Friday, December 17, 2010

No Retreat, Baby, No Surrender

(I was going to go with the more obvious musical reference -- U2's "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" -- for this post but opted for the Boss instead.  What the heck.)

Derry-slash-Londonderry is a pretty cool city, even if it does have a bit of an identity crisis.  No one seems quite sure whether its name ought to be Derry (most people seem to refer to it this way in conversation) or Londonderry (it mostly shows up this way on formal things like bus schedules and such).   It was "Derry" before it was "Londonderry", changing to the longer name in 1613 when the City of London played a role in the so-called 'plantation' of Ulster with Protestant settlers.  So it's been more than a bit contentious ever since which it ought to be called -- particularly during the Troubles, when choosing one or the other would instantly mark you out as belonging to a particular side.

And it hasn't been a terribly peaceful place, so picking a side could be a dangerous thing to do.  As far back as the Siege of Derry in 1688-89, Catholics and Protestants have been at war here -- when Catholic followers of the ousted King James II surrounded the city in an effort to take it back, 13 apprentice boys (revered ever after as local heroes) barred the city gates with a cry of "There'll be no surrender!"  Loyalist (Protestant) supporters adopted "No Surrender" as a slogan, and you used to see it adorning the walls of Belfast's Shankill neighbourhood.  (You get now how the song reference fits in, right?)

More recently, the “Battle of the Bogside” in this city in 1969 — a running battle between residents of the Catholic Bogside neighbourhood and the Royal Ulster Constabulary — prompted the British government to send troops into Northern Ireland.   (They were still there, when I first came to Ulster in 1994.)  A few years later, it was the site of the infamous Bloody Sunday of U2's song, a day in January 1972 when 26 civil rights protesters were shot by British soldiers; 13 died immediately (6 of them just 17 years old), and one a few months later, of injuries received that day. 

Peace Mural, Derry
By any reckoning, odds are it shouldn't be a positive or optimistic place.  Yet it seems to be; it's lively and friendly and welcoming, and a fascinating place to walk around.  (There's also a fine pub or two that make the welcome even warmer.)  Unlike Belfast, Derry didn't have murals in the Troubles, but has added them since 1997; done by three local artists, these commemorate events of the Troubles in a thought-provoking way.  There’s also a couple of memorials, one to the hunger strikers of 1980-81 (including the most well-known, Bobby Sands, who was elected to Parliament shortly before he died), and one to the people who died on Bloody Sunday.  Of the murals, The Death of Innocence is probably the most moving; it's a mural depicting a 14-year-old schoolgirl who became the 100th victim of the Troubles in 1971 when she was shot in the crossfire between the IRA and the British Army.  The whole array manages to end on a positive note, with its most recent mural of a huge stylized dove of peace. 

It's interesting, anyway.  I hadn't been to Derry before, but it's shown up in literature I`ve encountered; the books that stick in my mind the most are probably Leon Uris's Trinity and Redemption (he's not exactly impartial in his depictions of Ireland, but he tells a good story).  So while I felt a little like I'd been there before, in spirit, I was very glad to get there for real. 

In the footsteps of giants
Well worth a visit, if you've never been —and, even better, the Giant's Causeway is within easy reach of the city, for a perfect day trip.   If you don't already know, that's the remnants of the path built by the Irish giant Fionn MacCool, so that his rival, the Scottish giant Benandonner, could cross the sea and face him in battle.  Seeing the Scot approaching, Fionn was so terrified by the size of his rival that he fled home, asking his wife to hide him.  She did, in a huge cradle, and when Benandonner arrived in search of Fionn, told him that the figure in the cradle was Fionn's child.  Alarmed by the size of the “infant” and assuming the father must therefore be truly gigantic, Benandonner raced back to Scotland, tearing up the Causeway behind him in case Fionn tried to follow.  That's why only the ends remain — off the Antrim coast of Northern Ireland (where I went), and off the Scottish isle of Staffa.

Believe it?  Well, maybe not, but it makes a good story.  And how else could I say that I've walked in the footsteps of giants?

(P.S. -- I tried to add pictures, but Blogger isn't co=operating.  Have a look on Shutterfly if you're curious.)

(P.S.2 -- okay, it let me add pictures the next day.)

No comments:

Post a Comment