Taking The Derry Air

Just returned from a very pleasant few days in Derry..with a cross-county excursion into County Donegal.

I like Derry. Effectively, it is a city made by SDLP. I make no apology for saying that.

I rarely visited Derry in the 1970s. Indeed my memories are really of a two month period in 1980, when I had a girlfriend…or maybe just a friend …in Limavady.

She would travel by bus to Derry. I would travel by bus from Dungannon. On a Saturday. Fish and Chips in the same place on the Strand Road and then a Lough Swilly bus (red and cream livery) to Bunrana. Ice Cream. The bus back to Derry. A Record Shop on Carlisle Road. Then farewell at the bombed out bus station.

And notably the Saturday that I missed my bus back to Dungannon and I got a taxi to “follow that bus” and we caught up with the bus in Newtownstewart.

I like Derry. I get there a lot these days. There is always the odd SDLP conference. There is also the fact that the travel is free…GOD Bless Translink. But oddly there is a twenty year period which is about just passing thru Derry.

Yet there is much to like about the city. The Bogside Murals, the Bloody Sunday Memorial… Strangely they are not as confrontational as Belfast murals and memorials. A “matter of fact” rather than “in your face”. History rather than Politics. The SDLP firmly embedded at Council, Westminster and Assembly level.

Just recently, it seems to be trying too hard. The Peace Bridge. That bloody cross-community boat “Doire-Derry-Londonderry” is just annoying. And that whole City of Culture thing. In a very early blog, I did warn that “Derry-Londonderry” would become a normal phrase and really a “letsgetalongerist” victory …the only real legacy of the City of Culture.

Yesterday, my wife tried to persuade me to buy a “Legend-Derry” Tshirt. No way.

But this is a city,built on better instincts. John Hume. …SDLP operating genuine power-sharing.And the distinct air of liberal-minded Social Democracy. It looks like a decent place to live.


The impressive Guild Hall is a monument to unionist dominance and gerrymander. Stained Glass windows commemorate the coronation of “King” George in 1911 and “Queen” Victoria is in the main entrance. The historic injustices seem to be overlooked as Eyes are firmly fixed on the “brand new day” in the “town they love so well”.

An exhibition in the Guild Hall teaches the History of the City. One of those awful audio- visual things where people from the Past…native Irish, planters from England and Scotland, merchants, clergy talk about Derry. Cleverly it uses their voices in part to explain a wedge between religious zealotry and libertarian mercantile interests in the Plantation.

And then there is another audio-visual thing where young people from both communities state how much they learned about the “other side”.

Political Correctness. In a fairly naive, if earnest way.

But can Parity of Esteem be taken too far?

image image

Surely even Victoria is “amused”…indeed pissing herself laughing at the overly earnest three-language signage. English, Irish….and the entirely made up nonsense of Ulster-Scots. The “Aitin-Hoose” indeed. You couldnt make this stuff up…but somebody DID. Surely there is a point where Parity of Esteem is just making fools of us all. Let me state this clearly …in words that may or may not be “Ulster Scots”….there is no such thing as an Ulster-Scots language….IT IS KEEK.

Yet upstairs in the Guild Hall, there is an alcove dedicated to Bloody Sunday and the Saville Enquiry…set up in 1998 and reporting in 2010….finally exonerating the fourteen murdered, their families, their supporters, the City of Derry.

image Lots of Statistics….no mention of the Cost.

On the bright side…the Council Chamber looks functional and business-like. It doesnt feel “confrontational”. But there is a nagging doubt. SDLP have traditionally been the dominant force in Derry politics. The “New” Council of Derry-Strabane (elected in May 2014) takes over from Derry City Council in April 2015. This now gives SDLP and Sinn Fein equal numbers of councillors. There is the feeling that SDLP is slipping in its old strongholds although there was a little local difficulty involving personalities which affected SDLP.

Although it might be easy to dismiss the Sinn Fein councillors from Strabane as “out of towners”, I dont doubt that the increased numbers of SF councillors will change the nature of the City.

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12 Responses to Taking The Derry Air

  1. Teri says:

    I enjoyed hearing about your few days in Derry, which is my favourite ‘Irish’ city. It’s a city in which I feel so comfortable. I have to agree that in terms of signage in the Guildhall it’s a bit overdone and does appear as ridiculous.

    I don’t know Ulster Scots any better than you do, but Keek in Scots means to peep or look at. The word we would use would be keech. Ulster Scots, being a made up language may of course use keek especially if they have difficulty in using ch as a soft sound at the end of a word, pronounced as in lough or loch as it is in Scotland.

  2. croiteir says:

    Nope keek can mean keek aroon the corner and see what they are up tae noo, or yer taakin keek, which is the phrase which I tend to hear most.

  3. Rory Carr says:

    I must say that I find it rather odd that you chose to place the titles of the English monarchs, George V and Victoria in parentheses as though they were not really monarchs at all but rather perhaps jazz musicians like “Count” Basie and “Duke” Ellington neither of whom were in fact ever called to the English peerage. But George was king and Victoria most definitely queen and empress and, much as I detest the very concept of royalty and all that goes with it, it would be foolish not to recognise the very existence of an institution on which I spend so much energy denouncing.

    I consider myself a staunch Gooner and so am also called upon to be an opponent of Spurs but it would be more than a wee bit silly if I were to refer to that team in writing as Tottenham Hotspur “FC” as if to indicate that I did not consider them to be a real football club. Silly because there would not be much glory to be had in defeating a team that were not from a genuine football club as of course Tottenham most certainly are. Similarly if George and Victoria had been sham monarchs what threat would they have been ? Treat your enemy with respect, say I. Do not resort to childish name calling and denigration of his titles, his marks of esteem so that in your struggle against him your own esteem rises in relation to the esteem in which he is held. When the Zulu warriors defeated the British at Isandlwana their glory was great precisely because of the well-earned reputation of the British as a fighting force.

    And, if I may end on a note from the gutter, the expression, ‘ Fuck the “Queen” ‘ surely loses something through analysis, does it not ?

    • Oh I would never say anything so crude 😉
      But I think these titles are not earned.
      “Prince” George has hardly done much to merit being higher up the sociall order than me.
      So I am unlikely to ever recognise the House of “Lords”. There is actually some notion that “The Q ueen” is head of it all and there is a prcking order…..Dukes, Earls, Vicounts…..right down to OBE being one step up or doWn from MBE.
      I think Id rather draw attention to it with parenthesis than just pass it by. The casual acceptance of it is something I couldnt do.
      In 2010 (then NOT an actual member of SDLP) I was at the SDLP Conference and heard Margaret Ritchie say that she wasnt afraid to say “Northern Ireland” and I remember thinking “yes but what about Londonderry?”
      Youve notic bed tabt I always say “Norn Iron” (no parenthesis) so its a means of ridicule.
      LLikewise with “royal titles”….it just depends where we draw the line.
      Frankly that “Derry-Londonderry” thing….originally a Gerry Anderson joke…..is gaining acceptance. And I think there is an element in SDLP who would see it as progressive. Others like me see it as a compromise too far.
      But Derry is really no different from Dublin…..Essex Street, “Royal Irish Academy of Music” (I wouldnt use parenthesis for it….how far do we take things.
      Should Nelsons Pillar have stayed there?
      Should “Queen Victoria” be taken out of the Guildhall?
      Was it wrong to re-name Sackville Street?

      • I’m on both sides of this. As you may remember, in an earlier post I found your use of quotation marks around an earned senior military rank a little bit disconcerting. But do keep at it as this punctuation rather helpfully reminds me not to take what you say, almost always interesting as it is, as being in any way an objective analysis!

      • Nobody is objective.
        Not ever the “letsgetalongerists”….oops quotation marks…..who claim to be.
        I daresay we will have “Lady” Lo of Botanic, “Lady” Long of Bloomfield and “Great Pooh Bear” Ford of Dunadry.
        We already have “Lord” All Too Nice.

  4. Political Tourist says:

    Derry’s problem along with most of these islands outside of Southern England is the lack of employment.
    Or is it the lack of investment?
    Would be interesting to know if some “weans” in the Bogside or Nelson’s Drive are reduced to food banks like their Glasgow cousins.

    • I have to say there was a generally good prosperous look about the place.
      Of course …it was daylight and in blazing sunshine.And that distorts things.
      There are anti-social problems and no doubt families living on the edge.
      But with little children running thru water jets at the Guildhall ….the overall impression was that this was a really good place to live.
      Of course some aspects of the whole “Legend Derry” narrative is just nonsense.

  5. Stephen O'Neill's left boot says:

    “… although there was a little local difficulty involving personalities which affected SDLP.”

    As far as Strabane goes, the situation goes well beyond that, Fitzy – as much as I’m loathe to admit it, the SDLP are f*cked again in Strabane after what looked like a mini-revival was underway.

    • Two different things.
      The honest thing answer is that SDLP lost just one seat in the Council Elections in Norn Iron. SF lost ten and Alliance lost two.
      Certainly places where SDLP lost out narrowly and other places where they narrowly won.
      So there has to be a close look at the North West.
      The balance of probability is that SDLP would hold its three seats in Foyle, its one seat in West Tyrone and gain a seat in fermanah-South Tyrone. The Mid Ulster seat is safe.
      So the North West let the side down…two losses in Derry and failure to make an expected breakthru in Strabane.
      Two different reasons. I referred to a little local difficulty in Derry and frankly hard to see that news breaking in the week before an election would not have an adverse effect…especially in that DEA.
      But I think that CAN be sorted but as we know anny hint of slippage would be siezed on.
      Strabane….arguably Id say that there are two issues …the first is bad blood. And the second a bad decision to run three people and unlikely to score more than one. Of course the two issues are related.
      But Id look closely at West Tyrone and Foyle next year (Westminster)….which will be a guide as to whether the situation is recoverable.

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