“An Extraordinary Miasma of Untruth”


“There’s no them. There’s only us.”

I first read Dervla Murphy’s book “A Place Apart: Northern Ireland in the 1970s” over twenty years ago for a class on the anthropology of Ireland. In it, she described her conversations with people from various perspectives in Northern Ireland (Catholic and Protestant, etc.).

To be honest, so much time has gone by that I’ve forgotten much of it, but every once in a while certain segments come back to me. The part that returns to me the most, particularly of late, is this:

“The single most important issue is the extent to which ordinary people live in   an extraordinary miasma of untruth… The average Northern Ireland citizen is born either Orange or Green. His whole personality is conditioned by myth.”

Murphy used the word ‘myth’ not to describe purely fictional events, but as something more powerful. Rather a myth is a modified or skewed sense of history, imbued with meaning, used to prop up one perspective over another.

I don’t think this is specific to Northern Ireland in the 1970s. We’re all susceptible to myths – often accepting the ones that are flattering to ‘us’ and denigrating to ‘them.’ It takes some effort to try to puncture through them, to see a fuller picture, that all people are a complex mix of good and bad, fallibility and occasional flashes of excellence.

The danger is that myths take on a life of their own, exploited by people with questionable motives, a lack of introspection, and a cursory grasp of facts. 

 

Related: The Lie and the Myth  

 

4 thoughts on ““An Extraordinary Miasma of Untruth”

  1. Dear sir, its my birthday today, and yet I find myself reading your blog,it has been a source of valuable information throughout the year, many thanks

  2. Thanks for showing another side of Dervla Murphy, Patrick. I have never read her book on the colour-coded Irish, but had associated her travel writing with a certain type of traveller (in my prejudiced mind: a middle-aged woman none too concerned with the realities of life outside of middle-aged women). It’s always good to get a different slant on someone, which indeed is what your post is about. My picture of Dervla Murphy is appropriately adjusted. Many thanks for your sympathetic comments on ‘the meaning of life’ throughout the year. Like others, I find them thoughtful, optimistic, and constructive. Well done and carry on.

    • Thank you, Robert. I knew that she had written other travel books, but this is actually the only book of hers that I ever read. And thank you for the kind words. You’ve been such a big supporter of me and this blog. Happy New Year.

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