MANY of the Irish have for years shrugged off the terrorism of the Irish Republican Army - either in resignation or tacit acceptance. But the brutal deaths by IRA bombing of two young British boys near Liverpool on March 20 awakened popular Irish sentiment against such tactics. Some 20,000 protesters marched in Dublin on Sunday; last week thousands paid tribute to the boys through gifts and signing a condolence book in Dublin's General Post Office, a symbolic site since the IRA rose up against Britain th ere in 1916.
It is hard to pin down just what alters historical tides. But we have to feel that, in time, conscience and common humanity do their work - and often, ordinary people lead the way. In this case, one must note the extraordinary number of Irish women and mothers in Sunday's protest against the IRA's bloodletting. The rally was organized by a Dublin housewife - she insists on being called that - named Susan McHugh. It is no coincidence that the outcry came when the public discovered that the youngest Britis h boy killed was out shopping for a Mother's Day present.
The power of such protest is that it tells the world of a different Ireland, perhaps the real Ireland. Certainly the British people can be heartened by this show of solidarity. Such protest can lead to a popular mandate for reconciliation. In Northern Ireland, Sein Finn, the political wing of the IRA, lost its only seat in parliamentary elections last November.
Of course, countervailing winds are strong. The IRA uniformly scorns Sunday's protest as merely playing on sentiments and an attack on republicans - when they argue the real problem is with the British.
Moreover, every time unionist forces in the north kill Roman Catholics in retribution - or what they think will be retribution - as happened last week, the senseless game is perpetuated.
It needn't be so. Sunday's demonstration is a sign that many in Ireland are tired of the violence. They are saying, as did Susan McHugh, "enough is enough."