Twelfth of July

Bridge in Powerscourt

I put this bridge as a symbol to bridge the two communities in Ireland.*

Today is the day, The Twelfth of July celebrations Northern Ireland, when the memories from long, long times past are stirred up; mostly in hatred and anger. Yes, it is the day to remember the Battle of the Boyne which took place in 1690. The battle was between the Protestant Prince William of Orange and the Catholic King James II; William of Orange took the victory. Here is a link to the official site of the Battle of the Boyne. Much of the hatred that has had an effect to the present times stems from this very event.

When my daughters were still in the primary education in Ireland, we had this school run with some other parents and one time it was our turn to collect the kids from their homes bringing them all to the school. So, there we are in our thoughts – morning sleepy, you see – when this little girl pipes up and says:

“My mum is a Catholic and my dad is a Protestant.”

And then she is waiting for the response from my girls. But nothing came, because my daughters did not know what it meant to be a Catholic or a Protestant! They had never heard about it before this in their short lives and they did not know what it meant. The event passed uncommented by any of us except for an ‘I see’ from me at the time until later on, when the girls wanted to know ‘What did she mean?’

My in-laws and himself were of Anglo-Irish background deeply rooted in the Protestantism and yet very deeply rooted in their Irishness as well. They were and are first and foremost Irish in their own eyes and thinking. (I will get into this deeper another time.) The Northern Irish Protestants see themselves, normally, first and foremost, as British, and that is where there is this vast gulf between them and the Catholics who see themselves as Irish. There is also an abyss of differences between the Protestants of the North and the South because of the fact that the southern Protestants see themselves to be Irish and the northerners to be British.

These parades and commemorations of things long past on both sides add extra fuel to the volatile situation that at times boils over. The Twelfth of July is the prime example of this; every year we became suddenly aware that the date must upon us, when the South started to get filled with northerners wanting to escape the tension and the hatred stirred up.

Tis for now. Rii xx

* I took the photograph in the Japanese Gardens in the Powerscourt Demesne, Enniskerry, Ireland.

JOKE – Battle Axe

 Battle Axe

This is what happened at Ceres’s blog one day,
where she was writing so beautifully about the ‘ugly’ history of wars and the like
’til Da Blonde came along and said this:

“A quick comment of a sort.

You say:

‘What made people,
such as the ancient Greeks and Romans,
personify war as a woman?’

I say:

Is She not called a Battle Axe?!!”

What would You have said?

Tis for now Rii xx

Travels: Belfast

Gladioli

Belfast is so very near to Dublin in the Southern Ireland and yet so far. What that? Well, the mentality of the Northerner compared to the Southerner is miles apart, in almost every way. Where the Dubliner and the rest of the population in the south are laid-back, witty, fatalistic and not-so-terribly efficient in whatever they do, the Northerner is uptight, serious, strongwilled and highly efficient in his/her basic nature.

We used to be simply awed by the state of the roads as soon as one crossed the border in Newry over to the Northern Ireland. One could really put the boot down from here on the motorway and be in Belfast in a jiffy! Marvellous. The state of the roads in the Republic were – and still are in parts – such that the journey even though not that long in miles or kilometers took a lifetime!

The very first time I went to Belfast was just four days after arriving in Ireland. There was a family funeral there. In Ireland it is of utmost importance to be there and to support the people that have had the sadness of death in the family. People go by the hundreds into the funerals and it is normally considered an excusable reason to take time out in the middle of one’s working day to attend a funeral.

One thing that used be so great to do in Belfast was the shopping. The difference between the Irish Punt and the Sterling was not that big, sometimes they were even on par. Nowadays the Euro has lost the plot to the Sterling and it is far too expensive to go shopping there anymore!

We would go to the north a lot even at the height of the violence, another name for it is the ‘Troubles.’ Rather an odd name for such a traumatic and highly dangerous time. We had both relatives and friends living in there. Some of them still do. Then when the so called ‘Peace Agreement‘ came in 1998 we took the train there from Dublin a good few times. Otherwise previously we would have gone by car to Belfast.

First of all we parked the car at the Europa Hotel and had a cuppa there before walking to the stores. Where would be good to shop? Well, the Castle Court Shopping Centre is big and has plenty of various kinds of stores in it. In those days before many of the British High Street stores such as Argos, Boots, Debenhamns, etc.  came to the south they were only in the north so hence our trekking there.  Also the Queen’s Arcade is a very expensive but beautiful small shopping mall at the heart of Belfast. The city is not big at all. Here is a map of the city centre. To tank up we would go the Cafe Paul Rankin at the Fountain Street. It used to be nearly the only one of its kind ’til quite recently. This cafe served the most delicious food – every time it was a winner.

There were not many cultural things that we did then because of the Troubles. The people did not move about that much then to nightspots or restaurants as they did in the south. Now it is different.

Tis for now. Riihele xx.

Lapland, Tornio Valley and Childhood – Part3

PIKKURII

Riihele at the age of around 4 in Ylitornio, Lapland.

Now I will say a few things of the war called the Finnish War between Russia and Sweden, and other wars and also, other things about the life and culture in the Tornio Valley – as seen through my eyes.

So – that war of 1808-1809 was the very last war that Sweden as a country has suffered while Finland, on the other hand, has been forced to go through several wars such as the Civil War of 1918 and the Russian-Finnish Wars, because there were two wars during the WW II. The first one is called The Winter War, which began in November 1939. It lasted until March 1940, when both of the countries signed a peace treaty where Finland agreed to cede 10 per cent of its territory and 20 per cent of her industrial production to the Soviet Union. This is a compiled account in English about the events of that war.

The amazing thing about that war was that even though the Russians outnumbered the Finns by three to one, the battle was not a walk-over for the Russians looking at the statistics of the casualties and other details. Stalin and his cohorts had thought that it would be just that. The arrogance and attitude of superiority of the Soviets, was such that they started the war with the marching bands and soldiers arm in arm singing stirring Soviet anthems while advancing towards the Finnish lines!! What they had planned, was a short and sharp victory. But God had decided otherwise. My future would have been very, very different to what it has been, IF, Finland had been a state within the USSR. A state like Estonia, our ‘relatives’. There would have been NO freedom to travel to begin with, so I would have been ‘stuck’ and not being able to go anywhere at all!
The Continuation War is the war that was fought between the years 1941-1944. The Lapland War against the former German allies was battled from September 1944 until April 1945. The reason for this war, was the Soviet demand that all German troops were to be expelled from Finland. The task of expelling was made particularly hard because of the other simultaneous Soviet demand of demobilizing the major part of the Finnish armed forces.

The withdrawing Germans used the scorched earth tactics, so that more than one third of the dwellings were destroyed in Lapland. The provincial capital, Rovaniemi, was burned to the ground. This is the town where my mother was born and where she spent her first few years before the family moved to the Tornio Valley in the 1930’s. Rovaniemi was rebuilt after war and the world famous Finnish architect called, Alvar Aalto was very much at forefront of the same. All of mother’s eldest (five) brothers were in the war. And ALL came back – alive. The horrors of the trauma of war and gore, live on the psyche of the Finnish male – passed from generation to generation. My own ‘concrete’ evidence of the Lapland War, were the bullet holes on the flagpole, in the centre of the yard of the houses, where we lived in Ylitornio.

There are a few books on this subject of the Lapland War: the first one is by a colonel called Wolf H. Halsti. His book is in Finnish called – LAPIN SODASSA. That translated into English is like this: IN THE WAR OF LAPLAND. I do not know if it has been publiced in English or any other language. He writes very honestly and pointedly about the whole sad affair. There is a lady who wrote a book about her life in Lapland during these times of hardship, called, Laila Kanon and the book of hers is called – STADIN friidu ja metsien mies, jatkosodan rakkaustarina”. (WSOY 1997) The title in English would translate into something like: “Town Chick and a Man of the forest, a Love Story during the Continuation War.”

The property losses, at the time, were calculated to be at the 1945 US$ as 300 million dollars. HUGE amount! In addition to the financial losses, was the human distress and suffering. The number of the refugees within Lapland was 100,000. My mother with her parents and siblings, that were still at home, fled across the Tornio River over to the Swedish Övertorneå. Karelian refugees were numbered as over 425,000.

I don’t obviously have any personal memories of any of the above, but indirect ones, I do. What do I mean? Well, of that Civil War, I have my grandparents memories and view points that I still quite clearly do remember. In that war there were the Whites against the Reds. It is fairly simple as to figure out what these colours mean. Yes, they mean the hues of one’s political standing. My grandparents, on the father’s side that come from Karelia, were on the White side. I do remember Grandma Helena saying still in her old age, that when she was in an old people’s home, she was made to share a room for a time with one that had been on the Red side. Apparently, the poisonous verbal darts between them were still flying like missiles…
I found that rather amusing but had I lived through the horrors of it, I am sure, my reaction would have been different. It is so very tragic that that should have happened after about sixty years of that civil war. The sadness that there was no forgiveness and forgetting in the depths of the people’s hearts and minds!

Of all the kinds of wars, the civil war between brothers, is the most horrendous of all. No doubt. It really is the most un-civil thing imaginable. Deep, deep wounds are left in the nations that have had to go through it.

The Russian-Sweden War of 1808-1809 over Finland, also known as, the Finnish War, became “familiar” to me through the history lessions at school and also through the Finnish literature. We read Vänriikki Stoolin Tarinat The Tales of Ensign Ståhl – year in, year out, so that, even today, I can give direct quotes of the same! I used to love reading those stories in rhyme about that war.
This is the war (February 1808 ’til September 1809) – that resulted the Valley being cut in two parts with the Tornio River as the border. The choices for the actual border included the River Kalix on the Swedish side – the Russian request – the River Kemi on the Finnish side, to the south of Tornio – the Swedish request. The Tornio River was the agreed joined compromise. From that time on in 1809, Finland became part of the Russian Empire until her independence in December 1917.

Finland was under the Swedish rule from 1352 – 1808, and under the Russian rule from 1809 – 1917. We have, as a nation, learned how to live as a “filling in-a-sandwich” to the bigger and more powerful nations than ourselves that are on either side of us! It takes skill.

Tis for now. Riihele xx

HAPPY BIRTHDAY FINLAND!~Independence Day

SUOMEN LIPPU

Picture off the net; makeover on the same by Riihele.

Facts about Finland:

  • Finland has a population of five million people spread over more than 330,000 sq. kilometres (127,000 sq. mi) making it one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world.
  • Finland is ranked thirteenth on the 2005 United Nations Human Development Index.
  • Along with Estonian and Hungarian, Finnish is one of the few official languages in Europe that is not of Indo-European origin.
  • 64th largest nation in the world in the size of the land mass.
  • 112th in size of the population in the world.
  • Finland is the least corrupt and most democratic country in the world according to the World Audit study. (There are 243 countries in the world.)
  • Finland is 75 per cent forested; the other 25 per cent is shared by the hills, the people, the beasts and the nearly 190,000 lakes and islands.
  • The citizens of Finland begin their life with the lowest mortality rate in the whole world for the live births for both the mother & the child, yet end up being one of the sickest as in the death rates in the cardiovascular diseases.*

One thing that has immensely affected Finland is having that particular eastern neighbour on our side. Finland was under the Russian rule between 1809 -1917 that is when we became an independent nation on the 6TH December 1917. Sweden is the other neighbour on our western side and Finland was under her rule from 1352-1808. Specially, the wars with Russia that Finland had to fight during the WWII are the wars that have shaped the national psyche vastly in these modern times; i.e., alcoholism on a large scale.

The war of 1808-1809 was the very last war that Sweden as a country has suffered while Finland, on the other hand, has been forced to go through several wars such as the Civil War of 1918 and the Russian-Finnish Wars, because there were two wars during the WW II. The first one is called The Winter War, which began in November 1939. It lasted until March 1940, when both of the countries signed a peace treaty where Finland agreed to cede 10 per cent of its territory and 20 per cent of her industrial production to the Soviet Union. This is a compiled account in English about the events of that war.

The amazing thing about that war was that even though the Russians outnumbered the Finns by 3 to 1, the battle was not a walk-over for the Russians looking at the statistics of the casualties and other details. Stalin and his cohorts had thought that it would be just that. The arrogance and attitude of superiority of the Soviets, was such that they started the war with the marching bands and soldiers arm in arm singing stirring Soviet anthems while advancing towards the Finnish lines!! What they had planned, was a short and sharp victory. But God had decided otherwise. My future would have been very, very different to what it has been, IF, Finland had been a state within the USSR. We could have suffered the fate of the states like Estonia, our ‘relatives’. There would have been NO freedom to travel to begin with, so I would have been ‘stuck’ and not being able to go anywhere at all!

The Continuation War is the war that was fought between the years 1941-1944. The Lapland War against the former German allies was battled from September 1944 until April 1945. The reason for this war was the Soviet demand that all German troops were to be expelled from Finland. The task of expelling was made particularly hard because of the other simultaneous Soviet demand of demobilizing the major part of the Finnish armed forces.

The withdrawing Germans used the scorched earth tactics, so that more than one third of the dwellings were destroyed in Lapland. The provincial capital, Rovaniemi, was burned to the ground. This is the town where my mother was born and where she spent her first few years before the family moved to the Tornio Valley in the 1930’s. Rovaniemi was rebuilt after war and the world famous Finnish architect called, Alvar Aalto was very much at forefront of the same.

Finland has paid a very heavy price for her independence and as I am getting older; I am beginning to put a much much greater value to this fact and to see things differently with the eyes of experience of living in many nations; yet never departing from my own roots and my Finnish citizenship.

Presently Finland is chairing the European Union – from July 1, until December 31, 2006 as every six months the chair is changed to one of the nations in the EU. Austria chaired the first half of this year. Germany will take on after Finland in January 1, 2007. I wrote about the European Union in an earlier blog entry called: ‘ Wanted: Europeans Unity.In Latin, In varietate concordia, “UNITY IN DIVERSITY.” The emphasis in this slogan is on the word ‘unity’ in this wording. The new proposed motto is this, “United in Diversity.” The emphasis in this expression is on the word ‘diversity’, in my mind.

The amazingly bright-right-through the nights in Finland; in particular, in Lapland are absolutely the most fantastic part of being and living in here. The few summer weeks that the sun does not want to hit-the-sack is the time when the Finns burst with good humour, energy and joviality. The people smile and are so good-humouredly relaxed that one would think that the stereotypical Finn of not being able to utter a word is such an untrue tale of pure fiction. The Finn People suddenly turn into their summer-side-personalities of lackadaisical, smiling and good-humoured super-outgoing humans as the layers upon layers of the winter woollens are peeled off. There is a different pace to the whole race.

The Latin in the Finnish nation that is hidden – remember, we are the nation with Argentina, where Tango is passionately loved (by some), me not included – comes to the fore. The colours in the nature are manifold and intoxicating when the all the bushes, the plants and the trees burst one after the other into full bloom. Exuberant and happy, the whole creation gets speedily into the task to get it all done before the short, intense and bright-thru-night summer is over.

Just wait ’til the winter comes – brr – then that Finn meets you in the street wrapped up in so many layers looking more like a Michelin Man scowling at you under the layers upon layers of clothes. The first snow in Central Finland where I am living at present came last year at the end of October and pretty much stayed on the ground until the end of April. Hmm…There were long spells of about minus 30 – yes, Three-O! Madness. I was so cold and so freezing, no words to express it. The coldest I have experienced is -44*C in Lapland. BRRR… Need I say more?! Plus the wind chill factors – ARCTIC so tis.


HAPPY HAPPY BIRTHDAY

FINLAND @ 89-years!

Tis for now. Riihele xx. Image


*Source: Wikipedia online