Recently, on a night out in a city centre pub, an Irish singer was entertaining us. Deedle-de-de music is great for a sing-song and we were having a ball. During the chorus of one song, lots of folk started shouting “IRA, IRA”. I was shocked and speechless. These were young people. Scots who weren't born when we were watching the horrific Irish troubles on our TV screens in the 70s, 80s and 90s. How did they become so passionate about a rebel cause? Did they think about what they were glamorising or simply join in?
Glasgow in the 60s was an openly sectarian city, and we all knew which side we belonged to and which football team to support. When I was very young I remember occasional shouting matches with the kids across the tenement backs “Caflic cats eat the rats for two 'n' tuppence ha'penny” and they would roar back at us “Proddie dogs eat the frogs for two 'n' tuppence ha'penny” We went home for our tea satisfied that we had the upper hand in the exchange. My liberal Maw would have killed me if she'd overheard our childish games.
When I was seven, a girl moved in across the road and we became best pals. The only difference between us was that she went to a different primary school which had mysterious subjects that made no sense to either of us. I remember visiting my pal's Granny for the first time. Proudly flanking the mantelpiece were framed pictures of the Queen and King Billy. Her Granny was delighted that I didn't go to the same school as her grand-daughter and had taken her to an Orange walk. Her other Granny had a fascinating picture of the Virgin Mary and a sad-looking Jesus whose eyes followed you around the room. She wasn't nearly as welcoming to me, for reasons I didn't understand at the time.
All the other kids at our state school were Protestants and religion consisted of interminable monthly school services when the local Minister preached in the Assembly hall. Most of the time, we kids coexisted quite happily and religion was a thing forced on us by adults. Every couple of years the boys in both schools would decide to go to 'war' over it and for a few days you had to be quite skilled to get home and avoid their battles. I never paid much attention to it until the last year of primary. The boys went to war yet again. The difference this time was a toddler, pulling his toy along the road with our school tie, got his wee face slashed. It wouldn't have mattered to me which school tie it was, I was horrified. I thought about it deeply and decided that anything that would lead to that wasn't for me. I mostly ignored religion after that.
I started work at seventeen and wondered why a lot of the guys asked me what school I went to. Much later someone explained that because I had an ambivalent name, they were querying my religion. Eh? You can tell someone's religion from their name? So that's why people with Mc or Mac could get so upset if you spelled it wrongly. The guys I worked with guessed that only one manager was a Catholic based on their names.
One Saturday afternoon I was upstairs on a bus. Two drunk guys were growling and swearing at each other about football ... I realised the guy at the front was my step-dad and the guy behind me was my cousin's husband. They were so blind drunk they never realised it was family member they were arguing with. I sneaked off a stop early and left the eejits to it.
As the decades have passed, people have become more tolerant of mixed marriages. Religion has mainly become an old person's pursuit. You rarely hear of a family feud because a father won't attend his daughter's wedding. There are still some anachronisms, like annual Orange Walks, but more folk are realising that we're all facing the same trials and tribulations and these divisions do not help us get along. The local football teams have had some success at dissuading their fans from sectarian rants, and the obligatory pitched battles after Old Firm games are a thing of the past.
Some of the sectarian darkness is still here though. There are some parts of the city that belong to one side or another. Maybe childhood games become something more sinister when adults blindly indulge in this madness. Bigotry is not so openly accepted, but it is still waiting to trap us into hate cycles if we're not vigilant. Despite growing up in Glasgow I don't understand how this religious schism has led people to support a political rebel cause on another island - my childhood pal ended up buying into this whole madness and supported the IRA cause too, despite having no Irish connections at all. We should never forget the lessons of the past, but we should stop glorifying it. It's time we left this behind and grew up.
We Glaswegians should embrace our own Scottish culture more and sing along to hedrum-hodrum tunes instead. It's much more fun to tease the tourists with haggis hunting tales and discussions of what is under a Scotsman's kilt. Our city has a more cosmopolitan feel and we should be proud that the Rough Guide voted us the world's friendliest city. I hope old enmities and historic causes that we do not truly understand don't hold us back from becoming a modern, welcoming place.