Every week BARBARA FISHER looks at issues that affect us all – the issues that get you talking. You can join in by emailing bmailbar[email protected]
I WAS invited to an event last week to mark an incident which happened more than four decades ago. It was almost unbearably poignant and unlike anything I’ve ever been to before.
In 1974 my lovely, friendly, hometown Birmingham was blown apart when the Provisional IRA planted bombs in two city pubs, The Mulberry Bush and the Tavern in the Town.
Twenty-one people died and around 200 were injured. As no one has yet been found guilty of the crime, the pain endured by family and friends remains raw.
Who could forget the Birmingham six, who served 16 years of a life sentence, but who were eventually released – apparently a huge miscarriage of justice which had involved vicious beatings of the Irish suspects and forced confessions. It left people on both sides angry and sad.
The beautiful memorial unveiled last week, in the shape of three stainless steel trees, contained the names of the victims on its branches.
What was particularly poignant and highly unusual – was that this was organised by the Birmingham Irish Association along with the victims’ families.
Following terrorist attacks whole communities are often demonised, and my parents told me that for the Irish in Birmingham there was a terrible backlash. This event on Wednesday was finally a time to heal. Many of the city’s religions were represented and there was no public angst, just a longing finally to bring about an emotional truce. Particularly symbolic was when Anglican and Catholic ministers read a prayer together.
Also, when a poem, read in both English and Irish Gaelic, delivered the line, ‘Through anguish, blame and discord, we found a seed.’
Most moving moment of all though was the Roll call of Remembrance, during which candles were lit by relatives of the 21 who died.
The expression ‘There but for the grace of God go I’ came home starkly to me when I spoke to a woman afterwards.
Anne had worked in the Tavern in the Town pub, so had lost friends and colleagues in the blast. But one of those names on the sculptures could easily have been her. “It just happened to be my night off,” she said.
I’m glad to finish with contrasting news – and much closer to our Hillingdon home – of a very happy anniversary: the 60th year of the Sine Nomine Singers.
Congratulations to Hillingdon’s longest running chamber choir. You can see them perform at a celebration concert on December 1 in All Saints Church, Ryefield Avenue, Hillingdon at 7.30pm.
The memorial unveiled in Birmingham last week