Mothers of Modern Ireland

Betty Stuart, Armagh

29th July 2008

Betty lives in Markethill, Co Armagh, which is one of most bombed towns in the history of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. A policeman would come into her shop and tell her that there had been a tip-off and to open all her windows and doors and get out of the town. If you keep them open you see, the bomb doesn't blow all the glass out as the pressure from the explosion can pass through the building. Getting bombed seemed quite normal to Betty, she didn't like it, but she didn't harbour any resentment either, which to my mind at least, was hard to understand. Betty was responsible, with her husband Jimmy and many others, for organising an annual Market Fair which attracts people from all over, both sides of the border and Internationally. I knew instantly from this that Betty didn't care too much for border disputes, yet I still found the interview very difficult due to my ignorance of Ireland, to understanding how this lady understands her country. As you approach her house, you pass through a town that has the most flags on display I've ever seen in my life. A village that has used every lamp-post and telegraph pole to advertise its alligiance to the Crown. That makes the village British. And yet the land of Ireland and Britain doesn't change from one road to the next and we definitely left Ireland this morning, so how did we end up in Britain all of a sudden? The journey, and therefore the answer to that question, is a complicated one and one I have a thirst to learn more about. Maybe it's because I can't find my place in these lands when I feel I should: Born to Irish parents, but brought up in England, neither place really feels like home. I really don't like mentioning that Betty is of the Protestant denomination, for all the same reasons she doesn't like to talk about religion: It shouldn't matter when thinking about a person, faith is personal. But in the story we're charting, it does matter, and it's hard to escape that. If you grew up in a part of the world where you had free education and down the road, people who looked, spoke and thought like you grew up without free education, then the factors that play a part in those two outcomes suddenly becomes very important in a social history. As cheesy as it sounds, what is important about Betty is not that she's a good Protestant or Catholic, but a good person. And that shone-through during the whole interview. The warmth of Betty and Jimmy engulfed myself and Shane in a shower of words, photos, feelings and Jimmy's home cooking. Every inch more I spend in this chunk of Britain makes my mind whirl and I can't wait to investigate the last few counties there.

- Tom