The Great Wee Azoo has already written fluently of the lionisation of the late David Ervine, and this has now become a familiar part of the North’s standard political discourse. But even so, it still reaches on occasion into the realms of GUBU, not least on Radio Ulster’s compulsive Talk Back.
Many people will have heard of the International Peace Centre at Messines in Belgium, where local politicians and paramilitaries often repair for quiet talks. It’s especially favoured by loyalists, who can squeeze in discussions under the cover of First World War commemorations. Luscious Martina Anderson, the Provos’ point-woman for unionist outreach, is attending a conference there next week. Well, Messines has been the venue for the unveiling of a portrait of that crusader for peace, St Davy. I have an image in my head of small children pointing at the Ervine portrait and asking what he had to do with the First World War.
Even better was the discussion on Talk Back, where Wendy interviewed the men on the spot in Messines, former UDA leader Glen Barr and some bloke whose name escapes me from, wait for it, the Ancient Order of Hibernians. If Glen was typical Glen, the AOH bloke left me dumbstruck – he couldn’t have been more effusive about St Davy had he been some hood from the Newtownards Road. After all these years, Davy’s cult following among certain parts of the Catholic population still has me bemused.
This can be seen as part of the unionist attempt to be more like, well, nationalists in having a pantheon of popular heroes to mythologise. Take the late George Best, who since his state funeral has had any number of tributes to him – the airport, the fivers, the plaques, the Fabergé egg, and now a tribute song, with the statue still in the pipeline. No doubt something similar will happen when Alex Higgins finally pops his clogs.
Trouble is, a lot of these heroes aren’t all that easy to mythologise. The Bestie industry didn’t get going until after his death. Not coincidentally, neither Bestie nor Higgy were ever known as particularly unionist – maybe in a nominal sense, but they were never mad Orangemen. Meanwhile, Van the Man has actively resisted attempts to mythologise him, which by itself makes me warm a little to the old curmudgeon.
There are no such restrictions, however, on Davy, the patron saint of the peace process. How long, I wonder, before he gets a statue?