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.
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.
It’s a fill in the blank title, predominantly because almost any adjective in the world could be used to describe the 12th of July in Ireland, depending on where you come from. That said, my own fill in the blank words would include Ridiculous, Divisive, Uncontrolled, and Tragic, just to start with. There are plenty more but I think those are my choices to sum up a whole lot of inflamed feelings, a huge cultural problem, and the profound lack of leadership witnessed all over the North of Ireland and beyond for the last few days.
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.
It’s rare that American news coincides so neatly with news in Ireland. It’s a real treat to write about it when it does unless it is a story full of bigotry and grandstanding which unfortunately, is true today. Often times whenever a group is called out for their bullying traditions or symbols of hatred, their response is always the same. They claim that the behavior isn’t racist or sectarian, that instead it is tradition and heritage – as if the concepts are mutually exclusive. Guess what? It IS tradition and heritage and it IS racist, sectarian and vile. The time has come to accept that and leave horrible traditions behind.
The beginning of September is a nightmare for parents. They say that getting their kids ready for learning and getting back into the swing of the school year is always the hardest during the first week. There’s a lot of pressure already on everyone. So what happens when an actual battle is being waged every day on top of that and your little girls are being attacked? Well, everything and everyone explodes – just ask the people in the area of Ardoyne, near the interface.