The North of Ireland is a complicated place – especially in July. Every year makeshift towers of debris, old tires, and wooden pallets reach higher and higher into the sky. They are decorated with sectarian slogans, political effigies, Irish flags (or Ivory Coast ones, since some can’t tell the difference between the two), and serious threats against Catholics, opposing politicians, Irish men and women, minorities, and the gay community. These dangerous displays are what they call culture this time of year and they are a horrifying example of the division that continues to exist in the North.
San Francisco has its faults – many of them in fact. The sky-high living expenses, lack of good public transportation, and rising eviction rates make living anywhere in the Bay Area a tricky, anxiety-inducing endeavor. Sometimes it is really hard to remember that it has its perks too – and one of those is the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Continue reading
Reading headlines from Ireland over the last few weeks was strange because I could have sworn I’d read them before…and I have. Hunger Strike commemorations, anger over parades, riot police protecting interlopers over residents, arson fires at community centers, the birth of new political parties, and spies in the IRA have dominated the media of late. The anger, frustration, and general sense of “what the fxck” that came with it all was a bit stronger in the last couple of weeks than it has been in much of the last few decades. The pictures, headlines, and videos gave me a sense of foreboding and a lingering confusion which kind of felt like I was having a bad flashback. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
Tradition is a word that is thrown about a lot. It’s used as justification for both good and bad deeds of the past and it’s a word that is often trotted out by hate groups throughout the world in an attempt to excuse their continuing and horrifying behavior. The KKK uses it as a recruiting tool. The Orange Order uses it as a weapon for blackmail and destruction. Other groups use it as well. Politicians use it to garner votes. Parents use it to pressure their children. But tradition is an outdated ideal that doesn’t exist anymore on many, many levels and it’s time to let some of it go.
I arrived in Derry during a downpour, even though the sun was still peeking through the gathering storm clouds. By the end of the trip, I felt like the weather was a perfect metaphor for the city itself. Derry is rare. It is dark, but light pierces through it. It is grey but full of color. It is gathering and ready, but still and waiting. It is tragic and beautiful. Derry is a very special place.
My trip to Derry can’t be put into one post. There’s just too much to the city to compress it into one little tale and it is too special to me. It started when I bought a ticket to ‘Derry’ and the bus driver said he didn’t know where that was, but that he’d be happy to drive me to ‘Londonderry.’ This city is a complicated place, full of pride and controversy. Unlike it’s neighbors in the north, it has no towering, man-made “peace” walls, but it remains segregated and even its name is still hotly contested, as I learned that day. Its Loyalist population feels like its culture is under attack and being stripped away, just as they do in other parts of the region. This post is about their side of the river Foyle, in the town that many of them still call Londonderry.
While we’re on the subject of racism, sectarianism, and discrimination, here’s another tale of Anti-Irish (and Anti-Catholic) riots…not in Belfast but from right here in the United States. Back in 1844, the Protestant extremists were called Nativists, despite the fact that they were descended from immigrants and were not natives in any way. Ignoring that truth entirely, they felt that they were the established rulers of the area and were not pleased with the influx of Irish coming into the States. They began a large scale propaganda war promoting discrimination against the Irish and set out to spread their sectarian platform against Catholicism. By the time the Nativists in Philadelphia were done venting their anger, there had been riots for months, a lot of Catholic churches and businesses had been torched, over 200 people had fled their homes, and fifteen people were dead. Over fifty more people were injured by the end of the fight.
I already posted a pretty lengthy opinion on the Orange Order parades so I won’t rehash it now. However, the planned “graduated protests” and the threats of real violence from Protestant leaders prove again that these people have failed to lead at all. If you ‘cannot guarantee’ that your own parades will be peaceful and you are in fact promising that they won’t, what right to you have to call yourself a leader? A sane party host would take responsibility for their guests and cancel the party themselves if things were sure to get out of hand. They would not be falsely ringing their hands, shrugging their shoulders and standing by while their home got destroyed. Leaders who cannot lead should be fired from their jobs no matter which side they adhere to.
And then there’s this.
These disgusting crimes put the question of “heritage and tradition” to rest, unless tradition has always been hate-filled supremacy and heritage has always been power over and at the extent of someone else. It is time to put an end to these truly vile events. It’s time to call it what it is – which in these cases, is a celebration of sectarianism, hatred and entitlement.
And please, if you are reading this from the North, do the right thing. Put pressure on the authorities to charge these things as the hate crimes that they are but for the next 48 hours, try to take the high road. Whether you are marching, protesting, or protecting yourselves, try to stay peaceful no matter what and keep each other safe. Respect should be granted to all humans, regardless of which side of the divide you stand on. I hope everyone and everything (except the hateful bonfires) are still standing on the 13th, as unlikely as that seems to be. My thoughts are with you from across the puddle.
Everyone likes a parade. I get it. They’re all pomp and circumstance – people showing off their heritage, their music, their flags. There are parades worldwide for what seems like every single little excuse that anyone can find. Some are big, some are small, some are downright silly, and some threaten a fragile balance.
The marching season in the North of Ireland falls into the last category. July 12th is a day that roughly half of the population celebrates the victory of William of Orange (a Dutch King, by the way) over the English King James II. It’s a huge holiday which is steeped in irony, when you think about it. This is a bunch of people who violently insist on being considered British that take to the streets to celebrate a Dutch victory over their own historical ruler. Label that one for storage in the “Things that make you go hmmmm” file.
The truth is, they are really celebrating the defeat of Catholicism. James II was a Catholic and when the Dutch king defeated him, Protestants were granted great wealth and positions of power. It opened the door for instant change – one that Protestants in the area have enjoyed for centuries.