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In pole position

By Squinter

SQUINTER was in Moneymore with the big guy to attend Saturday’s vintage car rally at the National Trust’s Springhill House. A good day was had by all, but as usual at such events the catering was not what you’d call epicurean. And with all that fresh air and bejasus accents putting an edge the appetite, we decided we’d eat in Magherafelt on the way home.

It’s a pleasant four-mile drive from Moneymore to Magherafelt and as we parked mid-afternoon on the edge of the town, the sun, which had shone on us all day like a benediction, was kidnapped by an army of grey clouds advancing from the Sperrins.

Magherafelt, we quickly discovered, is the GAA jersey capital of Ireland. Squinter searched for, but couldn’t find, a sign that read ‘All persons entering this town must wear Gaelic games attire’. Such is the ubiquity of the tops and tracksuits that it seemed at times as if we’d stumbled into an athletes’ training village.

Which is why this large flag (right) in the centre of the town came as something of a surprise, to say the least. It’s clearly a Magherafelt Council flag, because of its prominent position and because the pole is a proper flagpole. Whether it flies every day of the year, or whether it’s there to mark the queen’s diamond jubilee, Squinter can’t say, but with 11 nationalists and five unionists on the council you’d have to assume it was the latter. Incidentally, that council breakdown may be a weather-vane in terms of how the census figures will look. Ten years ago the nationalist population of the village was 56 per cent, which would have meant maybe another couple of seats for unionists and two fewer for nationalists. Quite clearly, things have changed significantly in mid-Ulster since 2002.

Nice to see that the growing nationalist majority is showing a bit of magnanimity towards its royal family-loving neighbours – nothing wrong with flags as long as they’re agreed, of course.  Not that everyone in the town is in favour of this touching hands-across-the-barricades gesture, if that’s what it is, for that little spiky ring you can see halfway up the pole is a spool of barbed wire, clearly placed there to dissuade local anti-monarchists from shinning up and snatching the flag. For it’s relatively easily done. Squinter estimates the flag to be the height of an average lamppost and we’ve all raced up those in our youth  to see who’s first to touch the light, haven’t we?

No? Fair enough, then, let’s move on.

Kind of defeats the purpose of a flag, you have to think – flying it on an ugly little nest of barbed wire. Surely unionists are supposed to look at it fluttering majestically in the breeze and feel their hearts swell with royal pride; non-unionists, meanwhile, are meant to look at it and mentally pat themselves on the back for playing their part in the quest to find this elusive shared future that the Alliance Party is trying to scupper. Instead, everyone looks at it – an interloper like Squinter included – and says, what’s that flag doing on the barbed wire pole?

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