Last weekend I had the pleasure to join my peers in the McGurk’s Bar Campaign for Truth on a trip to meet our great supporters, Cairde na hÉireann in Glasgow, Plains and Coatbridge, Scotland. This was my first visit but the other family campaigners have been many times. Nothing prepared me, though, for the warmth of the welcome we received or the energy of this Republican organisation.
The trip was originally planned to coincide with a massive March for Truth that Cairde na hÉireann had organised to show their support for the McGurk’s Bar campaign but this was consequently called off due to police staffing concerns brought about by the Olympics south of the border.
The satellite events that Cairde na hÉireann had organised to raise awareness of our ongoing campaign were of great benefit to us on their own so we happily travelled across the water anyway. From the moment we touched down and until we left, we were amazed by the hospitality we were shown and the keen interest in our story. In fact, the individual members of Cairde na hÉireann and this particular band from Plains were so well informed about the McGurk’s Bar bombing and its context that they actively engaged members of the public with us and on our behalf at each event we attended.
First we unfurled our banners outside Celtic Park before the Bhoys’ friendly game with Inter Milan. Our group, doubled with the help of Cairde na hÉireann, were able to engage with scores of people who accepted our campaign cards or wished to speak with us. I have been able to measure the success of this by the amount of visits since then on our website and new-found Scottish followers on Facebook.
Later that night we were bussed to a packed pub in Coatbridge. The patrons watched attentively as we presented some of the filmed work we have done over the past year. Again, we were amazed by how they stayed behind to engage with us, ask us questions and show support. It boded well for the film-work too as we will be releasing the completed documentary, McGurk’s Bar Bombing: Loss of Innocence, for the 41st Anniversary of the atrocity in December.Campaign Lessons
Aside from the chance to be heard, what makes engagement with anyone so successful – regardless of their background, political beliefs or creed – is if you are able to learn from them. For me, this is how I measured the success of this trip. I knew little of band culture or the dynamics that could bind such a group so cohesively. I am better informed now and even have a greater understanding of how important a band could be to a working class Protestant community here (although I will never understand why some Loyal Order bands would wish to march where they are not wanted).
The younger members of the new band in Plains who I questioned spoke of belonging, discipline and their culture – much of which they ought to have inherited from their families too. At the head of this particular family, though, they spoke of Michael Traynor whose own clan welcomed us into their home. Aside from organising structured band practices, educational presentations and social events for his band members, Michael also sends them home with learning exercises. Many may have left formal education as soon as possible but in this particular band they are tested on the background and historical context of the songs they play and how these are of relevance to their lives in the present.
That is why, since the Plains band adopted our campaign, each band member is so aware and well-informed of what my peers have attained as well as why their ongoing work is of such importance to this day. It was also why I considered it a great honour when they offered us back to launch my book, The McGurk’s Bar Bombing: Collusion, Cover-up and a Campaign for Truth, in a few weeks time. I had a feeling I had much more to learn.