What an amazing man, and what a life.
Again, the transcript will be typed up in due course, but I was impressive with Raymond's forthright nature and his amazing knowledge of history. His life story was enough to captivate. He spoke about being a teenager at the time of Bloody Sunday, about growing up in a city where there was "Always a sense that something wasn't correct, but an inability to do anything about it" (RM)
He spoke about the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland, and what he felt drove it. He was very honest about this:
"The platform of the movement was some very basic demands. The right to vote, fair access to housing, social equality. But the state just didn't know how to cater to it. The British Government didn't meet its responsibility- they left it to the unionist regime, and eventually the resulting implosion resulted in conflict. Nothing in life is inevitable, but there was a sense of this attitude unfolding." (RM)
He also explained to me how he saw the civil rights campaign, as a result of reactions to it, enter a spiral into violence. He even spoke about what it was like to be about 17 years old at the time, admitting with a smile that there was "something of a sense of excitement to it" (RM)- Then he spoke of Bloody Sunday. About how it led him to join the IRA as the "only outlet we had to protect ourselves." (RM)
I asked Raymond why it was worthwhile to learn about Irish History. His answer was fantastic. He pointed out that although everyone thinks their own nation's history is the most important, Ireland's has a lot of worldwide connections that are worth a look. He spoke about the connection to Australia (and the rest of the world) through migration- He's right- around 30% of Australians can trace their heritage to Ireland at some point. He also spoke about Ireland's place in colonial history, noting that as what may be considered Britain's first colony in many ways, Ireland is a study in the emergence of the British Empire.
We spoke about what could be learnt from the peace process, what lessons the north had to teach. He suggested the following:
"Ireland is still divided, in terms of its politics. But there is progress. It isn't the perfect model, but there are lessons there. It isn't a template, but it is worth seeing the importance of dealing with the cause of injustice and validating people. There needs to be a validation of wrong- not a total mistake, we need to acknowledge context... but there needs to be reflection." (RM)
Something he said towards the end stuck with me in terms of divides in society- divides that still exist in most societies in different forms, including Australia. And here indeed, was a lesson.
"Still some people here are isolated, and that shouldn't be. The Irish, more than anyone, should know what it is to be a stranger in a strange land. In a better world, we would embrace that." (RM)
We spoke about the upcoming anniversary of the proclamation, of the refurbishments to the Free Derry Museum and Raymond even squeezed in a convict joke. All in all a fascinating meeting, and time much valued!