In the civil rights arena, America gets a lot of the press and always has. Many of the worst atrocities and biggest conflicts in the movement happened in the United States, and they continue to happen to this day. Hollywood has made plenty of movies chronicling the American fight for civil rights, including one about the fateful march from Selma in 1965 that raised awareness and inspired equality all over the world, especially in the north of Ireland where another civil rights movement was being born.
Stephen O’Donohoe was a poor law clerk in Dublin. He was a family man with four children who struggled to get ahead but only barely managed to scrape by. Like many, he blamed the English rule in Ireland for his woes. He was one of thousands of men who joined the Fenian Brotherhood, a group dedicated to overthrowing the government and getting the English out of his country.
Thomas Farrell was from Williamstown and was a confectioner by trade. He joined the Fenian Brotherhood as well, and while it’s not clear if these two men knew each other, what is certain is that they are now tied together for all of eternity.
On January 30th, 1972, thirteen innocent people were murdered and twenty-eight were shot during an anti-internment march through the Bogside area of Derry. Another innocent victim died later as a result of his injuries, bringing the total number of fatalities to fourteen. That bleak day became known as Bloody Sunday. At first the soldiers and the English government tried to claim that all who had been shot or killed were armed, dangerous, and/or members of the Irish Republican Army. Witness statements backed up with photographic evidence, forensics, and videos helped disprove their lies but it took nearly forty years and the most expensive inquiry in English history to finally exonerate the victims.
An anonymous teenage girl who would now probably be in her mid-to-late sixties made a quick and pivotal choice on Bloody Sunday that helped set those things in motion and has affected millions of people since. As she and her friends wandered through the aftermath of the Bogside Massacre, a stranger approached them. He quickly explained that authorities had begun searching people nearby and he had some rolls of film he needed to hide. This young girl quickly put the film in her underwear, assuming that her undergarments would not be searched if she were stopped. She was either not stopped or was correct in that assumption because later she met the man, Gilles Peress, at a hotel where she handed over his rolls of film and then promptly vanished. Peress drove straight out of Derry that night with his precious cargo and never saw the blonde girl again.
Ireland has a complicated relationship with religion. Many of its troubles in the last few hundred years are ultimately based in religious conflict and the church has ruled much of the island for centuries. But it wasn’t always so and some of its most-visited and well-known landmarks predate the Christian takeover of the island. Everywhere you go you can see signs of the old ways peeking through the hedges if you are looking for them. Many good Catholics will cross themselves or roll their eyes when they talk about the faeries but they also leave bowls of milk outside to appease them. You’ll still find iron in many doorways, though perhaps the reason it was placed there has been forgotten. As Samhain (more commonly known as Halloween) approaches, seasonal offerings left in fields, forts, tombs, and shrines increase all over Ireland. This time of year may not be the sanest time to go to the gateway to hell, but it certainly is the most appropriate one if you want to meet The Morríghan and her dark minions on one of the only nights they can escape the underworld.
“Everything speaks in its own way” – James Joyce
You know, there have been a thousand posts in my brain for the last week or two. There have been arguments in my head about how to write sensitively and objectively about things that are too close to my heart and in many cases, multiple things have been thrown at various screens. There are so many political nightmares both here in the US and in the North of Ireland that as soon as I start on one, it becomes obsolete and the next gets worse and worse…. so I surrender. It is my birthday weekend and instead of banging on the keyboard for another minute, I am heading into the sunshine with a well-worn copy of Ulysses, having a pint or two at my favorite local, and celebrating Bloomsday. I’m making silly Joyce-themed memes out of my photos and stepping away from the upcoming quagmires of doom. It’s time to clear my head for a minute and drop into frivolity for just one second…before parade season really starts and we see just how screwed everyone on both sides of the puddle is this summer.
So happy birthday to me and happy Bloomsday to you. Remember, “Every life is in many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love, but always meeting ourselves.”
The Irish Hunger Memorial stands on the edge of the Hudson River in New York City. It commemorates the journey that many thousands of Irish men, women, and children made to America while fleeing An Gorta Mór – Ireland’s Great Hunger. It is a stunning site that has seen its fair share of controversy and closures, but there’s finally some good news for New York’s little piece of Ireland.
On this day in 2013 Margaret Thatcher died. I can’t very well write about Irish history without acknowledging her passage, so there it is. I always try to write passionate and fair pieces and I choose my subjects with that in mind which is why I will skip anything more about her at this time. Perhaps there will come a day when I can actually write about her without getting angry, biased, and opinionated, but today is not that day so I’ll let these photos I’ve snapped throughout the North of Ireland speak for me. They’re worth at least a thousand words anyway.
“Our revenge will be the laughter of our children” – Bobby Sands
Last year on International Women’s Day I was in Derry, exploring the murals that were off the beaten path. I found many honoring the women of the area – including one that was painted in honor of International Women’s day itself. I find that looking through my pictures of them now is just as inspiring as it was then, and I think sharing my favorites on both sides of the puddle is especially powerful on today of all days.
Josephine McGowan was one of the many women who participated in Ireland’s struggle for freedom. She was a member of the Inghinidhe na hEireann branch of Cumann na mBan and was stationed at the Marrowbone Lane garrison during the 1916 Easter Rising. She was one of twenty-five women who reported for duty and according to one witness statement, Marrowbone seemed to have more women than men at the beginning of the fight. Some of the women vanished throughout the week but Josephine stayed until the very end.
Annette McGavigan was only eleven years old when the Troubles erupted in the North of Ireland. Her home was in Derry, one of the major flashpoints of the Troubles and a stronghold of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. She and the other children of the area witnessed more conflict than any child should within those first few years. She would have seen the British Army rolling into her city, bringing CS gas, rubber bullets, violence and protest with them. Riot after riot broke out and civil rights marches, anti-internment protests, and anti-police incidents were frequent and violent. These things probably became rather commonplace over the next few years for Annette and the other children who were growing up in areas like Creggan, Little Diamond, and the Bogside.
On Sept. 6th, 1971, when Annette was only fourteen, Catholic schools were closed in Derry. Teachers were taking part in a week-long anti-internment program. This left the schoolchildren with free time. Some joined the protests and riots and others stayed in. Once a small riot had ended on the edge of the Bogside, Annette and her friends went out to collect the leftovers of the violence. Children regularly gathered rubber bullets, gas canisters and more after each riot in Derry and this day off from school gave Annette the perfect opportunity to hunt for these dangerous souvenirs. As the young girl in a school uniform picked up an empty cartridge, a shot rang out. She likely never knew what hit her.