El Camino Real is the old Spanish road that runs up the spine of California, from San Diego, via the chain of Missions to Sonoma. Much of it lies under the modern Interstate 5, Highway 101, and (through San Francisco) Interstate 260.
At Palo Alto it runs past Stanford University (and that’s the University motto at the title of this entry). Someone in the 1960s, observing the local proclivity for hallucinogenic substances, suggested this stretch should be “El Camino Surreal”.
Malcolm now suggests surreality applies also to the fine road (the A31) that leads through the County Derry town of Magherafelt. Magherafelt is a “divided town” (which, in Northern Ireland, tends to imply any place where the local Catholics/Nationalists are uppity and do not know their proper place). In Magherafelt, the split is 52-48 to the RCs. Over the years, that has amounted to eleven terrorist deaths — of which three were probably IRA “own goals”.
An over-arching conceit
Anyway, like so many in Northern Ireland, at this time of year the road is spanned by an Orange Arch. It transpires that the Magherafelt arch is owned, not as is usual by the local Orangemen (which would be Magherafelt District LOL No. 3), but by the DUP. This is significant.
As Michael Shilliday reported on Slugger O’Toole, this year the Magherafelt arch is subtly transformed. Previous years, the arch had featured the photogenic charisma of the Reverend Doctor himself and the missionary Rev. William McCrea. Now, First Minister (and at least quadruple jobber) Ian Paisley is not a member of the Orange Order: he was expelled for non-payment of dues many years ago, and set up his own shop).
A hero of our time: the Reverend Mr McCrea
McCrea serves the community as Pastor of the Calvary Free Presbyterian Church. He employs any spare time left over from being
minister of the Gospel … in a faithful adherence to the old-fashioned message of salvation by faith alone in Christ and an unswerving loyalty to the Word of God
as a District Councillor (indeed, Chairman of the Council), a member of Parliament (for Mid-Ulster 1983-97, and for South Antrim 2000-1 and since 2005), and now as a MLA. If that did not adequately show his mettle,
He was a member of the Shankill Defence Association and in 1971 he was convicted of serious riotous behaviour in Dungiven. In 1975 he led a prayer service at the paramilitary funerals of Wesley Somerville and Harris Boyle, who were responsible for the Miami Showband killings… he shared a platform with the senior loyalist terrorist Billy Wright in September 1996.
Truly, this is a man upon whom the Londonderry Air of freedom blew and who followed the Master (Matthew 3:16) until:
lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him.
But wait! There is more!
This year the Magherafelt arch is changed, changed utterly! In place of the youthful (the arch had not been updated for some time) and angelic features of these two reverend and revered clerics (who have been painted out) there is Dan Winter’s cottage and a scriptural verse. According to the Mid Ulster Mail:
Magherafelt UUP councillor George Shiels said many in the area have lost faith in the DUP and its members following their decision to enter into devolved Government with Sinn Fein.
“Following the U-turn by Ian Paisley and the DUP many in the district have lost faith in the party and its leadership,” he said.
Ploy and counterploy
The dastardly effacement from the arch of Paisley and McCrea did not go without retaliation. The lights went out. Someone switched off the power to the arch. By one of those coincidences which, as Malcolm likes to point out, often aren’t, the supply comes courtesy of the local Christian book-shop. Which, as you already guessed, happens to be affiliated to Rev. McCrea’s church.
That would be almost the end of the matter, until next year, except for one small after-shock.
Magherafelt District Council has a web-site. Today’s “Quote of the day” is from P.G.Wodehouse:
“At the age of eleven or thereabouts women acquire a poise and an ability to handle difficult situations which a man, if he is lucky, manages to achieve somewhere in the later seventies.”
The Reverend Robert Thomas William McCrea, MP, MLA, alumnus of Marietta Bible College, Ohio (motto: “Study, service”), is 59 years old.
How many U-turns make a tangled web?
Malcolm is constantly aware of the manifest truth:
In William McCrea the people of South Antrim found a skilled and articulate public representative who gave an honourable, professional and active constituency service to all those who sought his intervention and counsel.
Yes, indeed. campaigning for the Assembly elections, this honourable and reverent gent. took a firm line:
William has consistently refused to yield to the IRA’s terms and accurately warned of the ploy to develop the republican agenda through the Belfast Agreement. Now, only 18 months since the DUP gained the leadership of unionism, the pan-nationalist front has been smashed, the IRA is under pressure never experienced before by it and the heat is being turned up on the Sinn Fein leadership to condemn all IRA criminal and terrorist activity.
This determined stand was rewarded by the offer of yet another job! So it was that yet more burden descended onto those broad shoulders: chairing the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, saving souls by keeping a close eye on the potential for “criminal and terrorist activity” by SF’s slimline and multi-tasking Minister, Michelle Gildernew (all that abstentionism must be very time-consuming).
In the Belfast Newsletter last week, McCrea announced victory, and, in a triumph of the will that deserves Leni Riefenstahl herself, crowed that freedom’s cleansing winds now breathe upon God’s chosen:
Let us celebrate our victory over the IRA. After 35 years of murder and mayhem, we are still part of the United Kingdom and the designs of our enemy have failed.
Sadly, there are those unionists among us who speak republican propaganda, suggesting that somehow republicans have won.
They have not won and could only do so in the future if we let them.
The Provos did not carry out 35 years of slaughter against the unionist people of Northern Ireland to sit in a British Assembly at Stormont and a partitionist Assembly under the Crown and the Union flag.
Every time republican representatives pass through the gates of Stormont, they acknowledge their united Ireland ideas have gone up in smoke.
Unionist-elected representatives must unapologetically block every move by Sinn Fein to cover the embarrassment of their failure.
Sinn Fein will seek to advance their united Ireland strategy but it is up to every true unionist to thwart their objectives.
Those unionists that have given up the fight should be ashamed of themselves. Now is not the time for weak livered representatives. We need real Ulstermen of courage with determination to stand against republican plans.
They’ve all got it in for me!
Alas and alack! This was misconstrued by many. Cries went up:
It is time Ian Paisley and William McCrea resigned. They cannot continue as ministers of the Free Presbyterian Church while sitting in government with IRA/SF.
Disgusted Free Presbyterian
Even the great and the good joined in:
SIR Reg Empey has joined those calling on William McCrea to clarify his position on power-sharing.
The Ulster Unionist leader said the DUP man’s involvement in the current status quo at Stormont was at complete odds with his long held opposition to doing a deal with republicans.
“William McCrea’s intervention (in the News Letter) last week, when he claimed the IRA was defeated etc, has caused a big reaction,” said Sir Reg.
“Why is this? Answer, because of Willie’s long standing claims that the IRA were determining government policy and because of his list of demands before he would support the inclusion of Sinn Fein in the government of Northern Ireland.
“Remember, it is not that long ago that Willie was demanding the return of the Northern Bank money amongst other demands.
“No money has been recovered and it’s very unlikely that it ever will.
“But furthermore, it was the vicious attacks Rev McCrea made on fellow unionists who supported the Belfast Agreement leaving him now looking hypocritical following his support for the St Andrews Agreement, which by any measure is more pro-nationalist than the 1998 agreement.”
Let it be said that the hero of the hour was brave against such icy blasts:
… he issued a clarification which seemed to throw into question his support for the agreement he originally voted for during the DUP’s internal debate before deciding to enter government.
“Lest there be any misunderstanding over the issue let me make this clear: at no time did this article (in the News Letter) suggest that I was a defender of power-sharing with Sinn Fein,” he noted.
“I have never changed my mind as to the unfitness of Sinn Fein for government.”
There, Malcolm admits, the situation rests. For the surreal, strong-livered, free-windy moment. And all without consciousness-raising additives.
Anyone totally at a loss by all this can have a taster of the 2006 Twelfth at Magherafelt on YouTube.
And, yes, one of the bands does play the old Fenian song The Rising of the Moon.
The Newsletter‘s take on this developing story (as of 24th July) is on line here.