Sunday, July 7, 2013


I've long been enamored with the severe contrasts between the romantic Northern Ireland Van Morrison sang of during the autumn of 1968 and the real, true, legitimate Northern Ireland from that same time period. Just before Morrison recorded Astral Weeks during three separate sessions on Sept. 25, Oct. 1, and Oct. 15, the North stood on the precipice of what would be decades of unimaginable sectarian violence. From Tim Pat Coogan's The Troubles: Ireland's Ordeal 1966-1996 and the Search for Peace:
Four thousand people took part in the march on 24 August 1968. It was the first time in the Six Counties that the civil rights song "We Shall Overcome" was heard. The route was from Coalisland to Dungannon where it had been intended to conclude with a rally in the market place ... Here it should be explained that it was not merely the idea of marching for civil rights that was new, it was the idea of Catholics marching. Marching in the Six Counties was something that the Orangemen did of right and the Catholics on sufferance, and in designated areas.
Morrison's songs swelled with a yearning so insatiable it threatened to leave him emotionally incapacitated. Meanwhile, 3,000 miles away, the songs of Northern Ireland's Catholic population—a group perpetually marginalized, now effectively mobilized, and burning with anger—trumpeted a hardened solidarity and warned of forthcoming catastrophes. Morrison was exhaling softly, wistful over lost days; back home, folks held their collective breath, anxious of the days to come.

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