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A Different View

100 days when the world sank to somewhere beyond evil

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There are moments in history when you wonder if all humanity is lost, and twenty years ago this week saw the start of that descent into sheer barbarism as over 800,000 people were butchered to death in Rwanda over 100 days while the world stood idly by.

And if I live to be 100, I know that I will never see a more abhorrent sight than that of hundreds of calcified skulls and skeletons piled high on wooden pallets in the rooms of a school that never opened – and now never will.

The Murambi Technical School, now known as the Murambi Genocide Memorial Centre, sits in the quiet hills, deep in the countryside of southern Rwanda.

Like most of the world, I’d never heard of it until I visited there as part of a Trocaire delegation in 2004 – a decade after the genocide.

We were there to report, and they were there to see the impact of Ireland’s development funding.

We met Josienne, who featured on the Trocaire box that year and who is now a 22 year old university student, getting ready to graduate in accountancy thanks to support from Ireland.

So we saw the positives for sure, and so much about Rwanda is breathtaking – it’s a beautiful country (the call it the land of a thousand hills) with arable, fertile soil; it is more developed that most of its nearest neighbours, and its people couldn’t be friendlier.

But there was still a palpable sense of unease in the air – a tension that wasn’t imagined.

And when you made even the smallest mention of the 1994 genocide, lips tightened and heads turned away.

The miracle is how the country survived at all, because words cannot explain what occurred … but in the simplest of terms, the plane carrying the Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana was shot from the skies and six days later – egged on by radio stations and politicians – the Hutus attacked their neighbours (and sometimes their own families) because they believed the Tutsis were ‘cockroaches’ who had to die.

These were not two tribes from different ethnic backgrounds – they were simply the respective inhabitants of pre-colonial kingdoms before the arrival of the Belgians.

Generally, the Tutsis were richer, but intermarriage was commonplace and there was little discernible difference between one and the other. There were historical tensions, but it might be described as little more than an exaggerated version of inter-county rivalry.

Nothing could ever justify these depths of depravity anyway, but even now it is hard to see how such a bloodbath could ensue in such a short space of time.

When the killings started, Tutsis in the region tried to hide at a local church, but the local bishop and the town’s mayor lured them into a trap by sending them to the technical school, insisting that French peacekeeping troops would protect them there.

This was a brand new school waiting to be opened – but events over those darkest of days ensured its role now would change forever.

On April 16, 1994, some 65,000 Tutsis ran to the school. After the victims were told to gather there, water was cut off and no food was available, so that the people were too weak to resist.

After defending themselves for a few days using stones, the Tutsi were overrun on April 21. The French soldiers disappeared and the school was attacked by militiamen from the Interhamwe, a paramilitary force that was the epitome of evil.

Some 45,000 Tutsi were murdered at the school, and almost all of those who managed to escape were killed the next day when they tried to hide in a nearby church. And the history shows that the Catholic Church – or some of its priests and bishops – were as culpable, if not complicit, in this genocide as any.

The French brought in heavy equipment to dig several pits for thousands of bodies, and laid a volleyball court over them to hide what happened.

But over ground and in every single classroom, there are thousands of calcified bodies – so many of them children and infants – sometimes in rows, often just bones piled on top of each other.

You look at the little skulls of the children and you see them cracked like an egg. A man who acts as a sort of tour guide tells you that was because they caught these children, tied their hands behind their backs…..and threw them head first at the wall, like a hooker throwing a rugby ball into a line-out.

They repeated this unspeakable evil as many times as it took to kill them …. as their parents and siblings watched on, waiting their turn to die.

The lucky ones were shot to death, because the pain of waiting must have been worse. And now twenty years on, you still wonder how man was capable of doing this to fellow man.

This was just one location – the Hutus, armed with pitch forks, knives and machetes, descended into village, murdered everyone in it with impunity; they gang-raped the women, they set up road blocks and, high on drugs, they killed with gay abandon.

The truth is that – twenty years ago – most of the world wasn’t even aware of this hell on earth being endured by the minority Tutsi population in that most beautiful of African countries – and those who should have known simply turned their backs.

Because while Rwanda is rich in agriculture, it isn’t rich in oil – so there was no reason for the Americans to worry too much about it.

The Belgians, Rwanda’s old colonial masters, probably didn’t have the resources to do much about it, but even if they could, they weren’t hanging around to find out.

The United Nations had a presence, but it was hopelessly inadequate to enforce any semblance of law and order – the best they could do was evacuate the non-nationals and effectively leave the Tutsis to the hands of the Hutus.

The genocide trials began in 1996 and ten years later the jails were still wedged with prisoners.

In-mates in Rwandan jails are dressed head to toe in pink – and this too was one of the most incongruous sights you could ever see … hundreds of mass killers doing a tribal dance in shocking pink.

Some of them have now returned to their own villages, next door again to the survivors and relatives of those they killed.

You cannot begin to understand how society can function in such circumstances, but some of it is down to the Gacaca courts, a system (now closed) where the village elders gathered in the shade of a tree and held court of a sort.

This was where those who played a part in the killings admitted their role and gave up the names of those who led the attacks; the idea was to get to the ringleaders, who would then face the UN’s International War Tribunal.

It was also – unbelievably – a chance for some to forgive their family’s killers … a gesture so profound that it is difficult to fathom.

And it is those people – twenty years later – that I remember this week; the people who found forgiveness in their hearts for those who sank lower than humanity ever thought possible.

Connacht Tribune

No great rush to mend the error of your ways!

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Dave O'Connell

A Different View with Dave O’Connell

It was St Augustine who famously petitioned in prayer: ‘God, make me good – but just not yet’. It’s a sentiment that one Sister Mary Joseph took to whole new levels, because after spending her first 61 years as a high-living heiress, she spent the last three decades as a cloistered nun.

And she closed one chapter to open another one back in 1989 with a party for 800 of her closest friends at the Hilton Hotel in San Francisco – so many guests that the hostess carried a helium balloon all night, with the words “Here I Am” so that people could find her amid the throng.

The next day the former Ann Russell Miller flew to Chicago and joined the Sisters of Our Lady of Mount Carmel as a novitiate, spending the rest of her life as Sister Mary Joseph of the Trinity.

Or as one of her 28 grandchildren put it: “It was like The Great Gatsby turned into The Sound of Music.”

Her recent obituary in the Times painted quite the colourful picture of a lover of the high life turned Holy Roller.

“She smoked, drank champagne, played cards, spent five hours a day on the telephone and, as an expert scuba diver and enthusiastic skier, travelled around the world.

“She had a season ticket to the opera, was a high-society patron of many charitable causes and drove her sports car at such reckless speeds that, according to her son Mark, ‘people got out of her car with a sore foot from slamming on an imaginary brake’.”

Because if ever a life could be described as a tale of two-thirds of high living and one-third of contemplation, this was it; the mother of ten who enjoyed the casual company of celebrity friends like Nancy Reagan and Bob Hope opted for an order which allowed her one visitor a month – and even then no touching given the two rows of iron bars between them.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Online games will always give way to world of pure imagination

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Dave O'Connell

A Different View with Dave O’Connell

When we were young and Wimbledon came on the telly for two weeks, we’d all rush out to hit a tennis ball off the wall and imagine for an hour that we were Jimmy Connors or Bjorn Borg.

On the odd occasion when we saw live football on TV – the World Cup, the FA Cup Final, or Jimmy Magee covering another false dawn for Ireland at Dalymount Park – we took to the footpath and pretended we were Johnny Giles or Georgie Best.

Jumpers for goalposts, games that went on for hours, fly-goalkeepers, next goal wins – a world of entertainment for the price of a plastic football.

Now when it’s half-time in Sky Sports’ fifth live match of the weekend, the kids still want to play their own version when it’s over. Except they do it on the PlayStation so they never have to leave the comfort of the couch.

Even if we re-enacted the World Cup indoors back in the day, we did it with Subbuteo – so we still got more action and exercise than today’s kids, even if it was just a flick of the fingers.

But in the absence of video games, we did all this with nothing more than our vivid imaginations on a field of dreams that was otherwise a concrete car park or a patch of grass.

We pretended we were Mick O’Connell or maybe Mikey Sheehy (but never Brian Mullins or Jimmy Keaveney) as we fielded balls majestically out of the clouds – even if reality would suggest we hardly left the ground.

It was a world of our imagination where we supplied our own running commentary; these days, FIFA 21 does it for you.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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Connacht Tribune

We’re at our most sure-footed when we find common ground

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Dave O'Connell

A Different View with Dave O’Connell

When two Irish people meet, they have thirty seconds to find someone they have in common or both of them will die.

It was a Tweet that made me smile recently – but then, thinking a little more, it’s actually so, so true.

We seem lost if we can’t make a common connection, as if six degrees of separation is about three steps too far.

Of course, we’re spoilt in Galway because you’ll never ever meet someone who doesn’t know Michael D; they were either lectured by him, they canvassed for him, they sat beside him in Terryland Park, they chatted with him at the Arts Festival before it had a tent, or they’ve been to a garden party at the Áras.

And once the pressure is off because you’ve made one connection, the rest will flow like soup off Alan Dukes’ fork, as Johneen Donnellan once observed.

It’s a small county in the scheme of things so it shouldn’t be any wonder that we’re well connected – from school or college or work or extended family or geography, we’re a stone’s throw from everyone else.

Half of Mayo, of course, knows Joe Biden – and never has a man had so many fourth cousins once removed (if it gets much worse, he might have to have them forcibly removed) since he got the keys to the big White House.

We can’t claim to know Barack Obama, but half of Galway knows Billy Lawless, who hosted the former Chicago senator in his acclaimed restaurant – we knew Billy as a politician or a publican, in Trigger Martyn’s or the old Twelve in Barna. So that’s close enough.

We’re also familiar with Pat McDonagh, who doesn’t just own Supermac’s; he also owns the Barack Obama Plaza in Offaly. So that’s a second Presidential connection to someone we’ve never actually met.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

Continue Reading

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