Sheena Fagan Campbell was an activist, a law student, and a rising star in the Sinn Fein hierarchy. She was a single mother in Belfast who was determined to provide for her young child and at the time of her murder, she was engaged to be married. Sheena stayed on the legal, political side of the Troubles and was not a member of the Irish Republican Army but she did know many who were. The young law students’ growing popularity in Republican circles brought her to the attention of the police, the British Army and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a deadly Loyalist paramilitary group. The UVF insisted that Campbell was a member of the IRA and on this day in 1992, they executed her very publicly in a hotel bar in Belfast.
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.
On this day in 1974, Dublin City Center was devastated by three large bombs that went off without warning in the span of about 90 seconds. They exploded in the middle of rush hour during a public transportation strike which had left more people in the area than usual. Injuries and casualties were astronomical. When a similar bomb exploded without warning in the city of Monaghan ninety minutes later, the incident became the worst and largest loss of life in Ireland’s more recent troubled history. The explosions injured nearly three hundred people and killed thirty-three civilians in all and forty-three years later, despite multiple investigations, reports, and a mountain of evidence, no one has ever been charged or prosecuted for these attacks.
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.
Voices from the Grave is the topic of the day, or rather another result of its existence is. The bestselling book made headlines when it was published and not just because it was a gripping, page turner. It made headlines because almost as soon as it was published, it sparked off terrible controversy, a multitude of investigations, and court battles that continue to this day. In fact, now there’s a whole new chapter.
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. When I bought a ticket to ‘Derry’ the bus driver said he didn’t know where that was, but he’d be happy to drive me to Londonderry. It’s a complicated place, this city, full of pride and controversy. Unlike it’s neighbors in the north, it has no towering, man-made “peace” walls, but it remains segregated like many other cities and even its name is still hotly contested. 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.