27 February 1997 Edition

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Hitting where it hurts

By Laurence McKeown

I was talking to a guy the other week. I'm afraid to say it was in a pub as readers may start to think that I spend a goodly portion of my time in such places. But then it's often over a pint of the dark stuff that some of the most original ideas ferment. Anyhow, this fellow is from another part of the city, neither south or east; he comes form the place that people from West Belfast believe they need a passport to visit.

He's a bit of a character. Plays the guitar, sings a few songs and is fairly active locally in a wide range of pursuits, local festival committees, historical societies, partnership bodies, the campaign to rename streets as Gaeilge and a host of other activities and bodies. He still has time of course to show his face occasionally in local hostelries.

Anyhow, he was telling me the other night about some of the initiatives he's involved with at the moment which are in the planning stage and which sound very exciting. Schemes to involve young people in an attempt to wean them away from anti-social behaviour or stop them from going down that road in the first place. These involved training in multi-media and a host of other innovative ideas which hopefully will see the light of day. He was obviously fired up with enthusiasm and was starting to describe in detail the steps necessary to make these ideas a reality but then paused for a moment before saying. ``But then some reckon if you're involved in this type of community development work it's only because you've lost your balls.''

It's an interesting phrase that one. A very macho one too of course, obviously directed at the males, but what of the females who have, let's say, lost `their courage'? It set me wondering about just how many eunuchs we would estimate to be in our communities at the moment, who exactly would fit that term and if there are many more nowadays, proportionately speaking, than would have been the case in bygone days?

I thought that if I was asked to categorise these eunuchs then my selection would include those who take political risks. Those who move out of the comfort of repeating ad infinitum the same clich├ęs and orthodoxies that flow so easily from the lips of their contemporaries. Those who introduce new ideas, new possibilities, who talk of new ways of working together, of moving forward in untested waters, of challenging old hierarchies and traditions. Those whose words conjure up vision of an uncertain but exhilarating existence.

I would remember amongst them those who wage a daily battle against the social, cultural and political injustices and discrimination practised on these communities. Battles that often seem never-ending and which often do not have an end. Those who fight to provide their children with a better future whether it be in terms of housing, education, employment, or social amenities. Those who strive endlessly to save their children from the clutches of anti-social elements when the latter are often the only type of role model around. Then there's those who never had balls in the first place but who nevertheless wage a daily battle against sexual harassment, discrimination and abuse wherever it occurs, be it in the workplace, at home, in schools, or in social gatherings.

Generally we don't apply the term heroes to the above and their actions are not the sort that command headlines in the media, yet what they do is no less heroic. Heroic because it requires courage, determination, resilience and much more besides on a daily basis. Their work is not accomplished in one grand gesture.

Maybe my friend had taken the comment a bit too much to heart. Maybe he was a bit pissed off that night or maybe just a bit pissed. But it made me think, where would we be without the eunuchs? And can you imagine a world populated predominantly with Sylvester Stallone types? Wilmps like me wouldn't ever get a seat at the bar.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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