Friday, 24 June 2011


'Golf is a good walk spoiled', a quotation attributed to Mark Twain, Winston Churchill and various others, is not the widely held view in Hollywood, Co Down, for it is from this small town suburb of Belfast  (54 degrees North, 5 degrees West) that the new US Open Champion golfer, Rory McIlroy, hails. A thorough-going Rory-fest is under-way, with massive media coverage and a widespread feel good vibe emanating from Northern Ireland. The sight of an intelligent and charming young man driving and putting a golf ball better than most other men suffuses many people with pride, even people who wouldn't know a four iron from a hoover.

The images of Rory thumping a golf ball round courses in Northern Ireland are claimed to boost the prospects for the region's economy. 'Golf means tourism means money' is the mantra. Plus most CEOs of large companies, particularly Americans, play golf and Americans now love Rory and can't wait to rush this way with massive investments. So keep driving those golf balls boys!

But, please, not over and back across the lower Newtownards Road in Belfast. Golf balls are among a number of weapons of choice used by rioters, together with bricks, petrol bombs and bullets, in communal violence and attacks on the police that have plagued the area since the beginning of the week. Tension between the loyalist and nationalist working class communities is high with allegations going back and forth – like the golf balls! - that attacks are being directed at them. The police reported that the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) organised a major loyalist incursion into the nationalist Short Strand area. Dissident republicans are blamed for shooting a press photographer in the leg.

Calls for calm echo across the city. The First Minister holds talks with leaders of the UVF, bunkering the edict of 'never talking to terrorists'. Much hand-wringing ensues as images of conflict replace the smiling face of the champion golfer in the international news media. You can't bring tourists to play golf in a country where people are chucking golf balls at each other and at the police. No CEO is going to want to make profit from the labour of individuals whose principle skill is creating mayhem and who want to chuck golf balls at each other rather than act as caddies for the same CEOs, the hand-wringers assert.    

Good walks and the spoiling of them is part of the problem in that the assertion by loyal orders of a traditional right to stage large, colourful, single-identity marches across the city is one of the contributing factors in raising tensions between people of the same social class but diametrically opposed political and communal aspirations.

Marching to a different beat this week are members of the US military who heard their Commander-in-Chief and President, Barack Obama, announce they will be marching out of Afghanistan. Having contributed to the destruction of that country, the soldiers are to be brought home for nation-building. And vote catching. And a chance to work on their golf games.

Tomorrow the people of Derry and Londonderry (54 degrees North, 7 degrees West) will stroll, amble, dander, meander, potter, totter, zimmer, wheel, cycle and enjoy a good walk, not a golf club in sight, across the new Peace Bridge (see, as it officially opens. 

Can we use it to drive off into the future and find a fair way? 

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