Archive for the ‘Derry’ Tag

DERRY’S DAY OF RESURRECTION: UK CITY OF CULTURE, 2013   1 comment

It’s been a long Good Friday, not just in Northern Ireland, so can the UK City of Culture, 2013, help us turn Bloody Sunday into a Day of Resurrection? In ‘Derry Days (Extracts from a Diary)’, Myra Dryden muses on Sunday routines:

Why do I hate Sundays so much? I think if I were in a coma for thirty years and woke up on a Sunday I would instinctively know what day of the week it was…

 

….there’s a wealth of material in this twenty-four hours of misery for any writer worth her salt. I mean, right at this minute, I am contemplating a play on the subject. I’ve got the title ready and waiting, ‘SUNDAY BORING SUNDAY’, and I’m directing it at Radio Foyle. It’s about an old man, living alone in a council flat. Everybody I know is in it (and a couple I don’t), and they all decide to visit on the same Sunday afternoon, each thinking he or she will be the only one there…the pensioner can’t wait to get back to his old boring Sunday routine by the end of the play… I’ll never understand why the Boomtown Rats hate Monday so much.’

(Published in Borderlines: A Collection of New Writing from the North-West, edited by Sam Burnside, 1988.)

Bob Geldof in 1991.

Bob Geldof in 1991. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Myra Dryden was born in Derry and went to live in Singapore, England and Cork for eighteen years, before returning to Derry, with her family, to run her own business and study at Magee College. Perhaps someone should have told her, on her return, that it wasn’t the Irish punk group who hated Mondays, but a senseless teenage killer, one of the first of many to open fire on US schoolchildren. She can be forgiven for not knowing this if she was in Singapore at the time the record was released, as it was banned from most US radio stations, despite its popularity on the other side of the North Atlantic. According to Bob Geldof, he wrote the song in 1979, after reading about the shooting spree of 16-year-old  Brenda Ann Spencer, who fired at children in the playground of Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego, California on 29 January 1979, killing two adults and injuring eight children and one police officer. Spencer showed no remorse for her crime and her full explanation for her actions was “I don’t like Mondays: This livens up the day”.The song was first performed less than a month later. Geldof explained how he wrote the song in Atlanta, where he was doing a radio show. He had just heard about the shooting and was on the way back to the hotel when he thought of the brilliant line, ‘the silicon chip inside her head had switched to overload’.  The journalists interviewing her said, ‘Tell me why?’ because it was such a senseless act and this was the perfect senseless reason for doing it. So Geldof wrote the perfect senseless song to illustrate it, not as an attempt to exploit tragedy. The other famous line, ‘the lesson today is how to die’ was later applied (by him) to the situation in Ethiopia during the Live Aid concert, but it could equally well be applied to Bloody Sunday and the bombings in Belfast and Birmingham, as well as to the more recent school shootings in the US. All have been senseless deaths of children and young people.

Bloody Sunday mural in Derry on Free Derry Corner

Bloody Sunday mural in Derry on Free Derry Corner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For those who don’t remember or don’t know about the events of ‘Bloody Sunday’, 30th January 1972, it followed on from the sending in of British troops in 1969 to protect the Catholic minority from Protestant violence and intimidation. To begin with, the majority of Catholics were welcoming towards the soldiers, but the Irish Republican Army was not. It began to shoot soldiers and policemen, and the Army responded by making intrusive house-to-house searches in Republican areas, locking up suspects without trial. This was called internment, and the Army frequently imprisoned the wrong people. Protest marches were organised by the Civil Rights Association, such as the one which led to ‘Bloody Sunday’. Twenty-six unarmed civil rights protesters were shot by British soldiers in the Bogside area of the City. Thirteen died of their wounds on the day, including seven teenagers, and another man died of his later the same year. Five of those wounded were shot in the back. Two other protesters were run down and injured by Army trucks.

Mural of victim of Bloody Sunday

Mural of victim of Bloody Sunday (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The event is commemorated in U2’s well-known 1983 song, the lyrics of which, while condemning the Army, are not at all supportive of ‘the battle call’ of the IRA:

Broken bottles under children’s feet

Bodies strewn across the dead-end street

But I won’t heed the battle call

Puts my back up

Puts my back up against the wall

 

And the battle’s just begun

There’s many lost, but tell me who has won?

The trench is dug within our hearts

And mothers, children,

Brothers, sisters torn apart.

 

The UDA marching through Belfast's city centre...

The UDA marching through Belfast’s city centre in a massive show of strength, summer 1972 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Thirty years after this song was recorded, perhaps we are all in danger of retreating into our own communal trenches. Last year, forty years after Bloody Sunday, with the sectarian battle(s) seemingly over, and following many investigations and official enquiries, British PM David Cameron finally made a formal apology in Parliament in 2012. At the time, the soldiers from the First Battalion of the Parachute Regiment claimed that they had been fired upon first, and that some of the demonstrators had guns. However, no weapons were ever found at, or near to, the site. On Bloody Friday, 21st July 1972, the ‘Provisional IRA’ placed 22 bombs all over Belfast, in shops and cars on the streets, killing nine people and maiming 130. These were ordinary citizens, not policeman or soldiers, who had been targets in the past. The Ulster Defence Association (UDA) also began a campaign of terror with bombs and bullets, killing many innocent people.

28.01.2007 Derry, Ireland Bloody Sunday 35th y...

28.01.2007 Derry, Ireland Bloody Sunday 35th year’s commemoration. At the end of the march people gather at Free Derry corner where the names of the victims are recalled; on the top of a building members of the bogside republican youth show anti-Sinn Fein signs, calling for a vote in favour of independent candidate Peggy O’Hara. Watch the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_LoJcsO3SxY Part of Occupied Ireland set (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

However, In 1974, the IRA took their campaign a stage further, by placing bombs in pubs in ‘mainland Britain’, killing many innocent teenagers. On 21st November, they placed three bombs in Birmingham. Two were in city centre pubs, and the third outside a bank along one of the main roads into the city, along which I and my friends travelled every Saturday night on our way to ‘Youthquake’ gatherings at St. Philip’s Cathedral.  I remember returning from the city centre, where I had been eating in the Wimpy Bar next to ‘The Tavern in the Town’, where a bomb went off in the underground bar, getting off the bus at the terminus at the top of the avenue in Edgbaston where we lived, some four miles out of the city, and hearing the blast. The bomb which had been placed on our bus route had failed to detonate. After that, almost every Saturday for the next four weeks before Christmas, we were called out of the city-centre department store I worked in, for bomb alerts. Our next-door neighbours were Irish, and I also remember the backlash they and many other faced in the large Birmingham Irish Community, which led to the wrongful conviction and sixteen-year imprisonment of ‘the Birmingham Six’. The twenty-one victims killed in the two explosions, eleven at ‘the Tavern in the Town’ would now be, like me, middle-aged, with grown-up children of their own. Many of the hundreds who survived the blast suffered horrific, life-shattering injuries. Yet the real bombers have never been charged, despite the accusation that the then leadership of the IRA, now ministers in the Stormont Government in Belfast, know who they were. A petition has been started by one of the victim’s family to get the case re-opened, so that they can be brought to justice.

Bloody sunday mural by the bogside artists sho...

Bloody sunday mural by the bogside artists showing Father Daly escorting injured marchers to safety using a white handkerchief. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It took another ten years after the publication of Borderlines and our visit to Northern Ireland from Birmingham for the Agreement to be reached on Good Friday 1998 which ended the fighting in the Province, hopefully for good, though recent events in Belfast show that the sectarian cultural conflict between Unionists and Republicans is still deeply rooted in many communities, despite all the efforts made in the eighties and nineties in ‘Education for Mutual Education’. Through the Christian Education Movement, Religious Education teachers from a variety of schools throughout the West Midlands of England and Northern Ireland came together to exchange resources and produce a pack for use in secondary schools dealing with the themes of ‘Conflict and Reconciliation’.  It was based on the principle that pupils needed to work on their own identities, both as individuals and members of communities, before they could develop the skills to span religious, cultural and ethnic divisions. The pack was published by CEM in 1991, and for a time proved very popular with schools in both ‘regions’. One wonders if, following the Good Friday Agreement, the politicians took over and the real architects of peace were pushed into the background, depriving a new generation of any sense of ownership over the peace process and forcing them back onto the streets to express their identities in limited symbolism and violence.

mural waterside Derry

mural waterside Derry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

Myra Dryden’s ‘Extracts from a Diary’ end with the following entry for a Friday, which reminds me of the irrational trepidation I felt when I saw my first Army patrol on the streets of Londonderry, around the same time as the incident she describes here:

This morning I heard the sound of shooting in Bull Park. I’ve been shaking ever since.

 

Then, the knock. It was somehow undemanding, soft. A badge was waved by way of explanation.

 

“Strand Road.”

 

“Did you hear anything?”

 

“See anything?”

 

(Feel anything)

 

I heard cars back-firing: thirty of them. I saw the frightened faces of children, through spinning bicycle spokes. I felt a volcano erupt inside my head, and splatter over Friday’s ‘Journal’.

 

Aloud I lie.

“Nothing.”

 

Retreating footsteps echo through the frosty night air. Low voices carry over from next door.

 

“Did you hear anything?”

 

“See anything?”

 

(Feel anything)

 

I cool my brow on the vestibule glass.

 

Another Year.

 

Do I feel anything? Nothing that a bottle of Valium and a one-way ticket to Australia wouldn’t cure…

The final verse of U2’s song doesn’t pull any punches about the real solution to ‘the Troubles’. They don’t put their faith in ‘Victory for the IRA’ but in the Resurrection Day Victory of Christ:

Sunday Bloody Sunday

Sunday Bloody Sunday (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The real battle’s just begun

To claim the victory Jesus won

On Sunday, Bloody Sunday.

 

The politicians have claimed their victory, but have the people of Northern Ireland claimed their victory over death? Having learned today’s lesson of how to die, isn’t it time for all societies on both sides of the Atlantic to outlaw the bullets as well as the bombs, and to move on to learn the lesson of how to live securely without them? Good Friday is behind us, but Easter Sunday has yet to dawn. Perhaps Derry/ Londonderry, as the UK City of Culture can show us all, in 2013, how to treasure our traditions without remaining slaves to them.

‘Borderlines’: The Damned Barbed Wire of Freedom   2 comments

033The national and international news has been rather depressing of late, bringing real winter blues after all that jubilation, if not exactly real sunshine, of last summer. However, as a Facebook post ‘card’ reminded me the other day, sometimes you just have to make your own sunshine, whether summer or winter. Mind you, I prefer these cold, crisp, clear Hungarian January mornings to the wild winter winds of the western seaboard or the pervading gloom of ‘foggy Albion’ at this time of year.

This January, following the fortieth anniversary of ‘Bloody Sunday’ a year ago, it was good to receive New Year greetings from Derry, or Londonderry, at the beginning of that city’s year as the ‘UK capital of culture’. This not only balanced out the rather bad news coming out of the ‘backsliding’ big-sister City of Belfast, but also reminded me that this year marks twenty-five years since I visited both cities with a group of students from Birmingham and a colleague who hailed from the shores of Lough Neagh and whose father had been one a ‘B-special’ policeman in the province. We were supposed to have both Catholic and Protestant trainee teachers in our group, but somehow the students from Newman College failed to materialise, much to the disappointment of our hosts at the Corrymeela community, where we were staying and studying peace for the weekend. I know it was June 1988 because I received a copy of a book of poetry written by poets from both sides of the Derry-Donegal border, one of whom, Jerry Tyrrell, signed the book as ‘full-time Peace worker; part-time navigator!’ As the minibus-driver come trainer on the course at Corrymeela, I had met Jerry some months earlier on his visit to Birmingham at the beginning of his time as my ‘opposite’ number on a project at Magee College. I had been running the Quaker Peace Education Project in the West Midlands from a resource centre in the Selly Oak Colleges since May 1987.

Magee College became a campus of the Universit...

Magee College became a campus of the University of Ulster in 1969 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Jerry was born in west London, and went to live in Derry/ Londonderry in 1972, shortly after the events of Bloody Sunday. He worked as Organiser of Holiday Projects West until April 1988, when he took up the role of organiser for the Ulster Peace Education Project.  A registered charity, Holiday Projects West provided cross-community opportunities for young people in the western area of Northern Ireland to meet and live and learn together during organised holidays, work camps and other activities. All proceeds from the slim volume of poetry went towards supporting the charity, a life-long supporter of which had been Jerry’s aunt, Joan Winch, who had died a year earlier, aged eighty. She it was who encouraged Jerry, among many others, to write, having published her own book in 1960, so it was apt that donations in her memory be used to help publish Borderlines: A Collection of New Writing from the North West. Jerry ‘s contributions included a piece of prose and a series of ‘Haikus for Joan Winch’, reminiscent of her love of all things Japanese. The collection of writing was given its title because its contributors came from both sides not just of the border, but also from both banks of the River Foyle, which on its way to the Atlantic Ocean passes through the Derry, assuming a social-political value in symbolising the differences within the City.

 

In his introduction to the volume, Sam Burnside suggests that the borders giving definition to the heart of this collection are neither geographical nor social-political. While many of the stories were ‘embedded in time and place, they are concerned to explore emotional and moral states, and the barriers they articulate are, more often than not, those internal to the individual, and no less detrimental to freedom for that.’ He continues:

If borders indicate actual lines of demarcation between places and between powers, they suggest also the possibility of those barriers being crossed, of change, of development, from one state to another. And a border, while it is the mark which distinguishes and maintains a division, is also the point at which the essence of real or assumed differences are made to reveal themselves; the point at which they may be forced to examine their own natures, for good or ill.’

 A song which has haunted me ever since I first heard it, and long before I first realised it was about Derry, is Phil Coulter’s ‘Town I loved so well’. It sums up the ‘bruised, never broken’ spirit of the City. A native of the from before ‘the Troubles’, Coulter moved away to make his name as a musician, but on his return was horrified to see barbed wire surrounding the wall where he used to play football with his classmates, and by the militarisation of the townscape:

There was music there in the Derry air, 

The Bogside, looking down from the entrance to...

The Bogside, looking down from the entrance to the city walls. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like a language that we could all understand.

I remember the day that I earned my first pay,

When I played in a small pick-up band.

There I spent my youth, and to tell you the truth,

I was sad to leave it all behind me;

For I learned about life, and I found a wife,

In the town I loved so well. 

 

But when I returned, how my eyes did burn

To see how a town could be brought to its knees 

English: Derry Guildhall. Looking over the roo...

English: Derry Guildhall. Looking over the rooftops of the shopping centre towards the 19th century guildhall and the River Foyle. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By the armoured cars and the bombed-out bars, 

And the gas that hangs on to every breeze. 

Now an army’s installed by the old gas-yard wall 

And the damned barbed wire gets higher and higher; 

With their tanks and their guns, oh my God, what have they done 

To the town I loved so well? 

 

 

 

Now the music’s gone, but they carry on, 

English: River Foyle, Derry, County Londonderr...For their spirit’s been bruised, never broken: 

They will not forget, but their hearts are set 

On tomorrow and peace once again. 

For what’s done is done and what’s won is won,

And what’s lost is lost and gone for ever: 

I can only pray for a bright, brand new day, 

In the town I loved so well.

 

Coulter’s thread of faith in the spirit of the people and hope for a future peace, expressed in his prayer, is on which also runs through Burnside’s collection of new writing from a decade later, though it took yet another decade for his prayer to be fully answered. Burnside’s own poem Outside the City makes the clearest connection between these themes and the surrounding landscape. Born in County Antrim, Burnside worked for the Workers’ Education Association in Derry, where he lived. He coordinated the Writers’ Workshop, from which the collection sprang, and won prizes for his short stories and poems. In the poem he gives the reader directions to the hills of County Donegal and interposes the descriptions of the landscape with memories of a lover:

English: Morning on the River Foyle, Derry Cit...

English: Morning on the River Foyle, Derry City centre. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The People farm a little; they fish a little; they have a little dole

From Dublin. The land is poor in places, marshy yes, but there may be oil under it.

And the coastline is rich in wrecks; it is said some contain gold. And tomorrow a deal may be carried off – it all depends on who you know; and the people generally are hopeful.

And it is so peaceful, so restful here; little stress; such a healthy air…

 

 

 

Descend through the wide glen, circumnavigate the standing stone at Asdevlin

Then, before returning to the city,

The River Foyle at night

The River Foyle at night (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Walk along the shore as far as Fahan, place of poets and saints:

On a moonlight night you may be lucky enough to see the Abbey walls, raised again,

Standing white between water and mountain.

On a quiet night, when the tide has retreated, you may be graced

To hear men’s buoyant voices singing devotions.

One of the areas where the RUC were unwelcome ...

One of the areas where the RUC were unwelcome was the Bogside area of Derry often known as Free Derry. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

When I think of Derry now, I remember picking up Jerry and driving over the Foyle Bridge, passing army posts with tall barbed wire and soldiers walking backwards in pairs, automatic rifles and machine guns sweeping the scene. I remember the great mural proclaiming ‘You are now entering Free Derry’ and thinking how glad I was to have this local, albeit a west Londoner, on board. Although ‘the Troubles’ seemed to be coming to an end at this time, I felt real fear for my life, for the first time in my life, and a great burden of responsibility for the young lives of my students. I wondered how people lived, day-to-day, under such militarised conditions. Then came the contrast of the peaceful landscape of Donegal. This taught me, as Frank McGuinness’ preface proposes, that ‘freedom is full of contradictions, arguments, the joy of diversity, the recognition and celebration of differences’. It’s about diversity, not about making everyone the same, equal in indifference. That’s what Northern Ireland taught me.

‘Integrated schools? Yes, they could be part of the answer,’ a Catholic school teacher told me, ‘but our kids first need to feel secure in their own cultural identity before they can learn to appreciate those of others.’ That same autumn emboldened by these experiences and insights, I went beyond the barbed wire for a second time, this time visiting Hungary, at that time still behind the iron curtain. My well-travelled Quaker colleague asked if the sight of heavily armed police at the airport troubled me. Not after my visit to Ulster, I thought!

In October 1989 I found myself crossing a border into the People’s Republic of Hungary for a third time and leaving the Republic of Hungary a week later. One geographical location, the same border, but two very different countries in the transition of time. At least one could make that assumption at that time, as pieces of barbed wire became symbols of freedom. A point of revelation, with no room for turning back. In Ireland, twenty-five years later, the barriers, ‘peace-lines’ and barbed wire are still in evidence, but the symbols are internalised in individuals, rather than entrenched, with the potential to become part of a shared identity. While Belfast may still be troubled, might the capital of culture yet recreate itself as a place of mind, heart and spirit where differences and diversity are affirmed and celebrated? One thing’s for sure, to adapt the poster I bought at Corrymeela and which goes to every new job. We need to be patient with each other. God isn’t finished with any of us yet! If there’s one place in the world that’s proved this true, its Derry/ Londonderry. So good they named it twice!

Corrymeela Community

Corrymeela Community (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Photo of Craigavon bridge over Foyle ...

English: Photo of Craigavon bridge over Foyle river located in Derry. Català: Foto del pont de Craigavon sobre el riu Foyle al seu pas per Derry. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

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