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Showing posts with the label Northern Ireland

June 9 - the Feast of Saint Columba

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The celebrations of Saint Columba in Derry City represent one of my favorite examples of what Eric Hobsawm and Terence Ranger named "an invented tradition."  In 1897,  the Catholic residents of Derry began a tradition of honoring their patron saint publicly in the streets of the city, as well as in its Catholic chapels.

Here is an excerpt from my manuscript about the process, and reasons, for doing so.


The celebrations of the thirteen hundredth anniversary of the death of St. Columba scheduled to be held in Gartan, Donegal, provided the catalyst for Long Tower's Father Willie Doherty to expand his vision of Derry as a city inspired by Columba, and to invite the city’s Catholic population to join in reverence for their religion and in pride for their cultural heritage. Father Willie served as a conduit, providing the stimulus and organization that enabled local Catholics to express publicly a broader Irish community identity in a way that was respectable, even pious. Inv…

The Museum of Free Derry Needs to Keep the Names Up

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The Museum of Free Derry has recently drawn fire from all sides for an exhibit that lists the names of all those killed in the area during the early Troubles.  On one hand, relatives of RUC officers killed during the Troubles "find it disgraceful" that their loved ones are identified in a space they consider a bastion of republicanism and which supports "terrorism."  On the other hand, some relatives of Bloody Sunday victims and others object to the full display of names of those killed on the grounds that it shows "complete disrespect for those on the list that have been murdered by the establishment" by having members of "the establishment" listed alongside the Bloody Sunday dead and other victims of state violence.  While the exhibit has been up for a decade, it has received attention recently because of the reopening of the museum after renovations.

I was so glad that the Museum of Free Derry received £2.4m to fund renovations and an exten…

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

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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.



Since when were the Gardaí on the other side of the Northern Ireland conflict?

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Today, the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience announced its grant awards for 2016.



One grant was awarded to an organization called  Diversity Challenges, whose mission is "to assist culturally specific groups in integrating community relations principles and considerations within all aspects of their work."


According to the Sites of Conscience the grant will fund “Voices from the Vault,” a project that collects stories from former police officers in two police forces on either side of the (Northern Ireland) conflict. The work is groundbreaking in the sense that it is uncommon for state agents in any dispute to talk about their experiences."

Ummmm, what?

As a public historian, I tend to dismiss academics who get petty about semantics.  They always seem to have an air of the kid in the front of the room just dying to get the answer right. (The kid waving their hand in the air so hard you think they might pee themselves.)


As an historian of Northern Ireland, thou…

Low Voter Turnout in Derry Dishonors the Past

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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.


Paddy "Bogside" Doherty, 1926 - 2016

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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.


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 se…

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

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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 art…

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

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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 Timesand 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 go…

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

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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 …

The City Revisited: A Re-photographic Study of Derry

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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 …

A Tale of Two Margos

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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 Dun…

Return to Sender: Lessons from Boston College' s Belfast Project

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The Politics of Remembrance in Northern Ireland

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I have been thinking about the Troubles for fifteen years,  researching and trying to tell  histories of nationalists in Derry, Northern Ireland for ten.   As a result, many people have asked me what I think of the the recent news cycle, featuring Sinn Féin's Gerry Adams, murdered Belfast widow Jean McConville and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.   

My response has been a vague, "I think it's complicated."  There has been a rash of whataboutery out there, to which I am loathe to add even a syllable ( -- from Martin McGuinness's comment about the "dark forces" in the PSNI,  Northern Ireland's police force to the lachrymose recapitulations of the abduction and murder of McConville, a widowed mother of 10 accused of passing information to the British army whose body was missing until 2003 -- that sounds like "republicans are all evil" masquerading as sympathy for McConville's children.)

  There has also been intelligent and thoughtf…

Naming the Butterflies: On Discomfort Zones

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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.

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. …