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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Past is Never Dead

Yesterday, a former British soldier was arrested in Northern Ireland and charged with murder during the Bloody Sunday shooting of Catholic marchers in Londonderry, early in January 1972. As Faulkner wrote in 1951, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." That is as true in Northern Ireland as it is in the American South.

During September, Karen and I vacationed in Ireland. Our intent was to visit not only the Irish Republic but also Northern Ireland. Upon landing at Shannon Airport, we learned that the Sinn Fein northern chairman Bobby Storey was arrested for the murder of a former IRA volunteer. Reports suggested that the Northern Ireland parliament, Stormont, was vulnerable to dissolution. We considered not going into Ulster, but we did.

Midway through our trip, we drove to Londonderry (Unionist) or Derry (Republican). Upon arrival at our B&B, we were cornered by our host who, in the kitchen, regaled us with the history of "The Troubles" from the Catholic perspective. Yes, he was Catholic. He advised us that we could go to the Bogside murals, but not to go into the Catholic neighborhoods. In the neighborhoods, whether Protestant or Catholic, you know where you are. We drove, then walked along both neighborhoods in this still segregated city. What we saw was a commemoration of "The Troubles," complete with a tourism angle.

Regardless of where we were, we found the people of Londonderry/Derry to be welcoming or, at the very least benign.

Scenes from Londonderry:

During a walk through a Protestant neighborhood, we caught the tail-end of a marching practice by the Apprentice Boys of Derry and their band. They march in commemoration of the Protestant defense during the Seige of Derry in 1688.

Karen with Reg, one of the old Apprentice Boys
Young Apprentice Boys drummer

A tribute to the British troops from 1914 to present day. Many Protestant neighborhoods are noted by red, white and blue curb stones.

Garage door in Protestant Londonderry

A mural in Protestant Derry honoring King Billy  (William of Orange), who defeated Catholic forces at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

Crests of British units that served in Northern Ireland

Scenes from Derry:

RUC is the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Northern Ireland Police force from 1922 to 2001

The decor of the Bogside Inn is purely Republican, with quotes including this from IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands

The Bogside Inn in the Catholic area of Derry.

This Bogside mural portrays a 14-year-old girl killed on Bloody Sunday

This Bogside mural portrays Republican activist and politician Bernadette Devlin

"Free Derry" is a common meme in Catholic areas
British paratrooper smashing in the door of a Catholic home
Mural in a Catholic neighborhood commemorating the drive for political and economic equality
Catholic martyrs mural

Hands Across the Divide peace statue by Irish sculptor Maurice Harron, in the Waterside area, symbolizing the spirit of Catholic/Protestand reconciliation, erected in 1992

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