Not everything is idyllic here on this patch of turf floating in the North Atlantic.
In reaction to the photographs I added to my last post, New Year’s Eve, you used words such as “charming”, “beautiful”, “wonderful”, ‘cozy” and you were all correct. That’s just how my turf is. But there’s the other side to Northern Ireland, which I don’t have to think about living so far away but which was the backdrop to my growing up here and I am confronted with the aftermath of it when I come back.
My American friends remark on the ludicrous inadequacy of this name to describe the decades of killing and bloodshed that Northern Ireland became known for. It’s almost black comedy. The phrase connotes nothing more than a spot of back pain or, maybe, your monthly cycle. I took two aspirin to cure the troubles followed by a half hour nap. Right knee giving you jip? It’ll be the troubles again, the doctor warned you they’d be back.
On New Year’s Day, I visited the UK City of Culture 2013, a picturesque, ancient city known now as Derry-Londonderry. It is also the site of the Bloody Sunday massacre in 1972 which inspired the U2 song. It has two names in an attempt to be politically correct. Before this awkward double-barrelled invention, one side of the population called it Derry, the other Londonderry. In this current state of appeasement, Northern Ireland staggers haltingly forward. Things are so much better than they were but the place is still haunted by the past.
Echoing the work Bill Clinton carried out with our local leaders in the nineties to facilitate the peace process, another American diplomat, Richard Haass, has just been sent home, but with less success. He was tasked with untangling the thorny matter of flying flags and marching parades which still enflames old resentments. There are two flags, one to represent each of the tribes of our small province: red white and blue denotes Loyalists, mostly Protestants; green, white and orange denotes Nationalists, mostly Catholics.
I came upon this painted kerb as I explored the City of Culture. Three colors arranged in striped blocks was a common sight when I was growing up. I felt myself flinch, a remnant from the bad old days when the wrong set of colors meant you had stumbled into enemy territory and should back up immediately. I stripped away the weight of meaning and saw it as a pretty colored trimming on a sunny street, a sort of public art project. I played about with my usual filters on my camera before showing it to a couple of friends, with interesting results. One, a Catholic, smiled in recognition: “Ah, it’s our tricolor,” she said. Another friend, a Protestant, believed it to be the colors of Britain.
When History says, don’t hope,
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.”
-Seamus Heaney, The Cure At Troy
My first novel is available. You can buy Silk for the Feed Dogs here.