I got my first dose of Irish history when I was teaching at Loxton High school in about 1962. Sean Campbell, a senior public servant from Belfast, came to the school to teach commercial studies, suddenly. He and I shared a boarding house. He was pretending to be on the run from the Royal Ulster Constabulary – it wasn’t he that was on the run, but rather, a delinquent son, but Sean had fled to Australia to make the police and Interpol think that it was he and not his son who owned a cache of hand grenades hidden in his attic.
It was then that I learned about Oliver Cromwell. Sean told me that when Cromwell led the Parliamentary army from England to ravage Ireland he told the Irish to go to “Hell or Connemara.” The Irish went there from their rich lands in central Ireland to the barren rocks of the West Coast. The way Sean told it, it could have happened yesterday and formed the basis for most of the political ills in Ireland for the next 300 years. It wasn’t that simple – nothing really is – but it’s still not a good idea to mention Oliver Cromwell in an Irish pub.