March 26, 2016

#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - David McElfatrick

David's full name David McElfatrick. He wasn't given a middle name because my second name was considered long enough already. David grew up in Coleraine and attended a staunchly protestant primary school in Millburn, then a staunchly catholic grammar school in Portstewart. After that, he attended the University Of Ulster, studying Computing Science. Whilst studying, a creative side project of his called Cyanide & Happiness started to take off, and that eventually became a full-time gig/business. David is currently living in Dallas, Texas where he now co-runs an animation studio and creative lab. So he's a cartoonist, animator, writer and amateur musician by trade!

Brian John Spencer: "When did you first learn about the Easter Rising of 1916?" David McElfatrick:
"I first learnt of the Easter Rising in grammar school. I first heard of it in the playground early on- it seemed many children in my class and around me talked about it a lot- and retrospectively I think many of them were going through a general kid's phase (yes, this was somewhat normal) of thinking that being militantly supportive of 'their side' was the cool thing to do. This was in the mid 90s. The same happened in primary school too, of course, only they talked about the UDA instead of the IRA. I learnt nothing of Irish history in primary school, but it felt like a crash course in both Irish history and identity once I began attending grammar school."
BJS: "Do the men, the act or the stated ideals in the proclamation mean anything to you?" DMcE:
"Certainly: self-determination is important to me, as a human being and as a nation- I believe the ideals speak for everyone on this island whether some choose to let it or not. One simple example is the Orange Order speak of protecting civil and religious liberty, but then, so does the proclamation. The act itself I believe was justified given the context of the course of history up to that point. Westminster have never held much compassion for the people of this island outside of their own interests, and it was time for Ireland to grab the bull by the horns and make change. The act was the catalyst for this of course, so it all goes hand in hand."
BJS: "When did you first learn about the Battle of the Somme?" DMcE: 
"I probably first learnt about it through my father as a child. His grandfather fought at the Somme, and he showed me memorabilia. He never glorified it in a militant way to me, though I know he valued the sacrifice made by those like my great grandfather. My father was born Presbyterian, but he's never tried to instill staunch political ideals in me. He's always just wanted to live life and avoid all that. Though he considers himself British AND Irish, he claims he wouldn't care if there was a united Ireland tomorrow. He's incredibly easy going. His real passion is motorcycling, like many in the north coast!"

BJS: "Does this act, the men and their determination to show their loyalty to Britain mean anything to you?" DMcE:
"I admire the passion of those men. I admire the tales of bravery in the face of adversity- a trait shared by the people of this island as a whole, not least the Ulstermen. I admire that, during a turbulent time in Ireland's history, they were willing to do all for what they saw as the good of their part of Ireland. Though I don't believe they made the right decision, they made a passionate and heavy decision- a sacrifice. I respect that. They believed they were doing good, and protecting their land."
BJS: "As an Irish person, is the 1916 Rising important to you and your sense of identity and sense of belonging on this island?" DMcE:
"I suppose I do hold a slightly different sense of Irish identity to others on this island in that I gained my sense of natural identity through learning. I rejected the identity I was surrounded with growing up and cloaked myself with an identity I felt more confident in expressing morally.  In that sense, one could argue that my identity is manufactured, though Irishness is an identity that belongs to me as much as anyone else on this island. I wasn't raised surrounded by admiration for the ideals of the Rising- conversely, I was exposed to hatred of it within the local community. My Irish identity was partially forged from rejecting this culture of hate, this culture of negativity. In that sense, you could say that my Irish identity is a little independent of traditional Irish nationality. I wasn't raised in a way that glorified the Rising. I wasn't radicalised by outside forces at an early age. I read and read. I gained great friendships with folk my age from West Belfast, who welcomed me in a way that I never felt welcome in many areas of Coleraine, and that partially forged my identity too. I came to my own conclusions that yes, I am a proud Irish person and I am a part of the Irish nation, and the Rising as an event goes hand in hand with that."

BJS: "As an Irish person, is the Somme offensive important to you and your sense of identity and sense of belonging on this island?" DMcE:
"I can't say so, no. I understand that it does for a lot of people, but not for me personally."
BJS: "Will you be commemorating or celebrating either of these two events in April and July of this year respectively?" DMcE:
"I will be keeping a close eye and following the centenary of the Rising, and how the celebrations are handled. I will watch the main event in Dublin, but will keeping an eye on the news to see that it hopefully passes peacefully in the six counties. I'm currently in Texas, where I don't have many folk to celebrate with! I don't drape myself with the flag anymore, so to speak,  though I will stand proudly alongside it. When I first moved to the US, I spoke strongly and often about my sense of nationhood. I've found that as I grow older, I've perhaps become a lot more chill and ready to just live life. I don't have the fire I had when I was young- when I first read of the grievous injustices against the Irish people. I read every book on local history I could find. I debated a lot. I wanted to create change, I wanted to change people's hearts, particularly within 'my own' community. I still do, but given that I have a very different day-to-day life in the US now, and I tend to look upon what's happening in Ireland from an outside perspective now. Which is in one way very selfish- but it allows me to romanticise and find a special, strongly-forged fondness for my home in a way that I couldn't before I'd moved away. I suppose that's the story for a lot of the diaspora."
BJS: "As a person on (or from) the island are you happy with the where we are now at in terms of culture, cosmopolitanism and broad-mindedness?" DMcE:
"I can't say so 100%, no. With regards to my particular part of the island, I can't say I have a fondness for the culture of hate - I think it is too deeply ingrained and it promotes a culture of ignorance, which detracts from the ideal goals of cooperation, rebuilding and building beyond that. I feel it has stunted growth in a way that has left us lagging behind in comparison to many other places in Europe. Speaking more broadly, I'm also an atheist, and of course lay a lot of the blame on some of the fundamentalist religious institutions that hold sway in Ireland. Particularly the north. I feel they propagate the culture of ignorance. They promote a will to follow blindly and not think for oneself, rather than to lead. In the context of me living elsewhere now, this could possibly read as me being an ignorant armchair fingerwagger- please, be assured it isn't! I love my home, I love my island, I love my people. I love our innate sense of humour and our fondness for a laugh."
BJS: "What are your hopes for the future of this divided province and island?" DMcE:
"It's a cliche, but peace. For everyone to get along, and build, regardless of background- and not just rebuild. Build beyond that. Build to real greatness. Build to our absolute potential. I could speak of a United Ireland, but I feel that will make it's way naturally. I only hope that we will arrive there in the most peaceful means."
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