Medals belonging to a member of our family on my father’s side, surfaced when he died.
The young soldier from the heart of South Armagh who fought for Britain spent the rest of his life in hospital. It was always said he had not recovered because he suffered from ‘shell shock.’
Had I been brought up by different parents I too might have ended up fighting for ‘the cause’ in one or other army. An anti violence ethos obtained in our South Armagh home and my life took a different course and I didn’t join any physical force army.
I have written here before that the photograph of young Portadown man Neal Turkington, killed in Afghanistan is fixed on my retina. That face spoke volumes with its distinct jaw line. That could be my son or yours.
Dup Assembly man Stephen Moutray said:
“Lt Neal Turkington was an incredibly brave young man of enormous ability. He laid down his life in the cause of a better future for the people of Afghanistan and on behalf of a more secure future for us back home.”
Neal’s family needless to say must feel an immense sense of pride in their son because he followed his star and pursued his dream.
The first words of a latin saying taken from an ode by Horace may well rest easily with the Turkington family.
“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” (it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country).
Having come through an educational system which familiarised me with the notion of ‘blood sacrifice’ on the back of listening and reading about the Rising and about the poet Padraig Pearse, I have a sense of the deep raw emotions nationhood can stir.
The former deputy first minister Seamus Mallon once remarked ‘the oppressed always cling to romance.’ It was a broad generalisation but Mallon got his point across.
When it comes to war my approach to the application of violence outside of absolute self defense or the protection of another human being’s well- being, no injustice real or perceived merits taking up a gun to kill.
I am in war poet Wilfred Owen’s camp.
He wrote before losing his own life in the First World War:
‘If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in;
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin.
If you could hear, at every jolt the blood,
Come gargling from the froth corrupted lungs.
Obscure as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues.
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for
Some desperate glory
The old lie; dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.
‘Patriot Game’ also resonates this when he sings of young Fergal O Hanlon;
‘Come all ye young rebels and list while I sing.
For the love of one’s country is a terrible thing.
It banishes fear with the speed of a flame.
And it makes us all part of the
All this begs the question; is the patriot game worth a penny candle?
Tony Blair, George Bush, Barack Obama, Gordon Brown and David Cameron should all ask – is the war in Iraq, in Afghanistan world a penny candle?.
We cannot get the victims of IRA,UDA,UVF,Dissidents, or of the LVF back.
The same goes for Neal Turkington he is not coming back.
[This article originally appeared on Slugger O’Toole]