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.
Our lives are full of choices. Every day we face them – some small and trivial and others that change lives. If we’re lucky (or unlucky as the case may be) some even change the course of history – and it is important to acknowledge those choices with the gravitas they deserve. The North of Ireland is about to have one of those game-changing elections and it needs to be carefully considered because the next few decades and any remaining scraps of the Good Friday agreement are just the beginning of what’s at stake.
Peace. It’s an elusive concept to many countries, tribes, and populations. The idea that there will ever be a time without war is a dream. It is one that everyone claims to hope for but in reality, hundreds of thousands of politicians, economists, religious leaders, generals, neighbors, soldiers, and contractors work against the concept every day. A world without war is a type of idealism that can sum up the beliefs of bleeding heart liberals, traumatized veterans, moderate conservatives, and true libertarians alike…but it has no place in this world that we live in today, outside of philosophy and imagination. As Robert Heinlein said, “You can have peace. Or you can have freedom. Don’t ever count on having both at once.”
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 But tradition is an outdated ideal that doesn’t exist anymore on many, many levels and it’s time to let some of it go.
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.
My body is rebelling against being thrown back into the States and I caught a vicious cold on the flight back from Ireland. This cold, on top of the jet lag, culture shock, and come down after such a mind-blowing holiday has left me quite speechless. I have a lot of catching up to do for sure and a lot of processing to do as well.
“Londonderry or Derry?,” asked a friend of mine when he was off to the North of Ireland. It’s an age old question and I found myself a little stuck when it came to answering. “That depends” seemed to be the safest bet at the time. However, the next time either of us visit, the question may no longer be an issue since last week Derry city and the Strabane District Council voted in favor of formally losing the London prefix.