.
I was thinking of this when I read of the failure of the appeal of William Walls.
Firstly Mr.Wall has been processed by the courts and has been found guilty.
Part of his offending behaviour was to sing the “Famine song” at Rugby Park, Kilmarnock’s ground last year.
Walls,of Craigend,Glasgow, was put on probation for 18 months and given two-year football banning order at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court.
He will now begin at period of probation under the direction of sa supervsising officer as directed by the court.
I don’t know him and intend him no ill will.
I hope he emerges from his period of probation a more useful member of society.
I have the same feeling about him as many of the hundreds of young men who were directed to me from the Glasgow courts in the 1990s.
Basically you think, as you look at the pinched unhealthy face across the interview table from you, this is a life that isn’t going well.
Sometimes that offending is because of an addiction that leads the person into trouble.
However it can also come from delinquent values, from a disordered worldview.
The singing of the “Famine Song” is a race hate crime.
Lord Carloway found that the Famine song:
“The court does not consider that the lyrics of this refrain bear any reasonable comparison to those of ‘Flower of Scotland’ or indeed ‘God Save the Queen’.
“Rather they are racist in calling upon people native to Scotland to leave the country because of their racial origins. This is a sentiment which… many persons will find offensive.”
Game, set and match!
The Famine Song IS racist!
Hopefully Scottish soccer stadia will not hear this anti-Irish racist dirge again.
Should that not prove to be the case then the full rigours of the law will have to be utilised.
If any of these offenders find themselves subject to a Probation order because of the “Famine song” then I have a DVD of the RTE programme that I would be happy to lend to one of my old colleagues in the Department.
Like all social problems, from obesity to suicide, we all have a part to play.
Journalism has a crucial role in guarding against writing a permission slip for racists under the guise of being a controversial columnist.
This is from James Traynor and is what not to do if you wish to discourage racist chanting at soccer stadia:
The piece is not without merit. It would be useful teaching aid on a journalism course, but not as an example of best practice.
When one observes these attitudes on the streets of Glasgow then it is clear that the opinion formers of Scottish football should be aware of their influence for good and ill.
Mr.Traynor and Mr.Jackson could join Graham Spiers and be part of the solution.
I trust Mr. Traynor will re-visit this issue and, after a period of mature reflection, recant his support for the racist “Famine Song”.
Hopefully his colleague Keith Jackson will do likewise.
Thankfully Lord Carloway and his eminent colleagues disagreed with Mr. Traynor.
The judges concluded that Mr.Walls, in singing the “Famine Song” caused offence, caused hurt and broke the law.
This is probably not the best way to use up your 15 minutes of fame.
A person like Mr.Walls, in so many ways, needs education, education, education.
Sadly departmental budgets would not fund a trip to the mass graves of the West of Ireland where he could see the reality of his “humour”.
I wish Mr.Walls and his supervising officer well in the next 18 months.
They both have work to do.