Paint the town

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.

The Troubles.

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.

Fact is, it could be either one. Or neither one. Just a public art project. In a city of changing culture.IMG_0724

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.


  1. Great Heaney quote. Oh the power of memories, be they smells, photos or just colours…here’s to many tides xxx

  2. Hmmm, the Troubles. The Irish — always the masters of the understatement…..but with the drive to push through….and fantastic senses of humor. Forget the tea and scone — have a pint to soften the memories. XO

  3. If not for The Troubles, I wouldn’t have been born. Grandma Mary was sent to Canada, with a sister and brother, as servants, after her two uncles were shot dead in the living room of the house they all lived in. She was 9 years old. Soon the entire family, her remaining brothers and sisters, Mom and Dad followed. Everyone but her and a sister and brother were killed in a house fire in Edmonton, Alberta not long afterwards. She always said she brought ‘The Trouble’ to Canada. She only recently passed away and we found she’d kept all the newspaper articles of the fire. We all knew about it, but she never spoke of it. But Grandma loved Ireland. She was from Armagh County. And someday I’m going to visit there for her. We still have relatives there. Somewhere. Mom knows where. Oh glah, can you imagine having some American/Canadian hybrid show up on your doorstep “Hi there, I’m your long lost COUSIN!”

    • I’m sure they’d be delighted to see you. Sounds like your grandma never got back even for a visit. County Armagh is very close to where I am. That’s why we click, Laura, sharing similar blood and I didn’t know! That is some back story. But, see, good things can come out of bad…

  4. Grandma did have a pretty good life here, although she never did go back to Ireland. Twice married and 14 grandchildren and even lived to see her great grandchildren sit on her lap. She somehow managed to come out of it with a good attitude, except she never liked nuns. That’s another story. She was a firecracker! Cool to hear that County Armagh is close to you. When I plan my trip you can tell me what to see.

    • Sure thing! And I don’t know anyone who actually likes nuns. But they do feature in a lot of people’s nightmares! Brrrr…

      • I once wrote a brochure for some nuns to publicise their convent. Coming off the back of a series of jobs for wicked capitalist multinationals I thought it would be a nice gentle breath of fresh air, just what I needed, no backstabbing, politicking or raving egomaniacs… How wrong I was!!!!!

      • Give me a convention centre full of bankers any day over a convent full of nuns! Now that’s a short story that would make interesting reading though, Donald…

  5. Wow. I feel like I need to spend some time on Wikipedia and read about “The Troubles” because the extent of my experience is definitely the U2 song. Your reaction to the striped colors… so odd what memory can do to us, overriding everything else for just a brief moment.

    • Do not twist your brain trying to decipher The Troubles. It’s a mind boggle. But you’re right, the power of ingrained thinking,memory and instinct is truly mysterious

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