By chance, on the very day I opened the book there arrived, unsolicited, at my home a little pocket guide, "People Who Love Life Love Belfast!" The exclamation mark seemed not misplaced, since the little guide invited one to believe that a city recently ravaged by death and destruction (and still not at peace with itself) is now a glittering tourist haven in which to "feed your soul".
The contrast is striking and perplexing. The local testimonial is all about jazz, dancing, exciting cuisine, pub tours and happy "banter" - promising social harmony and steadfast amity. The Canadian's account, while not entirely pessimistic, offers little respite from what he calls "the degeneration of the benign ideal of united Irishmen into the fearful, self-destructive dead-end" of fundamentalist Protestant intransigence.
I think it's fair to say that the book's theme is about the failure (or at least inadequacy) of compromise in Ulster's history. Because of his surname and his genes, the author is in a special position to discuss this. So reviled is the name Lundy among denizens of the "dead-end" that mere mention of it provokes/encourages paroxysms of incontinent fury. Lt-Colonel Robert Lundy, an ancestor of our author, is widely regarded as a traitor to settler Protestants during the 1689 siege of the walled city of Derry. By contemplating peace with the Catholic Irish who favoured James II, Lt-Colonel Lundy (a Scottish Protestant, and Derry's military governor at the time) betrayed the Protestant Williamite cause. Since then his co-religionists have burned his effigy annually. The fundamentalist preacher of intransigence, Ian Paisley, wields the word "Lundy" like a cudgel on Protestants who would seek to ameliorate Protestant-Catholic relations.
Derek Lundy explores his progenitor's role, motivation and character with all the evidence both chronicled (biased) and circumstantial (not abundant) with tenacity and skill, and with surprising detachment, given that it's his family forbears he's tracking. Yet it is clear, from his visit to today's Derry "Prods", that his sympathies don't lie with the "shaved heads, beer bellies, tattoos, fat men and some women, a few fat kids eating chips topped with melted cheese, blowsiness, yob-dom, a sense of jazzed-up menace." Though consoling himself "with the thought that I was a Protestant and that they wouldn't hurt a fellow-member of the tribe", he's hesitant to state his name.
As a "foreigner", Lundy steps outside the scripture-politics, the "standard received" versions of myth and history, and attempts, bravely enough, to correct them - or, at least, to restore complexities that long have been discarded for the simplicity of ritual. Like many another Irish-born writer who abandoned Ireland (Joyce, Shaw, William Trevor, Edna O'Brien, Louis MacNeice, for example), he has gained unusual perspective in distance from native entanglements.
He not only acknowledges Catholics' and Protestants' mutually perceived dilemma - that the enablement of one side would mean the enfeeblement of the other - but asserts: "The Ulster Protestants' definition of themselves as British, so as to avoid admitting that they are Irish, is an existential subterfuge and, in their hearts, they know it."
To many "Prods" - indeed, to most of the ones I know - the sectarian rituals have become an embarrassment, and may even be resented as a blight on political and economic development. These men and women tend to be educated, widely travelled, middle-class. Even so, few care to risk too close a relationship with Catholic fellow citizens for fear of castigation as a "lundy" by loyalism's hard men.
The author examines the case of the Rev. William Dickson, his great-great-great-great grandfather on his mother's side, who, before, during and after the failed 1798 insurrection against England by Catholics and Presbyterians, spoke up for Catholic emancipation and the same rights for all that fuelled the French Revolution. He was hounded and jailed then, and his name today produces an uncomfortable silence among Ulster "Prods".
The Lundy line of tolerance is not an unbroken one. Derek Lundy writes about his grandfather Billy, a hard man, quick with his fists, who joined the Protestant B Special constabulary, "notorious among Catholics for doing what ethnic or sectarian militias always do: intimidate, assault, torture, kill." Billy was a strident fan of Edward Carson, the abiding hero of Ulster Protestantism. The author describes Carson as "Mussolini-esque, like the proto-fascist he was."
Yet, he concludes hopefully : "Deep inside their fearful hearts, the Protestants of Northern Ireland know, although they will not, or cannot, acknowledge it, that the Lundys have been right all along... They must compromise and agree to terms."