Thursday, February 28, 2008

Stroke City

I've been back from Northern Ireland for about a week now, but I've only just got around to moving some photos from my camera onto the laptop.

And my first (daylight) visit to (London)Derry (or Stroke City as I was advised to call it in order to avoid offending anyone) was one that I was looking forward to. If you grew up in the 1970s, in an Irish family, Derry was something of a enigma.

In the early 1970s, catholic charities used to arrange for kids from Derry to come over to ex-pat families like ours to get away from the troubles there. I knew all of the words to The Town I Love So Well in my early teens.

Yet though I must have made over 50 trips to Ireland and travelled everywhere else, we avoided the north. So driving into town for my first decent look around, it was hard not to turn over the phrases that are associated with the town in your head: The Battle of the Bogside / Apprentice Boys March / Bloody Sunday / Free Derry, and so on.

And nothing has changed much. The damned barbed wire grows higher and higher. This photo - taken as I stepped out of the main Derry City Council offices (where I had business to do among the barricades) - shows the scene of urban devastation that greeted me - a scene from a city that is at war with itself.

And this one (below) is particularly evocative. In a war-torn city, rent apart by sectarian strife, here is a brave example of the way that two antagonistic communities have tried to live together. Look closely at the boat in the foreground (click on the pic), and consider the pathos. Some peace people have bridged the divide and agreed a name for their yacht - no doubt as part of an uneasy truce.

One day, perhaps all of this shattered community will be able to live together in peace.

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