Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Life's Meant to Begin Afresh at Forty

The Times carries an article today looking back over the 40 years since the Troubles, which was the phase Northern Ireland entered in this week in 1969. The battle of the Bogside had occurred in the area just below the City walls in August, so the Times is looking at a tale of a city (and of course a nation) divided. The tale of the divides of Northern Ireland's northern city is often visually displayed more easily than Belfast because if the course of the River Foyle, but from my personal experience of the last 40 years that is only part of the story.

Northern Ireland's second city used to be known to all and sundry by the shortened version Derry. The football team, which is unique in having won the Irish League (Northern) and League of Ireland (Republic) titles is called Derry City. It was the team my father grew up supporting taking the short walk to their ground without having to cross the Foyle. But one side of the conflict objected to the word London incorporated in the official title by the Guilds men who traded with and from the capital of England. So the other side became more precious about the name (at least in public). Local DJ Gerry Anderson came up with the comedic solution of calling the place Stroke City (short for Londonderry/Derry City).

The city already was somewhat divided even when the troubles started. The western shore of the Foyle the Cityside was largely, though not exclusively Catholic. Across the bridges was where the Protestants had expanded the city into new builds, and the Waterside was to become a safe haven for them. Indeed names were important and woe betide the unfortunate given a name that was even remotely associated too heavily with one side. Trust me trying to point out that Patrick brought Christianity not Catholicism to all Ireland doesn't help.

However, at some point in the 1910s my Grandmother's family had moved in from the countryside into a two up two down terrace in the Fountain area of the City. It's just to the south of the city walls and there she was to remain until she could no longer live in the house by herself in her late 80s. Now it's the remaining protestant enclave on the Cityside of the city. It is the other side of the walled city from the infamous Bogside area, just up the hill from the hands across the divide statue. The conditions in the 1960s weren't much better on this side. Even in the 1990s a trip to the toilet in my Grandmother's house involved going out into the yard.

The City truly was divided quite sharply a walk along the walls over the Bogside leads from my Father's and Grandparents' church First Derry past his first first primary school to the Apprentice Boys Hall. All of which are right there on the wall. The Church was so often a target for petrol bombs it was constantly boarded up and the stained glass lost all its lustre. For me I know the divides, I've walked along those boundary lines demarcating territory. I also know that there are more similarities that many people want to let on.

It is sad that on this the 40th anniversary, slightly longer than I've been alive, that the Real IRA are using violence and terror once more. As Patrick Kealty said the other day on the Michael McIntyre roadshow from Belfast "It's hard to explain that the Real IRA aren't the 'real' IRA. The Real IRA are doing the new bombing but the 'real' IRA are in Government."

With the discovery of a massive 600 pound discovered yesterday for which the Real IRA are the chief suspects its a shame. They say life is supposed to begin at forty, it's not meant to repeat itself. For those of my generation from Northern Ireland that is all we would hope for as our fortieth birthdays come and go. We like the new era of co-operation, we want it to stay for our children. We've seen a peace, given it a chance and want it to continue.

1 comment:

Jess The Dog said...

Reason they are making big bombs is that they can't make little ones with the same bang in their garden-shed workshops. We should be grateful for small mercies!

My in-laws are from "over there" and it has changed in all recognition since I first visited in the early 1990s. However, the undercurrents are beneath the surface and it is a delicate balancing act for all the Assembly politicians who have (overall)acquitted themselves well over the last few years.


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