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Sunday, December 30, 2007

IRELAND--DAY 9

Today our local guide for a second tour of London/Derry and its environs added another level to the story of the Troubles. Our coach drives us out into the countryside, to places just becoming “suburban” because it used to be too dangerous to venture into these “training areas.” This is a day devoted to history.

Carolyn is Catholic, and she tells us “the troubles” were originally a civil rights issue—exactly as Ronan had said in London/Derry. No voting rights for people who owned no property. Hence, poor Catholics and Protestants took to the streets emulating Martin Luther King’s methods of non-violent protest. Some trouble makers at the back of the march started a riot, and things quickly spiraled out of control. The government blamed the Catholics, and the press ate it up! Remember McLuhan’s “the medium is the massage.”

Carolyn grew up in a five bedroom house in the bogside—Catholic side—living with five other families, each family having one bedroom and all families sharing bathroom and kitchen facilities.

Carolyn’s grandfather’s boss, however, was a Protestant who owned several houses (and had several votes). He offered one house to Carolyn’s grandfather. Carolyn’s father took the mortgage, and for two years the family lived happily—until the Troubles began in 1969. The violence became so “normal” that as teenagers, she and her girlfriends went to whatever civil riots were going on in order to meet boys. Most people did not like the extremist groups on either side, but young men flexing their muscles flocked to join—another way of perpetuating the ongoing violence.

Most people, she explained, were simply looking for their Civil Rights—one man, one vote.

Today Carolyn’s teenage sons are offered a better life, and that is all they ever asked for. She pointed out the recently removed border guards (some as recently as July) and the calmness—though tentative—that is almost palpable.

We drove up to areas in the countryside just being developed for housing. It was too dangerous to build there only a short time ago as the countryside was training grounds for the different groups. But we did visit Grianan Ailligh, a large stone walled fort with a commanding view of Loughs Foyle and Swilly. It was the royal citadel of the O’Neills from the 5th to 12th centuries. The fort was probably built around the time of Christ, and there is an ancient burial ground that dates back to 3000 BC. Do I have to say this was impressive????!!

The peace is so fragile. Both Carolyn and Ronan voiced concern about Halloween, and the weekend before we arrived there was a raucous demonstration in Guildhall that ended with about $2000 worth of media equipment damage. The video ended up on YouTube, and the mayor made a statement about how they were sending out the wrong message to the world and to would-be tourists, a big source of revenue for this struggling country that would love to catch the tail of the Celtic Tiger.

This was a very touching day. I thought back to yesterday and two events in a pub. 1. I took a photo of Aggie and Owen at the bar. The young Irishman they were talking to was decidedly annoyed. In Northern Ireland, you don’t just take pictures. There’s that nagging feeling that your identity will be turned over to authorities. 2. I met an elderly gentleman in the pub and Rob got to talking to him. When we left, Rob shook his hand and said how nice it was to meet him. He said we all want the same things in life—to live it a little better. And then Rob agreed, squeezed his hand, and the man started to cry.

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