The roots of the current conflict date to 1347.
That’s a half-remembered quote from a briefing for Canadians on the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The year cited was the defeat of a Turkish fleet by the Knights Hospitaller. I might have the year wrong. Or the event. It might have been 1463, for example, when the Ottoman Empire conquered Bosnia. But it hardly matters.
Well, the events, whatever and whenever they were, clearly matter a lot, and not just to the folks living in the region then and since then. But whether it was 1347 or 1463 or some other date centuries ago, the point is the same: This isn’t going to be “fixed” anytime soon. Folks there have been fighting for a long time, and by now everyone has both legitimate grievances and what looks to me like an almost reflexive impulse to conflict.
Our recent trip to Ireland and Northern Ireland (aka the north of Ireland, depending on your politics) gave me much the same feeling. The roots of the conflict are deep, whichever date you choose:
- 1175 – Rory O’Connor, high king of Ireland, becomes a vassal to Henry II of England.
- 1541 – The English Parliament declares Henry VIII to be King of Ireland (and who asked them?).
- 1607 – The earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell flee the country, opening the way to settlement of the north by Protestants.
- 1641 – Catholics rebel, killing maybe 4,000 Protestant settlers.
- 1649 – Cromwell sacks Drogheda and Wexford and smaller centres, killing about the same number (4,000): armed combatants, priests in churches, and the general populace in the streets (men, women, and children).
And that’s just a sampling, and doesn’t get into the more recent history that I lived through: The Troubles.
So given all that, it’s startling and inspiring to pass from one country into the next with no border formalities; more, with no border evident at all. On one side of an overpass, highway signs include Gaelic place names; on the other, they’re in English only. That’s it.
And in the so-called “slash city” — Derry/Londonderry, with its own difficult history from the Siege of Derry in 1688 to Bloody Sunday in 1972 — there’s a lovely new cycle/pedestrian bridge. The Peace Bridge is one of those squiggly bridges. As told to us, it’s that shape to acknowledge that the path to peace is never a straight line.