The Troubles in Londonderry, Northern Ireland
The book I co-wrote with Tom McKeown (USN retired) called Londonderry Farewell will soon be published and I thought I’d give readers a preview of the manuscript before its formally published. (See below) Tom and I became close friends when we were both on the Board of the Palm Springs Writers Guild in 2013 and 2014. Tom was given command of closing down one of the last naval bases in Europe: a communications base in Northern Ireland that had been central to Atlantic communications in WWII and strategic to the nation until the mid-70s. In 1976, Captain McKeown was sent by the highest level brass in Washington DC at the time to close the base in the middle of the civil war in Northern Ireland referred to as the Troubles.
The conflict was primarily political and nationalistic, fuelled by historical events. It also had an ethnic or sectarian dimension although it was not a religious conflict. A key issue was the status of Northern Ireland. Union/loyalists in Northern Ireland were mostly Protestants and considered themselves British. They wanted Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom. On the other hand, Irish Nationalist/Republicans were mostly Catholics and wanted Ireland to be united with the 26 counties which made up the Republic of Ireland at the time. In contrast to the loyalist Protestants, the Catholic nationalists wanted an independent Ireland free from the control of the United Kingdom.
The situation in Ireland in the mid-70s seems startingly similar to the battles fought today on the grand scale of nationalism and globalism. In a sense, the Protestant loyalists were similar to the European nations that want to stay within the European Union. The Catholic nationalists, on the other hand, wanted their independence from the larger entity. They wanted their own nationalism back. The Ireland of the 70s and the Europe of today are somehow placed in front of us as some type of lesson to be learned. Or if not a lesson to be learned, at least acknowledgement that this battle has surfaced in various forms throughout history but always essentially a battle between the individual and the state. The Irish Nationalists represented the “individual” standing against the state represented by the Irish Loyalists. Loyal to Britain.
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There seems a close correspondence of the events of our present day and the Troubles of Ireland. One thinks of the battles in American and the world today and the larger meaning of the battles: individuals against the state; states against the nation; a nation against the world. Nationalism versus Globalism. Freedom versus equality. (Masculine versus Feminine) The two paradoxical symbols America was founded under. The battle in the mid-70s in Ireland was the reappearance of an archetype symbol battling against each other: the fources of the individual versus those of the group of the state. This has always seem to contitute the great political dividing line between all classes of people in culture these days. Throughout history, this division seems like battling symbols, reappearing in various forms wearing (as Jung noted) the “clothing of the day.”
The conflict first became a matter of global attention amid a Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association political campaign to end discrimination against the Catholic and nationalist minority by the Protestant/unionist government and police force in 1968. This campaign was met with violence by loyalists who viewed the campaign as a republican stalking horse. This eventually led to the deployment of British troops, initially to protect Catholic civilians and subsequent warfare the next three decades.
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Captain Thomas McKeown
It was 1976 and Captain Tom McKeown was a rising naval star who in his late 30s had commanded two ships on very strategassignments. He was promoted to a called desk job in Washington DC. He was happy that the family was together after so many years apart. He now had four children. He was coaching his sons baseball team. The family was having cookouts in the yard. HIs wife showed him a brochure and said she wanted to go to Hawaii some day.
He felt ready to accept it was time in his life to replace his adventures at sea with his work on land so to speak. It seemed to promise the slow, methodical pace of working in a Pentagon desk job on a wide hallway that disappeared over the horizon. And, getting a home in the suburbs and coaching his son’s baseball team. His wife Mary was happy. It was one of the first times, she felt the family could all be together after all the years that her husband had been at sea.
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One day, he was called into the office of the top brass in the navy. He was offered the assigment of being the commander of the base as it closed down and was to be secretly handed over to the British. There was a home on the base and the navy would pay for the expenses of his family going with him to the base. It was certainly not the safest place in teh world to take a family. All the files handed to him in the meeting were marked Top Secret. No one could know this though. It was a serious situation ready to cause something big on the diplomatic radar, a problem heard around the world. The relationship of Ireland to America at this time was of course the big elephant in the room. There was changing policies on Ireland resulting from the switch from Ford to Carter. Explosions were common each day in the famous city of Northern Ireland called Londonderry. Home of the song Danny Boy.
Captain McKeown was given some time to consider the offer to go to Ireland and the closing and handover of the base to the British. Hopefully it would be a peaceful, uneventful handover. Causing no major blips on the grand map of American diplomacy at the time. He weighed things in his life. He wondered if he should ask his wife Mary and the family to go with him? Into this place of revolution and civil war. He had a few days to consider the offer of the brass. One night, he discussed it with his wife Mary. He had decided that he wanted his family to go with him to Northern Ireland. He and his family would be placed in an interesting situation. Just by the fact alone the Captain McKeown was Irish. And, Catholic.
Evening in Ocean City, Maryland – A New Proposal to Mary
One evening, Captain McKeown took his wife Mary to one of their favorite places for dinner in Ocean City, Maryland. They only came there for special occasions. Like the night he asked her to marry him. Like the evening they celebrated their fifth anniversary. So, Mary knew something big was up that evening she looked at him over the wavering candle of the table they had even sat at before. It was that particular place, somehow, that place associated with a certain set of key events in their lives. He tells his wife about the offer from the navy brass for him to go to Northern Ireland for a year and command the closing of a base. In the midst of the Troubles. Mary had certainly heard of the Irish troubles. She considered the offer: the danger of going to Northern, Ireland with her husband. The danger, to her family and marriage, of letting Tom go away again. What would she do?
I’m proud to be the co-author of the story that happened to Captain Tom and his family over a year in the middle 1970s. Review copy before publication enclosed below in PDF. Any comments appreciated. Always appreciate your feedback. Johnfraim@mac.com.