In Newry, Ireland there is a small playground named in honour of Raymond McCreesh, one of ten men who died while on hunger strike at “The Maze” prison in 1981. He was 24 years of age at the time of his death. A modest placard bearing his name hangs on the gates surrounding the park.
This dedication has raised a considerable amount of ire amongst the Unionist community for some years now, and so it was that two days ago, Equality Commitee councillours in Newry took a vote on the issue of a name change to the park.
One SDLP member abstained, and his eight colleagues failed to attend the vote.
The retention of Raymond McCreesh’s name in dedication to the park passed by a vote of 15-4, largely due to Sinn Fein councillours and two independent republicans.
According to BBC Northern Ireland, Ulster Unionist councillour David Taylor stated that his his party had sought to change the name of the park “to register our strong anger, disappointment and disgust at the decision that was due to be taken.”
Having first appealed to the Equality Commission in 2008, Unionists were informed by the Commission’s council sub-committee that naming the park after McCreesh was in line with their legal requirement to “promote equality of oppotunity and good relations between persons of different religious belief and political opinion.”
Meanwhile, back at the ranch…
In Belfast, The Orange Order is in the process of constructing a two museum/interpretive centre project, funded entirely by EU Peace III grants to the tune tune of 3.5 million pounds. It is being touted as an historical resource and culture center. (And if you get a bit of an appetite while visiting, it will even include a cafe!). This “heritage museum” scheme will include a mock-up of an Orange Lodge meeting room, as well as several informative and educational displays on the history and purpose of the the Orangemen.
Curator John Mattison has been quoted as saying, “I think it’s useful as Northern Ireland moves forward into what people describe as the ‘shared future’ that everybody understands each other’s culture…this isn’t a polemical exercise by the institution…this is not a propaganda exercise. It’s an exercise in education.”
There is no doubt that the origins and subsequent history of the Orangemen are vital to understanding the present state of sectarian conflict in Ireland. After all, King William of Orange forever changed the fate of every man, woman, and child in the country. It follows that education on this matter is important, I’m just not so sure that said education should be delivered by an institution that, whatever it’s current stance, has a long track record of fostering gerrymandering, violence, and hatred against it’s neighbors.
The commemoration of a public park in the name of a man who died on hunger strike in the name of human rights should not be an affront to anyone. It should be, in it’s own humble way, “an exercise in education”.