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Mad Scientess Jane Expat

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Day 11: Derry and Letterkenny [20050826|23:25]
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
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Bogside murals: The Petrol Bomber and Bernadette
We eat a grumpy, silent breakfast and walk to the Bloody Sunday Center which is in a dingy, rather run-down building. We watch the extremely disturbing forty minute video about the illegal but peaceful civil rights march that turned into tragedy when dozens of unarmed Bogside residents were fired upon by heavily armed British paratroopers on Sunday, 30 January, 1972.

One scene in particular captures my attention. A British Sergeant Major, speaking under condition of anonymity, describes the streets of the Bogside during Bloody Sunday as "chaos, total chaos." It's not what he says, but the fact that it's over thirty years since that day and he's still scared to make a public statement contradicting the official British pronouncement on the incident, known as the Widgery Report.* If it hadn't been for the gross, and rather obvious, miscarriage of justice that led to the issue of Widgery, he might not have to continue to hide his identity. The wounds from Bloody Sunday have never been allowed to heal – by either side. Hopefully the Saville Inquiry, which is re-examining Widgery's findings, will be able to reconcile them.

I write in the Comments section of the guestbook: "distressing. informative. necessary." I purchase Don Mullan's Eyewitness Bloody Sunday, which presents over a hundred of the seven hundred eyewitness statements given after the incident. The publication of the book helped to open the Saville Inquiry. (Only fifteen statements were used in the Widgery tribunal that exonerated the troops and their commanders.)

We stand outside and smoke. Becca remarks on feeling better. I do, too, and I think it's because some of what I've been sensing on the tense, oddly quiet streets has been externalized.

*The neutrality of this Wikipedia entry is in dispute. HAHAHA.
On the recommendation of the BSC staff, we go to The Metro, which looks like an annoyingly trendy bar from the outside but turns out to be cozy on the inside and offers very filling lunches for just over £3. We eat our burgers and fries and drink our Guinness with great gusto, our earlier funk dispelled.

We try to find the Peace and Reconciliation Center to see what time they close. Unfortunately, we find that they close at 3 PM. The walking tour we want to do starts at 2 PM. We decide to split up. Kegan stays at the center and Becca and I go on the walk.

As it turns out, neither endeavor is particularly successful. Kegan finds that the PRC has had to move, that their office is in disarray and that the only staff member he can find is inexperienced and stressed out of his mind because the center has run out of money. (How depressing is that?) Becca and I walk cautiously into the Bogside, promptly get lost and are redirected by friendly locals to the community center. We arrive just in time for the very small Free Derry tour. The five of us, including our guide, start off on the city walls.

It's immediately obvious to all but the oblivious Canadian girl that the tour guide has a republican bias. Perhaps I should say that it's also obvious to her, but she has no common sense. She began asking questions such as, "Since that the IRA has disarmed, what will all the members do now?" Jesus Christ, lady. The same things they were doing before? What did you think they did before, stomp up and down with guns all day? I have an idea, maybe they should get jobs leading organized walks so they can keep idiot tourists from getting shot while exploring the Bogside.

Her questions discomfited the guide to the extent that he wrapped up the tour quickly after reading us the Irish side of the monument to Sean Keenan, who died in prison while on a hunger strike. Interestingly, the Irish side of the memorial, which faces the Bogside, mentions his wife's membership in the Cumann na mBan (League of Women), a women's republican organization. The English side, which faces the Derry walls, doesn't. The English side vaguely describes his son's death as occurring during "active service." I don't know what the Irish side said because we don't get to ask. He whisks us rapidly past the famous Bogside murals and almost lets us go without collecting payment.
Bogside murals: The Rioter
Bloody Sunday memorial
The guide gives us one precious piece of information before he practically runs off down the street. He points us to the Bogside Artists' Studio.

We are incredibly fortunate to find that all three artists are at the center and about to begin an informal discussion with the two or three people who are there besides us. We learn that the first mural (the Petrol Bomber in the first image) was painted in 1994. Originally the map on the badge the boy is wearing showed the divide between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, but it has since been altered to solid green. The Bogside residents in the buildings have funded all of the murals. The most recent, the rainbow with the combined oak leaf and dove outline, is only a few months old. The artists are careful to stay clear of political and paramilitary affiliations. They direct their efforts towards reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants through student workshops. For instance, they brought teenagers from the Fountain Estate to their studio to paint bottles, since bottles are often used to make paint as well as petrol bombs. The artists hope to inspire young people to stop joining, or hankering to join, paramilitary organizations that spray-paint violence-glorifying graffiti and turn to creative outlets for their frustrations. I imagine this endeavor will last them the rest of their lives.

Unlike every other wall in Derry, none of the Bogside murals have ever been defaced.

We buy their book and they all sign it for us. We watch them being interviewed by local university students, who also ask us to make statements on camera about our initial impressions of the murals. We do. We go inside to chat with the artists more. They thank us profusely for our interest and we express our gratitude for their openness and hospitality.
I come away from the Bogside studio with a hopeful spring in my step. It's thrilling to have that experience on the heels of the unpleasant air of oppression and fear I feel I've been breathing since our arrival. We bounce back to the hostel for tea and coffee, according to preference, and drive to Letterkenny for the traditional music festival.

On arrival, we find a bar rather far from the music sessions we're ostensibly there to see. But we all need a little time and a little Guinness to process the day's experience before we head out to explore the festival. Kegan's writing furiously in his notebook, as am I, and Becca's reading the Bogside Artists' book. Eventually we unwind enough to look for some performances.

I find that the festival is much larger than I was expecting. While there is indeed traditional music being played in informal sessions in the corners of bars, by evening the focus seems to be on flirting and consuming as much alcohol as possible. We stop in at several pavilions and bars to listen and drink. The last session we see, which isn't as informal as the others as it's on a stage, barely seems able to provoke a reaction from the crowd. It's a pity, since the all-girl band is quite good.
Becca & Kegan at the Letterkenny music festival

[User Picture]From: repoman
2005-09-07 19:10 (UTC)
It's interesting how we had the same emotional experience in British controlled Ireland. Before going to Derry and Belfast, I loved the Brits. Anything having to do with them was superior. I even conned myself into thinking they'd learned lessons from trying to be a colonial power. After my trip, it took awhile for me to even watch their football...

It's a strange place that almost exists outside of reality. Nobody may be blowing things up (when I was there they had just re-introduced public trash cans) but its far from a harmonious place. To take a stand for a moment, I noticed the unionists were much more aggressive on how they felt about their stand on things. There was nothing left to the imagination and were quick to find out where you stood (and were quick to point out where you were "wrong"). If anything, I almost got the feeling they wanted the fight to continue. The Catholics were much more tight-lipped and reserved. It took being an ass for the guys in a bar to realize I was harmless and begin to sorta talk to me. Once they did, I felt honored and was extremely grateful.

Yet barring that, it was my favorite part of Ireland. Once I sorta learned the way of the land, I found it to be the most beautiful part of my trip. Strange as it sounds, I met some truly wonderful people up there. Plus, since there are not a lot of tourists running around, I was treated pretty well. The coast was splendid and I couldn't say enough nice things about the people who picked me up hitchhiking and went out of their way to get me where I was going...
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-09-08 15:50 (UTC)
It's ironic that Northern Ireland beat England for only the fifth time ever in the World Cup qualifiers last night, isn't it?

But yeah, as I was saying to nimoloth, it wasn't so much what was happening between the people of the city, or between them and us, but what wasn't. They don't do much wandering around on their own streets. It's a bit of a mystery to me how the graffiti that covers every available surface gets there in the first place. I didn't interact much with the locals. Actually, that's not true, it's that most of the locals we talked to were Catholic, because we didn't spend any time in the Protestant neighborhoods. We talked to the Bogside artists, who are determined to achieve neutrality, the tour guide, who was definitely Republican, and the group of kids who interviewed the artists, who were sort of apolitical - although they did make mention of "knowing their rights." (Our tour guide mentioned that a lot of people make it a point to know their rights. The memory of the time when peaceful demonstrations and civil rights rallies is apparently still rather fresh for them.) So while I think we experienced a representative cross-section of the Catholic population, I definitely saw only half of the story.

My favorite part of Ireland was the Inis Eoghain peninsula. But I didn't get to see the Giant's Causeway or any part of N. Ireland other than Derry, so perhaps my perspective will change on the next trip. Although that's likely to be focused on Belfast.
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[User Picture]From: repoman
2005-09-08 18:37 (UTC)
Oh, that was a painful game to listen to online. Although all isn't lost, it certainly makes me wonder if they'll be much of a threat if they make it to play-outs with the other second place teams. But on the upside, the US is going to Germany...

I think you'd have a better time in Belfast than Derry. I was in Derry for a few hours and, although I found it nice, it was definitely kinda depressing. Belfast is much more cosmopolitan with more to see. Although its a little tense around the peace wall, its big enough where troubles can be across the street. Plus so many of the attractions are cheap, along with cheap food (chicken curry in a potato is still a fav of mine) and hostels that I got the most from it...
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-09-09 06:36 (UTC)
I watched the game (at the same time as the Ireland/France game - that was heartbreaking) in an Irish pub, so, er, there was a lot of cheering when N. Ireland won. Although I always like to see the underdog pull through, I'm also worried about England's chances.
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[User Picture]From: becala
2005-09-08 04:57 (UTC)


.. so neither Eamon nor Kegan have ever heard of Sean Keenan, and I'm a bit confused about how he died. But I think it may have been of old-age related causes. It not being an uncommon name, all I can find on him is this: http://www.irelandsown.net/keenan.htm . I did find another bit about a hunger striker who died, but it only mentioned that he was a friend of Sean Keenan's father or something like that. He seems to be a pretty important political figure. I'm sort of weirded out that there's not more available about him and that people that have been studying the history from afar for so long have heard nothing of him.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-09-08 09:04 (UTC)
Oh, interesting. For some reason I wrote down that evening that he'd died while on a hunger strike. Perhaps I was mixing up the story of his internment and that of Raymond McCartney's, since we talked to the Bogside artists about their hunger strike mural.

Also, from your link above, here's how his son died: "His son Colm was shot dead by British troops while he was engaged in an armed IRA patrol in Free Derry along with Vol Eugene McGillan."

It's a little peculiar, like you say, that there doesn't seem to be much information about him. It's as if he's been kept a bit of a secret.
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[User Picture]From: becala
2005-09-09 00:50 (UTC)
It's possible that that's what Ruairí said about him. I was so busy trying to recognize words in the Irish he read off that I didn't pay enough attention to the content of it or the background he gave.

Not entirely related: My gallery is party back up, as [Bad username: euromuffin&apos;> mentions, and most importantly, there is a <a href=]gallery of all my photos from the last trip</a>. Not too organized except by location, but all there. I did shrink them all down to 1024x768 to preserve space, but that should be good enough for 4x6 prints.

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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-09-09 06:43 (UTC)
Yeah, he did kinda zing through the reading, didn't he. Honestly, though, I think I wrote that down from what I remembered from the English side of the monument.

I'm impressed you got the gallery back up. Also, very amused at the first comment on the angry pic of Kegan & me (assuming it's serious).
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-09-09 06:59 (UTC)
Oh, also, if you have anything up on euromuffin that's friends-locked, I can't read it. If you're doing that on purpose, that's cool; I'm just letting you know that I added it before I left.
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[User Picture]From: becala
2005-09-09 17:30 (UTC)
What, I didn't add you?

Sheesh. I'll fix that soon.

And no, there's nothing "private" I had to say about the last trip. :)
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From: euromuffin
2005-09-09 17:31 (UTC)
Oh, heh, there was a friends-only entry from kilkenny. Forgot about that. Now you can see it.
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[User Picture]From: nimoloth
2005-09-08 12:01 (UTC)
My Dad's from a farm near Strabane, not that far from Londonderry (in the Northern Irish side), so we used to go there all the time. And in all the years I went to Ireland, I never saw any trouble or felt any discord inthe people, probably because we were in the countryside. I only went to Londonderry once, but I remember liking it a lot and thinking it was nothing like I'd heard about in the news back home (Scotland, just south of Glasgow).

But I really can't abide sectarianism. We have enough Orange Walks in Glasgow to sicken anyone. And they bring out the worst of the scum of Glasgow society to trail along the edges and cause trouble, bedecked in union jacks and red hands of Ulster. In contrast, there is very little visible stuff of that nature from the Catholic side of the community, and there are a lot of them.

So I guess what I'm saying is that in my experience, Northen Ireland was very peacefula nd tranquil, and I associate any troubles with the Orange Walks here in west central Scotland, although obviously I know there is similar trouble in NI cities too.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-09-08 15:34 (UTC)
I guess I should clarify that I didn't feel personally threatened in any way - Northern Ireland apparently has one of the lowest rates of tourist-related crime in the world. I think the sense of discord came not from any overt gestures by the people, but from the endless graffiti and the bareness of the streets. There was seriously no one around after about 4:30 in the afternoon, and that was on a nice sunny day in the summer. Most businesses open late and close early. Presumably they keep to that schedule so that in the winter, people can go to work when it's light and return home before it gets dark. So it was more like the absence of overt hostility between people, but the reminders of it in their environment and their habits that creeped me out.

The Glasgow Orange Walks sound awful, from what I'm reading after Google/Wiki searches. I didn't know that kind of sectarian tension existed there; pardon my ignorance and thank you for the incentive to correct it.
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[User Picture]From: repoman
2005-09-08 18:48 (UTC)
I've seen Orange events in Belfast and I have to say it wasn't about celebrating their religious views so much as flaunting their power to everyone else...
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[User Picture]From: nimoloth
2005-09-09 15:11 (UTC)
They really just do it to stir up trouble and be provocative arogant d**cks.
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