David Ervine takes another step towards canonisation

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?


  1. ejh said,

    June 8, 2007 at 12:54 pm

    I wasn’t actually aware that Higgins was still alive and I confess I’m a little surprised to hear it.

    Didn’t he threaten to have somebody shot once?

  2. splinteredsunrise said,

    June 8, 2007 at 2:11 pm

    He’s still just about alive, though his lungs have pretty much given up the ghost. I’d heard that story, but he did lots of crazy stuff, especially with drink taken.

  3. Marc Mulholland said,

    June 8, 2007 at 2:17 pm

    I remember reading a 1968 Belfast Telegraph article suggesting that Best was rumoured to be something of a Paisleyite, this when the Big Man was considered pretty much fascist by main-stream opinion. It might have just been gossip.

  4. splinteredsunrise said,

    June 8, 2007 at 3:27 pm

    Possibly… one big reason I would think for Bestie’s appeal was that he left Belfast before the Troubles and never really pronounced much about the situation. He may have alienated people for other reasons but not sectarianism.

  5. ejh said,

    June 8, 2007 at 9:41 pm

    I remember reading a 1968 Belfast Telegraph article

    Not at the time, surely?

  6. Ed Hayes said,

    June 11, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    Bestie tended to get it fairly lop sided when talking about the north. There is one early 70s interview where he said that if he hadn’t been able to go to England and become a footballer he might have ended up ‘throwing stones at the Catholics’ like his neighbours. In the 80s he was in favour of a united Irish team though. Paddy Crerand also loved him, which given that Paddy once poured a pint over a young apprentice’s head for singing the Sash, and is a fairly unreconstructed Celt, would point towards Georgie not really having strong opinions on the subject.
    Alex is alive and recently took part in a spoof Network 2 show where he played a tournament against a group of ‘priests’ one of whom was a diguised Ken Doherty. Higgins looked pretty fucked though.

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