Thursday, September 10, 2020

Thomas Carnduff, 'Belfast' in 1942, and giving yourself room to critique

The photo below is of the home turf of Thomas Carnduff (1886–1956), Belfast's Sandy Row, as famously photographed by Bill Kirk in 1974 (see article on Culture Northern Ireland here). Two years after I was born this is how people there lived. Staunchly unionist, yet utterly neglected by what some would claim was 'their' state.

[An important recent Radio Ulster interview, with a 92 year old lady called Ruby and her son Paul, of the Fountain Estate working class unionist community's experiences in Londonderry in 1968 is similarly shocking and stereotype-shattering – link here

The handful of editions of The Bell that I acquired recently are full of content that is intriguing and stimulating. I have never got around to reading any Thomas Carnduff (1886–1956) until now, but this piece I have posted below is a rich vein of thought. It's 32 years before the photograph above. I'm not on-side with all of Carnduff's perspectives, but he has the guts to praise and stoutly defend aspects of life in Belfast, and also the wisdom to leave space to critique aspects of it too. Kirk's photographs show reason enough why. 

One of the difficulties around the forthcoming centenary/centennial of Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State is that the Ulster-Scots were, and are, on both sides of the line, and have never been unthinking supporters of any state wherever in the world they have travelled. As Carnduff hints here "one long chapter of municipal independence and disagreements with the lawful demands of the King's representatives" – centuries of experiences which have been mined in Scotland and forged in Ulster.

The marking of 2021 poses challenges which need to be thought through, within Northern Ireland and also for our neighbours within today's Republic of Ireland. Having spent some time over the years with the self-described "minority community" on the other side of our presently-soft border, their experiences need to be acknowledged. Those experiences tend to be swiftly glossed over by the establishment-endorsed narratives, but many of those folk will still speak today of "keeping our heads down". I am just an interested spectator and a visitor though, I have no family there. Those who do are key in finding the right and respectful approach. 

These are not the only perspectives that can be viewed for the centenary/centennial. And there aren't just "two sides" to be told – there are thousands, millions even, of stories.

Carnduff is interesting here. I need to read more of his.