The firebrand man of peace

THE EXTRAORDINARY tributes to Dr Ian Paisley are even more extraordinary when set against the backdrop of the Troubles – and how this firebrand politician became Northern Ireland’s ultimate peacemaker during his twilight years.

It was simply unthinkable, during decades of seemingly never-ending sectarian violence and bloodshed, that Dr Paisley would forge a political alliance with Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuinness, his long-time sworn enemy, and deliver peace to the province.

Even more remarkable was the magnanimity shown by Mr McGuinness who issued a very moving – and personal – tribute to this most fiery and bellicose of Unionist leaders who once said that he would “never sit down with bloodthirsty monsters who have been killing and terrifying my people”.

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Perhaps it was the one and only occasion in Dr Paisley’s life when his use of the word ‘never’ did require the slightest of qualifications. This is because he came to the courageous conclusion that it would be preferable to give peace a chance – he and Mr McGuinness became known as the ‘Chuckle Brothers’ when they ran Stormont – rather than going down in history as the man whose obstinacy played into the hands of those terrorists and bigots who caused so much misery to so many.

Of course, Dr Paisley’s passing will divide opinion. Some will say his hard-line views and cries of ‘No surrender’ prolonged the Troubles. Others will contend that it was stubbornness that ultimately forced IRA/Sinn Fein to embrace the democratic will of the people.

Either way, it is important that the historic alliance between Dr Paisley’s party and Sinn Fein does not come to a halt because of their current disagreements.

Having overcome so much enmity and come so far, turning the clock back is not an option.

Yorkshire are county champions

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IF THE sporting adage that a strong Yorkshire equates to a strong England continues to hold true, the future of cricket in this country is in safe hands. It is a prediction that can be made with confidence after Yorkshire – this country’s most famous institution – won this year’s County Championship in scintillating style.

Unlike those sides that have become over-dependent on overseas cricketers, this title – Yorkshire’s first since 2001 – was one for the purists because of the sheer number of home-grown players who have been given the chance to shine by the Headingley hierarchy.

This has been the ultimate team triumph from start to finish. It was a personal victory for Colin Graves, the benefactor who has invested so much time and money in the club and who made his disquiet very clear three years ago when performances faltered on the pitch. It was a vindication of the management and coaching of Martyn Moxon and the former Australian fast bowler Jason Gillespie (now an honorary Yorkshireman). And it was rich reward for the perseverance of each and every player, exemplified by the euphoria of former Ashes-winning all-rounder Tim Bresnan that this success was the most satisfying of his career.

Another great advertisement for local sport following the success of the region’s Olympians and the successful staging of the Grand Départ, this victory will come to represent a new dawn for domestic cricket at club, county and country level. After all, Yorkshire won the title in spite of two of the club’s best batsmen – Joe Root and Gary Ballance – being on international duty for most of the summer.

A prescription for poignancy

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IN this great year of remembrance, it is remarkable to think that the iconic St James’s Hospital was on the front line 100 years ago when the first battlefield casualties of the Great War arrived back in Leeds.

How times change. While sophisticated air ambulances have helped

to save the lives of countless casualties from the Iraq

and Afghanistan conflicts, the First World War’s wounded had to travel by a primitive hospital train to the long gone Midland Station in the heart of the city.

They were met by the Lord Mayor in his full regalia, and a crowd of 6,000 people, before a makeshift team of stretch-barriers helped carry troops to the newly-created East Leeds Military Hospital on Beckett Street – the current site of Jimmy’s. Such recollections, featured in a new heritage trail, bring added poignancy to the First World War commemorations – and a sense of perspective to everyday frustrations with the National Health Service.