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DUBLIN — The biggest fireworks display ever seen in Europe began St. Patrick’s Festival on Saturday. It was more than impressive as thousands gathered to watch the display along the River Liffey.

The celebration continues with concerts of Irish music and dance, a street theater carnival, sports events, parades, and various exhibitions. The one part of the celebration that is not yet possible is a celebration of peace in Northern Ireland.

The theme of the festival is “Saints and Scholars,” and will conclude with a concert broadcast worldwide on March 17th. The show is billed as “a galaxy of national and international stars in what promises to be the music event of the Millennium.”

Ireland’s literary tradition goes back to the fifth century when monks wrote simple Gaelic lyrics about nature in the margins of manuscripts they were copying in Latin.

A museum dedicated to Irish author James Joyce is located in an old tower fortress on the coast south of Dublin. Joyce actually once lived in the tower, and used it as the setting for the opening passages of his classic novel “Ulysses.”

Playwright Samuel Beckett, poet William Butler Yeats, and playwright-philosopher George Bernard Shaw all were recipients of the Nobel Prize for literature — all from Dublin.

Modern writers from Ireland who have laid claim to success include recent Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney, Patricia Scanlan who is Ireland’s version of Danielle Steele, Maeve Binchy, Roddy Doyle who won the Booker Prize in 1993, and many more.

Ireland boasts many fine musicians, including rock group U2, Sinead O’Connor, the Chieftains, and other performers of classical Irish music and dance.

Dublin found its place in music history when the first performance of Handel’s “Messiah” was given in 1742 at the Musick Hall with Handel himself conducting. Because of the demand for space, the men were asked not to wear their swords, and the ladies were asked to not wear hooped skirts.

Tin whistles, fiddles, accordions, Uillean bagpipes, bodhrans (goatskin drums) and other traditional Irish instruments are played throughout Ireland in music sessions in pubs everywhere.

Ireland is also making a substantial impression in filmmaking. Award winning films include “My Left Foot,” which won two Oscars, “The Commitments,” “The Playboys,” “The Crying Game,” which earned six Oscar nominations, “Into the West,” “Widows’ Peak,” and “Roan Inis.”

My personal favorite is a made-for-TV film featuring music from the Chieftains called “Three Wishes for Jamie.” To get a good picture of life in an Irish rural town, go see “Waking Ned Devine” before it leaves the theaters.

Interestingly, among those who signed the Declaration of Independence, four were Irish born and nine had Irish ancestors. The U.S. White House was designed by James Hoban, who modeled it after Leinster House in Dublin.

Irishman John Dunlap founded the first daily newspaper in America, known as The Pennsylvania Packet. Dunlap was also the printer used for distribution of the Declaration of Independence.

The university town of Berkeley, California was named after one of the great pioneers of American education, Bishop George Berkeley, and Irishman.

Despite all these notable contributions to the world, Ireland remains one of the violent hot spots of unrest, and most of the world does not understand what lies at the heart of it — civil rights.

Northern Ireland was formed after the Irish war with England for independence in 1921. Despite agreements to the contrary, the six counties of the north were retained under the control of England, and Ireland failed to offer resistance.

Inspired by Martin Luther King, Irish college students conducted a march for civil rights in 1969. Their requests were not difficult to understand. The Irish were discriminated against by the English. They lacked education opportunities, jobs, property ownership, and political representation.

The students were met by loyalists who beat them with wooden clubs spiked with nails. The English soldiers just stood by and watched. The result was the renewal of the Irish Republican Army, which had fought for independence in 1921.

The “Nationalists” have been labeled by the English and the press as extremists and radical terrorists. In the effort to bring peace to the troubled north, politicians have done everything but solve the source of the problem that caused the violence in the first place.

Now, President Bill Clinton is calling on the Irish Republican Army to turn in their weapons as a requirement to further peace negotiations. IRA leaders I spoke with over the weekend said Clinton knows that can never happen, and he is jeopardizing to future of peace in Ireland.

This land of saints and scholars is also a land of lost lives, because of the attitudes of superiority and repression by those who would rule by oppression. No matter what agreement is reached, there will never be peace in Northern Ireland until the Irish are treated with the fairness they have so long been denied.

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