Friday, July 9, 2010

Troubled Northern Ireland

By Chuck

We called Martin McCrossen, a tour guide recommended by Rick Steves. He was great. When I told him we had a camper and there are no campgrounds to be found, he told me we could come to the "set down point" for coaches and park all day. It's next to the Tourist Information Center so all we had to do was program Susan and she took us right to the door. We have found that this works very well when we are entering a new city. Because there is a lack of campgrounds, we will only spend the day here, moving on about an hour south.

"The town of Derry (or Londonderry to Unionists)is the mecca of Ulster Unionism. When Ireland was being divvied up, the Foyle River was the logical border between ther North and the Republic. But, for sentimental and economic reasons, the North kept Derry, which is on the Republic's side of the river. Consequently, this predominantly Catholic city has been much contested throughout the Troubles." Rick Steves

We fell across Martin McCrossan's sixty minute Derry tours in our copy of Rick Steves' Ireland. That sounded about right to us. There is no camping convenient to the city; so we planned this as a stop along the way between Bushmills and our stop in County Donegal on the way to Galway. We called for reservations and to explain that we were concerned about parking for Homer, but Martin told us how to use the coach (bus) setdown point to secure parking for the day.

We arrived one hour early; in order to be sure we found our location before the tour began, we left a large time buffer. But, silly us, we neglected to clarify whether the tour began at the parking spot. It did not. At 10:03am, we called, frantically, to see if we were supposed to be elsewhere. We were! Racing to the present location of the tour, which had just gotten underway, we caught up with John, our guide, and the rest of his small group. He brought us quickly up to date as we walked to the next location.

Derry has had several names over the centuries, all related. The Irish called it ‘daire’ the oak grove; the oak is still the symbol of Derry. Originally called Daire Calgach, it may have been the fortress of a fierce warrior in pre-Christian times. In the 12th century, the settlement was known as Doire Cholmcille, in honor of St. Colm Cille (Columba). The prefix ‘London’ was added in 1613 to acknowledge the support of City of London Companies who invested in the city.

We walked along the formidable wall of this old city. It provided a vantage point to see the historic sites and had its own impressive history. This wall has been under siege 3 times, but has never been breached. The longest siege was 105 days, ending in 1689.

Siege Memorial and Mass Grave

There is a story associated with the siege that concerns the Apprentice Boys. These 13 orphaned lads from London congealed wavering thought on whether or not to admit the advancing Catholic army to the city by slamming shut the gate to Derry. This began a long history by Protestants of refusal to give in.

No Surrender. The red, white and blue marks painted on the sidewalk indicate that this is a Protestant neighborhood.

The tour largely focused on the Troubles between Unionists (Protestants) and Nationalists (Catholics). The outbreak of violence in the 1970’s followed a period of peaceful demonstrations modeled after Martin Luther King’s non-violent protests in the American South. The anti-discrimination aims in Northern Ireland were for better housing, voting rights and jobs. [Voting was tied to home ownership and poor Catholics rarely had the means to own property.

Bloody Sunday, January 30, 1972, marked the culmination of escalating violence—14 persons died as a direct result of British troops firing upon the assembled crowd. The Catholics were, as usual, throwing rocks and bottles. It is disputed whether the troops fired proactively or in response to a shot from the demonstrators. There have been two commissions charged with finding out the facts. The first is generally acknowledged as a whitewash. The second, completed in June, 2010, resulted in an apology. Prime Minister David Cameron told the House of Commons the conclusions were “shocking” and that he was “deeply sorry.” The Army’s actions were “unjustified and unjustifiable.”

At the end of the formal tour, we went on our own Bogside tour of the murals concerning the Troubles.

This mural is called The Death of Innocence. It portrays Annette McGavigan who was the 100th victim of the Troubles and one of the first children to die; she was shot by a British soldier as she went grocery shopping and was killed in the crossfire between the IRA and the Government. The butterfly was originally painted in drab hues; the painter said he would color it brightly when peace finally came; a few years ago, he brightened up the butterfly.

Peace and Equality--The Dove and the Colored Squares

These men wanted to wear civilian clothes as political prisoners were allowed; they refused to wear the prison garb they were assigned. Instead, they wore blankets.

Petrol Bomber

Bernadette Devlin

Memorial to those who were imprisoned without trial or who died fighting against oppression and for a United Ireland.

The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, publicly apologized in June, 2010, for what many consider the most egregious of acts during this period—the internment of prisoners. This policy permitted the British to imprison suspects indefinitely, without the need of supporting evidence or a trial. By 1980, one third of the buildings within the walls of the city had been damaged or destroyed as a result of the Troubles. Things were so bad at the time that one of the jokes from that period is about an Irish widow, Maggie, who heard a loud noise from inside her house; she rushed to the door and stuck her head out asking her neighbor, Pat, “What was that?” “Ah, Maggie, it is but another bomb.” “Oh, Thank God,” said Maggie; “I thought it was thunder.”

Some of the historically important marches and related confrontations continue to this day, in muted form. These days there is discussion between the parties regarding the timing and particulars of some of the marches, to minimize the sources of conflict. The joke around here is that there are 5 seasons: January, February and March, March, March. The bonfire to commemorate the Battle of the Boyne is due to take place next Monday, July 12. This 1690 battle was where Catholic James II was defeated by the Protestant King William of Orange. From this point forward, orange was the color of pro-English, pro-Protestant supporters.

Bonfire Preparations

I must say that I was choked up several times during the tour as John recounted the many troubles of this small part of Ireland from the 17th century to the near past. I concur, wholeheartedly, with his hope that the Troubles are forever a thing of the past. One encouraging sign in this direction is that about 10 percent of the school age children are religiously integrated now, and the number is rising.

Designed by local teacher Maurice Harron after the fall of the Iron Curtain, this metal sculpture was inspired by the growing hope for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

Hands Across The Divide

City Wall--canon and flowers

An interesting footnote from WWII: The German U-boat fleet commander, at the end of the war, gave the order for all the submarines to surface and make their way to Derry to surrender. Derry had been a major port during the war and was host to Brits, Canadians and Yanks. Unfortunately, all were sunk or used for target practice. None remain for historical purposes.

One funny story told by our tour guide was about the Americans. They brought something crucially important to the war: Silk stockings. One Yank and they were off.

The Neo-Gothic Guild Hall is the ceremonial seat of city government. It was destroyed by fire in 1913, bombed by the IRA in 1972. It has impressive, expressive stained glass windows throughout the building.

Guild Hall

It is possible that the author of “Amazing Grace” received inspiration from St. Columb’s Cathedral, the first post-Reformation cathedral in the British Isles. Having narrowly escaped a shipwreck in an Atlantic storm in 1748, Captain John Newton repented his former life as a slave trader; after the ship put into Foyle for repair, a bullet accidentally went through his hair while he was with a shooting party. This second near-death experience convinced him that God was on his side. He prayed twice a day in the Cathedral until his ship was ready to sail again. [There is a movie, Amazing Grace, that tells the story of the man who worked to end slavery in Britain.]

Derry today, a nice city to visit

A city fit for war and merchandise...for ever a free, entire and perfect city and county of itself, to be called the City and County of Derrie. ~ Charter from James I, 1604


Karin said...

WHOA! My mind is going a mile a minute! BIG issues! When I saw your picture of the curb with red, white and blue I wondered you did not show the towns with orange and green curbs? When Michael and I visited N. Ireland, we fully enjoyed Bushmills, Giant's Causeway, etc., but we were not comfortable driving through the towns. I had to wonder if this is what they called "Peace" efforts? At least you knew what the town was: Catholic or Protestant. This was 12 years ago.

Having lived in the Republic for 7 years we got a good "earful" of The Troubles. We were warned to not comment on them as we were outsiders to it and would never understand it. Good advice. Learn, sympathize, keep quiet.

If you listen to the English, it was the Irish that made their own problems, if you listen to the Irish it was the English domination. Whatever. It bugs me no end that they still have the Battle of the Boyne march which goes through Catholic neighborhoods.

The buildings and houses with the murals you saw also disturbs me. Some are so violent. Good artwork, though! Oh, don't get me started! :-)

I have vented here, which sort of surprises me. I hope I have not offended anyone...if so, I apologize.

Let me say one more thing. In the Republic, there is a DEFINITE division between Catholics and Protestants. Even families who intermarry find themselves divided. Grandparents who do not see their grandkids, or sons and daughters because they married outside "their" religion. And my stories don't end there, but I won't go on as this is not an appropriate place to do so.

In spite of it all, I still LOVE Ireland. So, enjoy the scenary, it is mind boggleing!!

Karin on Paros

Elle in Umbria said...

Yes. I, too, experienced that sadness in my gut upon reading of the Troubles, which if I read-you-right, are probably permanently abated in favor of pacifist methods. Even tho' this post was laced with humor and written with obvious caution,the past sufferings are palpable just below the surface.

As a responsible adult, I do want "full disclosure" & yet weary at the repetitive cruelty of man to fellow man; ur chronicles report that at least in past centuries, we were a species that never seemed to learn.

Nice that the artist brightened the butterfly!

TOO many tourists here in Centro Storico on another Sunday morning... those wide open, rural spaces certainly look appealing to me in crowded Italy. Looking fwd to these last days of news from C & C!

Chuck and Claire said...

Hi Karin,
We felt very neutral about the whole situation since as you were told, we really don't understand it. We walked around the Catholic neighborhood but did not see orange and green curbs. I wonder if I just wasn't paying attention or if they just weren't there. We found the murals disturbing and thought provoking. Thanks for your input.

Pat in Santa Cruz said...

I was glad to see your new posts and know that you are safe. After reading "Troubled Northern Ireland" there was a CNN headline about a roadside bomb in Northern Ireland. I checked a couple of maps and I don't think you were too close by...I don't understand all of this either, but looks like it's here to stay.

Chuck and Claire said...

We're safe. Never even heard about the roadside bomb. Sad to hear though. We really liked Derry.