Irish-American Website keeps memory of Loyalist victim alive
An Irish-American who has created an internet site in memory of loyalist murder victim Ciaran Cummings says the latest killing by the UDA underlines the importance of alerting the US public to ‘hate crimes’ here.
Michael Thompson had never met Ciaran Cummings — gunned down by loyalists in Antrim on 4 July 2001, American Independence Day — and has never in fact even been to Ireland before. However, deeply proud of his Irish roots, he has always kept himself informed about the North.
"At Requiem Mass for Ciaran, Bishop Patrick Walsh said Ciaran would likely become a statistic and soon no-one outside his family and close associates would remember his life or recognise his name," explains Michael Thompson. "My site is dedicated to preventing that from happening."
Colorado native Michael says that the fact that Ciaran could be murdered because of his religion made a deep impression on him.
"Somehow, Ciaran's death became symbolic of all that's wrong in the North of Ireland," he said. "As I read about his life and his death and his funeral, it was more than just a thorny political question. It was like facing hate and evil in a very concrete sort of way
and wondering what our world has come to that such a thing could happen.
"I really wanted to prevent Bishop Walsh's prediction from coming true, that Ciaran, like so many others, would just be a statistic.
Josef Stalin reportedly said, 'One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic’.' Stalin killed millions and today I don't know anybody who could name one of them.
“But in Ciaran, I found a name and a face for the victims in Ireland.
“There are others, but for me, Ciaran is the symbolic one, the innocent who stands in their place and must be remembered on their behalf."
And Michael says he's baffled by the excuses trotted out by loyalist paramilitaries to justify their actions.
"How they can murder Daniel McColgan, Gerard Lawlor and Ciaran Cummings, and throw pipe bombs at Catholic homes and terrorise young girls going to school, and then still try to blame the troubles on republicanism is beyond me," he said. "The hypocrisy of their position is truly epic in proportions, and Ciaran became for me the focal point of it all, when we Americans were celebrating our independence on 4 July, 2001, and Ciaran's friends and family were learning of the horror than happened in Antrim town."
The Irish-American activist equates Ciaran's killers with the Al-Quaida terrorists who struck the US on September 11 last. "The hijackers who killed over three thousand Americans have the same unreasoning hatred of another people, based completely on ignorance and bigotry, with no basis in fact.
“It resembles the situation in Northern Ireland way too much, where Protestants hate Catholics despite the fact that both religions have nearly identical teachings, and where loyalists hate republicans, even though the real people on both sides — not the politicians — want to live in peace and harmony."
Michael Thompson has also composed a ballad in honour of Ciaran which can be accessed on the site.
“I actually wrote the song only a few days after the event itself.
“When I saw the first news report, I knew I would need to write a song to express what I felt, even though I rarely write songs. I am a folk musician, and my friends and I gather to sing the songs of Ireland that commemorate Kevin Barry or John Kelly or Red Hugh O'Donnell.
“I wanted to be part of that tradition, knowing that Ciaran's death meant as much as those mentioned in these older songs, and realising that a song would help people remember in a way that a dry reading of history could not.
“I’d be delighted if musicians were to take up the song and ensure it was sung anywhere in the world where Irish people gather to sing and make music."
Keeping Ciaran's memory alive is a labour of love for Michael. "My main aim is to educate. I sincerely want people to know what happened to Ciaran, and how it exemplifies the problems and difficulties faced by people in Northern Ireland every day.
“And I want to make sure we never forget, that he never fades from memory. I'd like this site to be a constant reminder of what's wrong, so that even if we manage to right the situation, we are vigilant to prevent it from happening again."