Belfast is a city in Northern Ireland. Belfast is also a movie, directed by Kenneth Branagh. Paula and I watched it Christmas Eve. That night in Belfast choirs sang: Glory to God. Peace on earth. Goodwill to all.
But, alas, in Ireland, peace is always fragile.
Belfast is based on Branagh’s and his family’s experiences one particular summer in a “mixed” working class Belfast neighborhood when he was nine years old. Catholic and Protestant families lived side by side. It was one big (and mostly happy) family. Adults sipped tea together. Children played together and attended a mixed school together.
Nine year-old Buddy had a crush on Catherine. He was Protestant. She was Catholic. He schemed to sit next to her in class and dreamed of marrying her someday.
And then in August 1969 all hell broke loose.
Protestant vigilantes surged into the neighborhood, firebombing Catholics’ homes.
GET OUT CATHOLICS!
The next day Protestants assisted Catholics in repairing their homes. Residents hastily erected a barricade. Volunteers patrolled day and night.
British troops arrived in tanks. Soldiers sported machine guns. Barbed wire crossed streets. Eventually the British Army built “peace walls” to separate one neighborhood from another.
But neither the troops nor the walls could prevent waves of retaliatory violence—bombings, gun smuggling, murders, assassinations, kidnappings, armed defiant marchers—over the next 30 years, killing 3,500, including children.
That era was called “The Troubles.”
The Troubles didn’t spring up overnight. For more than 400 years righteous indignation over land rights, financial inequality, housing, and jobs simmered, erupting in spasms of violence. Often.
The conflict is usually seen as another war of religions. But religion isn’t the primary provocation. The underlying provocations are economic and political.
Still, religious bigotry does aggravate the conflicts.
But it can be overcome.
Daddy, do you think me and that wee girl have a future, asked Buddy?
Well, why the heck not?
You know she’s a Catholic?
That wee girl can be a practicing Hindu, or a Southern Baptist, or a vegetarian antichrist, but if she’s kind, and she’s fair, and you two respect each other, she and her people are welcome in our house any day of the week!
Bishop Tutu died last Sunday. I don’t know whether he got a chance to watch Belfast. But if he did, he would have smiled at that exchange and danced a little jig.