Derry shows how it’s done


How has Derry managed to solve the problem of marching bands? On the face of it,  the city looks one of the least promising places for such a thing to happen. It was the Apprentice Boys’ march in August 1969 which precipitated the Battle of the Bogside, and the stories of unionist marchers pausing at the walls to fling pennies down at the Bogsiders below are not all apocryphal.

So how did they do it? I don’t know the details but I suspect it came down to leadership among the business community of Derry, the political leaders in Derry and the leaders on the Loyal Orders.  In short, people stretched towards a new relationship and achieved it. The statue of reconciliation – sometimes known irreverently as the Tappers’ Statue – positioned at the end of Craigavon bridge is indeed an appropriate symbol for a transformed city.

But while I can’t comment on the detail of this transformation, it’s easy to comment on the leadership shown because it’s still in action. It’ll be displayed once again this coming weekend when Sinn Féin holds its Ard Fhéis in Derry. Because the Londonderry Bands Forum have been invited by the Ard Fhéis organisers to give a presentation and it has accepted. In fact it has stated that it “welcomes the opportunity to communicate  its purpose and activities to a  wider audience”. Martin McGuinness is on record as saying he warmly welcomes the decision.

The presentation will focus on educational underachievement “especially of young Protestant males”, they’ll “address preconceptions of band culture ” and say they look to build relationships “on the basis of inclusion and equality”. The project co-ordinator Derek Moore believes “traditional and classical music get more support than young bandsmen and women in the education system.”

I can’t tell you how much that cheers my heart this chilly morning. Derry, the original cockpit of discrimination and gerrymander, is showing the way towards reconciliation and respect. Is it a coincidence that it is also the city from which the Deputy First Minister comes each morning to Stormont and returns each night? I think not.

12 Responses to Derry shows how it’s done

  1. Mary Jo March 3, 2015 at 10:47 am #

    Such excellent initiatives. I share your hope that it will extend across N. Ireland and also south of the border where Orange Order marching bands have not had a fair share of community and arts funding.

  2. John Patton March 3, 2015 at 11:11 am #

    I spent my early years in a Protestant working class area of Derry. Although as children we went to different schools and worshipped in separate churches, lasting friendships were formed among people whose parents had contrasting, political views. It was only when I went to St Columb’s and met children from the ‘Derry’ side and boarders from rural areas that I encountered any sense of belonging to a distinctive, separate tribe. Members of my family have continued to live in harmony with their neighbours in ‘mixed community areas. Among the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement in the sixties were several, notable non-Catholics and unionists who deplored the gerrymander and discrimination which was practised by the local and national administrations.

    While recognising that Sinn Fein and the Deputy First-Minister have shown leadership, I think it is rather ungenerous, not to say churlish, to attribute the positive state of community relations in Derry solely to one party or to any individual. Throughout the ‘troubles’, there were social and community groups which continued to bring all sides of the community together in difficult and demanding circumstances. At a political level, the SDLP was committed in practice to power-sharing and individuals like Eamonn McCann have devoted to their lives to working class solidarity. I was in Derry in 2013 for the Apprentice Boys’ March on the 12th of August and two glorious weeks of the Fleadh which all passed without a voice being raised in anger while simultaneously there was serious, sectarian havoc being wrought by Orange Men in Belfast.

    There is a critical balance in Derry which many people have worked hard over many years to achieve. This partisan piece of writing betrays those efforts.

    • Am Ghobsmacht March 3, 2015 at 3:16 pm #

      I usually frequent Peadar O’Donnell’s in Derry.

      Amongst all the paraphernalia they have about the place includes a drumhead, an Orange collarette and an Apprentice boys collarette.

      THAT is welcoming and the sort of mindset I could do business with.

  3. Sherdy March 3, 2015 at 11:36 am #

    Demographics, dear boy, demographics.
    During the years of gerrymandering the unionists were able to maintain complete control of Derry and its environs.
    Now that we have one-man-one-vote democracy is bedding in and the unionists have had to learn the word pragmatism. They realise that had they continued with their head in the sand attitude the overwhelming nationalist majority would not have tolerated their bigotry, coat-trailing and supremacist attitudes, and loyalist marches and bands would have been a thing of the past.
    So now we find that loyalists can learn to be better neighbours, and even to meet and talk to them.
    Possibly it will take a long time for sufficient areas of the six counties to have a clear nationalist majority for the rest of loyalism to learn that with the right attitude, both sides can prosper and express themselves in a meaningful way.
    Loyalists in the Newry area certainly have not yet wised up to basic logic even though that area has a nationalist majority. But then we have so many slow learners in this sick counties.

  4. James March 3, 2015 at 12:17 pm #

    I agree with you 100% Sherdy, and I could not have put it better myself. As the demographics shift and the greening of the ‘wee six’ continues to gather momentum, more and more the unionists will begin to realise that there is no point in trying to hold back the tide. Such a pointless exercise just delays the day of reconciliation. There is no substitute for mutual respect. Sadly the unionist community are finding this a hard lesson to learn.

  5. Larry Murphy March 3, 2015 at 12:39 pm #

    The main problem is still the hatred and distrust of Catholics and Catholicism that has been bred into so many Protestants for hundreds of years. The considerable improvement in political and social equality by ‘The Catholic’ has done little to allay this. Conspiracy, suspicion and sell out never being far from the mind of of your average “Prod” it could be argued that it has made the attainment of good neighbourly relations even more difficult.

  6. Willie D. March 3, 2015 at 1:18 pm #

    Republicans in the Newry area seem to have adopted precisely the same supremacist attitude once attributed as the sole preserve of Unionism. Perhaps they could learn something from the more tolerant and sensitive attitudes displayed in Derry. Republicans in the former area have shown no mutual respect/sensitivity whatsoever.

    • Larry Murphy March 3, 2015 at 8:17 pm #

      Hi Willie D.
      Give you an inch of sensitivity in Derry and you can’t get enough of the stuff. What I would have appreciated, but to be honest did not expect, was a suggestion as to where Protestants/Unionists coulld show some reciprocal sensitivity to improve community relations. Any ideas Willie ..??

    • RJC March 4, 2015 at 11:32 am #

      Willie D – I have no desire to get into a back and forth argument with you, but as I live near Newry and am in and out of the place a few times a week I would strongly disagree with this assertion.

      The roundabout at the Mourne Country had OO and UVF flags hanging from it between June and October last year. The old Belfast Road from the PSNI station up to that roundabout had Union flags hanging from the lamposts during the same period.

      I appreciate that some Tricolours fly in the estates over the Jennings Park/railway station side of town, but none are ever flown on any arterial routes into and out of Newry, nor on any roads through the town, nor public roundabouts, nor in the town centre.

      To claim that ‘Republicans in (Newry) have shown no mutual respect/sensitivity whatsoever’ is disingenuous at best. I appreciate that the naming of the Raymond McCreesh park is a contentious issue, but Newry as a town is welcoming to all. Compare to Banbridge which is festooned with flags during the Summer months, and then tell me where the mutual respect and sensitivity lies.

  7. Perkin Warbeck March 3, 2015 at 3:27 pm #

    If gerrymander is a word which inevitably wanders in the sight lines of anyone who cares to take a gander at the political history of Derry, down in Kerry last weekend it was more a case of, gerry meander.

    During the course of her annual clap happy harangue the Colleen Bawn of the Labour Party meandered often, erm, off message to take many a side scelp at her party’s very own Colonel Bogey man:

    -While Gerry Adams is happy to admit he’s not very good at math let me assure everybody that I, the Yawnaiste of the Free Southern Stateen (yes, it was she !) as a fully qualified chartered accountant, summa cum laude, am very, very, very good indeed at math

    This timely mention of Colonel Bogey Man brought the vast gathering of the party faithful to their senses in mid nod off (they had been accounting sheep in this the year of same) and provoked them into shaking their Trotskyite trotters and welting the flure with their de rigeur Doc Martens.

    Talk about a welcome on the mat from Timothy and pathological Pat.

    Despite the footwear, nonetheless, it was noticeable that the party faithful were obviously more familiar with prawn sandwiches than pawnshop tickets. This phenom is not a tendency which has just coincided with the ascendancy of the Yawnaiste but has been noticeable ever since the legendary prole, Conor Cruise O’Goebells left his distinctive jackboot mark on the whole of the party of Connolly.

    Your communication today, Esteemed Blogmeister, is illustrated with a Kodak moment involving a statue.

    Down in Killarney there also stands a statue and curiously,one which once caught the attention of a Derry poet. It is the one entitled ‘Speir Bhean’, erected to honour the Four Poets of the Kingdom.

    ‘Speir Bhean’ means ‘Pretty Woman’, just as Seamus Heaney means ‘Derry poet’ and he was much attracted towards the idea of rendering his versions of the verse of Aodhagan O Rathaille who was the foremost of the Four Poets.

    ‘Speir Bhean’ is right. Not only does it conjure up images of The Big O but also of The Big Jo, so it does. And even more right when one considers (a) it is pronounced the same as ‘Spare Van’ in the Q’s English; and (b) the lurch to the right which the Spare Van of the Irish (sic) Labour (more sic) Party has been taking for the past – Oh, Jo – twenty or is it forty years ago.

    (Alas, Perkie’s inner chartered innumerate gets a bit hazy once he moves beyond the rigid digit territory – his six fingered cousin, Isambard Kingdom Warbeck, goes one better than him there – or is it two?).

    While it is widely anticipated that a Spare Van should be easily able to transport the combined number of Labour TDs after the next General Election nonetheless it is prudent never to understimate the specific density of the Free Southern Electorate in general. At any given moment in time, going forward.

    There was a myriad (a daaarling word, Joxer ) of reasons why the Party of the Mink-stoled Proles rolled into Killarney town last weekend.

    There are the more obvious ones which commemorate former greats who now take their rightful place in the Sliced Pantheon of the Party of the Left such as Ross Castle and ‘Gile na Gile’.

    Ross Castle refers, of course, to the fungus-physioged fellow far famed as Prawnface who once famously crowed that the only reason he adhered (posh word for ‘stick’) to the leprechaun versh of his name was on account – beware ! joke on the way ! – it bumped him up significantly in the ballot paper: De Rossa as distinct from Ross.

    Laugh? One very nearly went into spontaneous combustion mode.

    He told them it was Cromwell lost the battle of Clontarf
    He said the famous Finn McCool was a dwarf;
    He swore the Giant’s Causeway had been in the Phoenix Park
    And it was in Killarney’s Lakes that Noah built his Ark !

    Always a dodgy enough deal to diss the leprechaun, not least when he happens be the jarvey. (Btw, has anyone seen Prawnface of late?).

    ‘Gile na Gile’ which was the Foremost Poet’s magnum opus and which Seamus Heaney helped disseminate in transnation to the Four Corners of the World (well, of the Academic World, anyways) is a monument in verse to Mac Giolla, the avuncular old codger who was one of the original Devisers of the contemporary party of Uncle Toms.

    (Although he looked like a yellow pack Dev T Mac G was in fact more blue pack and his Dev diminutive derived from his role as a pipe-dreaming, pipe-smoking Deviser).

    But of course the prime reason for plumping for Killarney as the location for the Labour Party’s annual apres-Dinner Shinner-Hammer In was geographical. The mundane town and its heavenly lakes are presided over by the sky-scraping sickle-shaped Caraun O’Toole.

    Which, allied to the Swahilli-speaking Yawnaiste’s ability to greet the locals in their native patois – it was ‘Uhuru !’ to you and ‘Uhuru !’ to her – all the wet long weekend – made Killarney a no-brainer.

    In more ways than one.

    It is also no coincidence that the ‘arney’ part of Killarney is derived from the name of a tree (not unlike Derry) – ‘sloe’.

    Lady Abacus

    Slow wits go with fingers and thumbs
    Not so with the lady known as ‘Mums’
    Not only is J. B. really
    Fluent at basic Swahili
    But she’s awfully awfully good at sums.

  8. Freddy Mallins March 3, 2015 at 4:53 pm #

    Sadly, the only reason the Orange order decided upon compromise in Derry was, as stated above, because they were forced to if they wanted any marching at all. It must have been tempting for the long suffering Catholics of that good city to give them the two fingers, but they didn’t. From a position of strength, they allowed for accommodation. It’s the mature way and only way forward. Imagine, if you will, however if a Nationalist grouping tried to march through Ballymoney…yes, I thought so.

  9. Sherdy March 3, 2015 at 5:52 pm #

    Perkin Isabard Warbeck, by any chance?