It’s strange how, in the midst of a terrible loss, you often find yourself distracted by something stupid.
I had “Prime Time” on last night and Miriam O’Callaghan was hosting a discussion on Gerry Adams’ outrageous “laissez faire” comments about the RUC men who had disgracefully shown the bad form to let Jarry and the lads kill them. I had tweeted something jokey about it earlier and thankfully that at least hadn’t come to pass…
Fine Gael Chairman Charlie Flanagan was in studio, speaking for the Irish Government, and journalist and columnist Martina Devlin was pointing out that not all Irish Nationalists had embraced violence and the Provisional IRA. The writer and retired lecturer Jude Collins was speaking on the screen from a parallel dimension called “Belfast”, from whence he was explaining that everything said against Adams is part of a targeted campaign against a great man. You know yourself. The usual attempt to rewrite history and convince the electorate in the Republic that we are remembering the whole thing wrong and it was actually a legitimate war.
This had been typified during the week by Sinn Féin Justice spokesperson Pádraig Mac Lochlainn when he told Vincent Browne that Adams was a figure like Martin Luther King or Gandhi. I must have been asleep during the history lesson when we learned about MLK and the Mahatma disappearing widows into shallow graves.
As I watched Collins give a dissertation in advanced whataboutery, I spotted a tweet from the Irish Independent announcing that South African president Jacob Zuma was about to address the nation on an “important matter” and my heart sank. I just knew.
It was expected, of course it was expected, the great man had been very ill for at least three years, but still it hit like a ton of bricks.
Nelson Mandela is dead.
Out of the blue, I started to cry. Like a big eejit. (And sober, Shadden, sober.)
On the telly, Miriam asked Jude Collins for a comment on a literal moment of world history, as it was actually happening. Collins started to talk about Mandela as a man who had refused to renounce violence during his struggle. I knew where he was going with this but I couldn’t believe he was doing it.
He then went on to quote the late Father Alec Reid as calling Gerry Adams “a man sent by God” and he continued on to grudgingly acknowledge Mandela in the midst of his astonishingly-inappropriate hijacking, but only to say that Mandela was akin to Adams and to imply an equivalence and inspiration. Devlin and Flanagan responded sensibly and with audible disgust, and Miriam O’Callaghan cut Collins’ squawking dead as she introduced an excellent biography from Richard Crowley.
As I say, I have often noticed that you can find yourself in the midst of sorrow and yet be distracted by something which you know at the time is pointless and very stupid, but still you latch onto it nonetheless. To this end, Jude Collins gets my Tone-Deaf Gobshite of the Year Award.
I struggle to grasp our loss, though. They’re saying on the news that Nelson Mandela, the world’s beloved Madiba, is to have a State Funeral in South Africa. That is, of course, only right and proper, but if only there were such a thing as a World Funeral. We should light a beacon from the Moon to Pluto to show the Universe that a great man, a great man who made us all a little better, has gone to his reward.
“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
A warrior who became a man of peace, an honest man who never wheedled or lied about his past and who never talked out of both sides of his mouth, selling one message to his followers and another to the world, Nelson Mandela truly was a great man. He did indeed inspire Irish people but they weren’t killers and they weren’t liars. The Dunne’s Stores workers went on strike for three years and raised international pressure against Apartheid and they did so at great personal cost. True Irish heroes.
I first heard of the 36 Tzadikim from Neil Gaiman. He wrote about it in what I still say is his best story, “Three Septembers and a January” and I am willing to fight you if you disagree. It’s a very old Jewish legend which says there are thirty-six anonymous and selfless souls who carry the world on their shoulders. Without them, all would end. I know it’s a pretentious and portentous thing to say, but with Nelson Mandela‘s death, it feels as if one of the pillars of the world has fallen.
Rest in peace, Madiba.
“It always seems impossible until it is done.”
– Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (18 July 1918 – 5 December 2013)