Showing posts with label Derry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Derry. Show all posts

Monday, August 8, 2016

Bishop Edward Daly, 1933-2016: May You Find Your Own Heart's Ease, Bishop Daly

Bishop Edward Daly passed away today. He leaves behind a lifetime's commitment to his corner of the world and a faith that expressed itself in innumerable ways.

Priest, bishop, historian, author, writer, archivist,  performance director, radio and television producer, hospice chaplain, brother, friend. He was so many things.

Most of all, he was a decent and a good man.



Sunday, May 22, 2016

Low Voter Turnout in Derry Dishonors the Past


According to Northern Ireland elections statistics, only 56% of registered voters in the Foyle District turned out to vote in last month's elections. As an historian of Derry, this breaks my heart a little.

Look at the photo to the left.  Those are real people.  Historical figures, some of them, like Eddie McAteer and Bernadette Devlin McAliskey. Civil rights steward Vinnie Coyle.  Others, probably, not known to me.  And then the faces of the young, the hopeful, the indignant, the worried.  The faces of the civil rights movement.  


Which -- of course -- was in large part a movement for for the right for every adult citizen to have a vote.



Saturday, January 9, 2016

Paddy "Bogside" Doherty, 1926 - 2016

And another legend passes. 

Paddy Doherty had not been well for the past several years, but it was still hard to hear that he passed away on the 7th January, 2016.  Touted as the face of the civil rights movement in Derry, he was a legend.  He was a firebrand and an ideas man and a figure of controversy.  He was a neighbor, a friend, a husband, the patriarch of his clan.


Derry Journal 1/8/16
Paddy Doherty was also a plodder -- in the best possible way.  Long after the civil rights movement ended, throughout the Troubles and into the post-conflict era, Doherty slogged through the difficult tasks of raising money, cajoling politicians, courting the press in order to create jobs and trying to make Derry a livable city that could retain its young people without losing its soul.  Development inside the walled city and the Foyleside Shopping Center owe their existence in no small part to Doherty.

Doherty is not the first of his generation to pass.   Solicitor Claude Wilton, of ' Say nahing de ye see Claude' fame died in 2008.  Photographer Larry Doherty, responsible for capturing on film some of the most iconic images of the early Troubles, died last year.  Others have passed and more will follow.


It is too soon, perhaps, to say how they will be, or indeed, should be, remembered.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Let Go of Your Sorrows? What To Make of Derry's Temple

How do you say the unsayable?  Translate the untranslatable?  It makes sense that David Best, a sculptor deeply embedded in the "you can't understand it until you've been to it" Burning Man festival would come to Derry, Northern Ireland with ingredients for a community project designed around reflection and release. Sponsored and organized by Artichoke Trust, which specializes in helping artists engage communities in larger-than-life installations located in unpredictable spaces, Temple was conceived as a community process.  To build it.  To inhabit it. To witness as it burned.


According to Best, the point of Temple was twofold: to create a space for catharsis and to reframe bonfires. Bonfires, of course, have a long history in Northern Ireland.   There were fires to commemorate the 12th, the Relief of Derry in August, and then tit-for-tat bonfires to observe Lady Day, or the feast of the Assumption of Mary a couple days later.  And those bonfires, it is said, are artifacts of the ancient bonfires lit to celebrate Lúnasa, the harvest "festival of light." December would see Lundy's effigy burn.  


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Depression Under the Sofa: Trauma, Post-Memory and Antidepressants in Northern Ireland


Prescription records in the United Kingdom were released recently by the Health and Social Care Board. Much has been made of the rates at which  antidepressants are prescribed in Northern Ireland -- at  two 
and a half times more than in England, it turns out that the Northern Irish are being medicated to address anxiety and 
depression more often than in almost any other region in the world.  

Journalists have been quick to make knee-jerk observations about use by patients who are too young to be directly affected by the Troubles.  "The disparity is so huge that it warrants closer examination," said Steven McCaffrey of The Detail.


The insinuation in both The Irish Times and the BBC is that the Health Service in Northern Ireland is over-prescribing.  

Health care professionals in Northern Ireland have noted for several years that patients who come to see a professional about mental health concerns tend to expect a prescription and are averse to alternative therapies.  There are good reasons for this.  A society that functioned on silences and secrets for over forty years might not race to embrace talking about and through complicated emotions.  A conservative society with a large rural population may not find holistic remedies or eastern mind-body-spirit practices welcoming. Prozac is far less invasive than a therapist, far less sweaty and well, compromising, than yoga. 


Those issues notwithstanding,  I see some good reasons antidepressant use may be up that have nothing to do with patients opting out of other therapies for mental ill health.  There may simply be more people seeking help.  Why?  Well, here's my take:
  • Post-memory
  • An acknowledgment of the psychological costs of dealing with the conflict  and post 'extreme-life' funk
  • A shift away from self-medication

Sunday, June 29, 2014

'Bye for Now, Derry

I've arrived back in Salem, the month in Derry having flown by.  I've yet to unpack, literally or metaphorically.  But playing with photoshop and some of my final photographs has been a nice way to reconcile the two places, the here and the there.  

Good, as well, because it makes me more at ease with the writing process that awaits.  There is no objective telling of a story.  The author is always interested.  We play, rearrange, add and remove.  We accentuate tone, increase exposure to some bits, decrease it to others.  Storytellers -- and historians are ultimately storytellers -- are artists.  

Let the storytelling begin.






Monday, June 23, 2014

"Seeing Through New Eyes?" Grappling with Identity/Identities

Is this a Derry granny?




Brought to you by British Telecom's "Portrait of a City,"an initiative designed to crowd-source community archives as part of the City of Culture events last year, this image of an older woman and sixteen children is one of eight photos that were enlarged last year, printed on heavy-duty tarp material and hung on the exterior wall of the Orchard Street entrance to the local shopping center, Foyleside.

It sits in the wall of the building just like a photo sits in a frame.

I took this photograph while going to catch a bus to visit my friend Bryonie, who is one of the most creative, effervescent and astute thinkers I know.

When it comes to thinking about Northern Ireland, I often get this Rumi quote in my head (I know, I know, the cliché of it all!!!!) "Out beyond right doing and wrong doing, there is a field.  I'll meet you there." I always think of Bryonie on that field.  Partly because she writes about landscapes and maybe because in my mind, a part of her own identity is intertwined with the fields of Leitrim.  Mostly because she doesn't just reject, she simply enters into, gently scrutinizes and then deconstructs prescriptive, rigid, essentialist thinking about the histories, cultures and cultural politics of this place.  All the dichotomies: them/us, north/south, Éire/UK, belonging/not belonging --- they lose resonance and are revealed as the caricatures they are.  But she does it in a way that also affords the processes of their very construction respect.  Like I said, formidable.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The City Revisited: A Re-photographic Study of Derry

A lot of really wonderful things happened in Derry, or Londonderry, (or Legenderry even,) last year when it became the first UK City of Culture.  For a small city, it's been big at attracting interesting and creative people; last year there was funding and impetus for people to continue and build on that tradition.

One of my favorite projects was created by two photographers, Andy Horsman and Paul McGuckin.  They rephotographed iconic Derry photos, many taken over 100 years ago.  Using a large format camera that would have been used to take the originals (5" x 4") they did some editing magic to knit the images together in surprising, poignant and occasionally haunting ways. You can check out their awesome blog to learn more about them, their technique and the evolution of the project. A montage of their work mashing up more contemporary cityscapes in Derry with scenes of the civil rights movement and the Troubles can be found here, at the BBC History website.

I didn't know about the pictures and so I discovered them serendipitously. Many of the images were hung, mural-like, in the space  I was exploring --- the most-dramatically changed aspect of Derry since my last visit: the site of the former Ebrington Barracks, which has been transformed into a public space that is commemorative in a deliberately pageantry-infused way. The longterm plan includes spaces for residential, commercial and cultural use.  It is connect by a pretty awe-inspiring suspension footbridge that links the city center to Ebrington.


Historians say the site at Ebrington was where King James II's troops were camped during the Siege of Derry (1688-'89.) Finding it a good site, it was used as a barracks from the mid-eighteenth century, mostly housing locally recruited regiments. It was a parade ground in the 1840s.  From 1939, it was a navy base until 1970, when British soldiers used it as their barracks during the Troubles until 2003.

As military history (like most history) is often divisive in the city, and because the River Foyle, which runs between Ebrington and the Guildhall, was long seen as a kind of dividing line between the cityside and the Waterside, Catholic nationalist and Protestant unionist, this is symbolically a big step.  It's also an important public space.  Northern Ireland has historically had precious few of these.  Even before the Troubles raised fears of large gatherings, public spaces were limited in a congested city where order demanded that everything and everyone have a place.

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Tale of Two Margos

On Saturday, my friend Holly and I went for a jaunt out to west Donegal.  We took the road from Derry, out to the Grianán fort, then stopped in Letterkenny for a bite to eat and a rummage through a local flea market.

This gave me a chance to think about Irish kitsch, how it speaks to a different history of material culture and what I want from it.  I shocked myself by picking up a series of objects that I do not think belong in my home, but which I couldn't bear to leave in the crates and boxes of the market.  They were very inexpensive.  I felt like I was rescuing them, whether they come home with me or I find homes for them elsewhere.


We got a little turned around in the Letterkenny suburbs, but eventually made our way from Kilmacrennan, to Glenveagh Natl. Park, through the Poisoned Glen and out to the Bloody Forelands and Gortahork via Gweedore.  (Or the Bloody Holiday Home Lands, depending on your cynicism.)

We drove the "Wild Atlantic Way" up to Falcarragh and Dunfanaghy, came down through Creeslough and back down to Letterkenny and Derry, which is just on the other side of Bridgend.
(I still can't help humming The Emigrant's Letter every time I am up in this country.  You can listen to it here.) It is cheesy.  I don't care.  I am not sure that you can understand the emigrant experience without occasionally inhabiting the emotional and sentimental cultural expressions that it birthed.  As much as there was opportunity, there was loss.

So, we covered a fair bit of ground.   Here's a map so you can see for yourself:




Ever since my first visit out to Gortahork, with the wonderful Irish historians Billy Kelly and Breandan Mac Suibhne in 1999, I have always tried to make at least one trip up there when I am in Derry.  In the heart of the Donegal Gaeltacht, it is a special place.  The quality of light, of air, of sky --- the softness that is insistent in spite of barren and desolate landscapes.....the history.  It is not my place, will never be my place.  Nevertheless, I see it as a pilgrimage of sorts.  A visit to the northwest without Gortahork and the Bloody Forelands  would feel incomplete.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Naming the Butterflies: On Discomfort Zones

I am generally blithely unaware of how much time I spend smack dab in the middle of my comfort zone.  People I know.  Places I know.  Experiences I know.

I tiptoe to the edges of it from time to time.  Get lost on purpose.  Walk into a room filled with strangers.  Teach unfamiliar material.  Add a new tool to my digital toolkit.  Ask a new question.  Sit with a new answer. Stretch. I even occasionally wear yellow.

Most of the time, I am comfortable. Even, dare I say it, staid.

But I study and write about Derry, Northern Ireland, a place far from home.  Its culture has been shaped by a history I have come to understand something of -- it often feels just enough to illuminate all that I do not and cannot claim to know.  Derry is simultaneously deeply familiar and quite literally foreign.

Photo by Marty McColgan
People say, "But, you're an historian of Derry.  You've spent years there. You love it. Plus, you are Irish-American and Ireland is really just the 51st state, perched off the Maine coast. You have a Ph.D. based on Derry's history. Surely you are comfortable there."

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Performing Memory

My mom has a habit that has become more pronounced over time.  If she doesn't want to do something, she makes herself late.  A strange, passive aggressive stalling tactic. You might think about it casually and consider her disorganized, or worse -- approaching senility.  The dillying.  The dallying.  A whole ritual involving socks.  But I don't think so - because I can see the intention behind it.  A quiet protest.  An insistence on her right to choose.




As I was sitting on the couch yesterday morning, in pjs, drinking tea -- a half an hour before I needed to be somewhere it takes me twenty minutes to drive to -- it occurred to me that I have inherited this particular habit.

When I first picked up Diana Taylor's wonderful book The Archive and the Repertoire, the idea that we perform acts of memory everyday in our speech, our silences, our habits and ways of being in the world  was new to me.  It kind of blew me away.  I think she actually talks about looking in the mirror and seeing her mom looking in the mirror in the introduction.

When I ask, "How's by you?"  I am performing memory.  I never ask anyone who is not in my immediate family this, but my association of the phrase with my mother and her mother and aunties -- five first generation Polish-American women -- comforts me somehow.  I usually ask the cat, though a. he cannot answer and b. how's by him is pretty much the same as it is for me, since we live in the same place. Never you mind that the etymology of the phrase is Yiddish and I have no idea why my mom's family adopted it. Maybe it was my German/Irish grandfather's.  I've adopted it to signify what I want it to -- probably changing the meaning and original purpose of the utterance.  Oh well --- memory is fluid, flexible and open to adjustments.

We all think about food as memory and traditions of other kinds as well.  But isn't it fascinating, and maybe just a little freeing, to consider your nervous ticks, procrastination and avoidance tactics, the armor you grab for whenever you get in an argument, etc.  performances of memory as well?  Doesn't it make you want to understand what attitudes and behaviors are yours and yours alone, and which ones are inheritances?


I've become more inclined to make hospital corners the way my mom taught me, to follow a particular choreography in the kitchen, to find it funny and oddly lovely that I hoard cans of tomato sauce and stockpile condiments just like my dad does.  It is still neurotic, but as a performance of neurotic memory, it makes it a little more OK.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

On Memory and Methodology


 Academic historians tend to have a favorite question for me.  I was recently asked it and I didn't know how to respond. I wish I could say that it is irrelevant to my interests and concerns. However, it actually does matter quite a bit, though it matters differently for me, I think, than it does in the way the askers intend.

 The question is always a very polite and well-intentioned attempt to ask me if I missed the memo that tells historians that memories are untrustworthy as sources of historical information.  "You do know that you aren't supposed to trust memories to be descriptive of actual events, right? Right? OK.  As long as you know."  




"Memory is a poet, not an historian."


Historians tend to criticize the use of remembrance as a source for interpreting the past.  It is OK to discuss people's remembrances and recollections of the past only as long as one does not suggest that those recollections relate in any meaningful way to what actually happened.  Memories are partial, subjective, always in flux, in motion.  People misremember.  They embellish.  They reorder events and their significance, sometimes to align with others' memories, often to make the present make more sense.