Terry from Derry: Putting Away Childish Things
by Terry Boyle
For those of us who are disconnected from the homeland, we are always eager to hear about where we come from. When Derry became the city of culture in 2013, I was quite chuffed and delighted that at last there was some recognition given to a city that had been devastated by the Troubles.
In the 14 years of being away from Derry, I have traveled back once or twice a year, and the changes to the city have been noticeable. There are still signs of the troubled past, which have now become tourist sites. These sites remind us of how far we had moved from the violence of yesteryear. And, while the political stalemate of Stormont over the past couple of years, combined with the threat of implementing a border post-Brexit, has evoked a sense of uncertainty, life has continued to be, for the most part, stable.
However, stability is such a fragile state of being when there is no certainty about what you will become. The city of culture while it was a great achievement, it was only meant to be a stepping stone towards something else.
If the recognition of importance is not supported by economic investment, radical changes in social welfare, it becomes nothing more than cosmetic. Of course, tourism in Derry has continued to grow, and the show Derry Girlshas brought a lot of attention to the city. However, lurking underneath it all there has been a fundamental rot. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998, followed by the cessation of violence, has not been welcomed by everyone. A certain section of the IRA has always refused to capitulate its use of arms in its pursuit of a United Ireland, and this has seriously harmed Derry’s much needed development.
While Brexit has illuminated the precariousness of the peace agreement, the New IRA has taken advantage of the political insecurity further and thrown us back into the mayhem of the past. In 2015 there were a spate of bomb attacks in the city, and in January of this year, the bombing continued.
Fortunately, the devastation and potential fatalities of these attacks were not realized, but they serve to remind us of how easy it would be to add to the death toll of 30 years of the Troubles. However, it was only be a matter of time before Derry’s luck ran out.
‘April is the cruelest month’, as T.S Eliot puts it, and proved so for Derry. When the police, armed with information about where to retrieve weapons, carried out a raid in the Creggan area of Derry, they were met with violence. In the heat of the riot, a young journalist, Lyra McKee, who was covering the story, was shot dead.
Only 29 years old, McKee was described by the National Union of Journalists as ‘one of the most promising journalists. McKee, who had moved to Derry to be with her partner, fell in love with the city. Her death, another act of senseless violence, had a profound effect on a city that no longer has the stomach for such atrocities.
The New IRA were publicly condemned by all of the parties in Northern Ireland, and the people of Derry marched in protest against them. Needless to say, the press hammered the New IRA for killing one of their own. And, while I am saddened by this horrific act, I’m proud of the way that the people of Derry responded to this deadly action.
The loss of life through political violence is not something you ever want to get used to. It’s barbaric, and unnecessary. After 30 years of uncertainty, and destruction, it’s time to put away childish things, change those swords into ploughshares, through meaningful dialogue and political arbitration.
I remember texting something of this thought to my brother recently. He’s himself has moved from radical Republicanism to working for social change; a move that is in line with what I believe is a progressive step forward. When a member of the People before Profit (my brother’s party) recently won an election for a council step, it signaled a move away from the old party loyalties.
As I wrote to him then; ‘Derry needs to change, or maybe Derry needs a change’ (the latter phrase is probably what I believe is most pertinent to Derry’s advancement). What the New IRA has to offer is nothing more than a backwards step towards the horror of the past. I would like to think that since 1998, we have grown up, acted on our hard-won civil rights by constitutional means, and not allow ourselves be dragged back into chaos and mayhem.
Derry needs a change, and it does not lie in the hands of those who would sabotage the work of those who have tirelessly laboured towards a peaceful resolution.
In shooting a member of the press, the New IRA, has miscalculated the public’s response to such a mindless killing. Times have changed, even if some of people haven’t, and it’s time for the New IRA to wake up to a new reality; Derry needs a change.
*Terry is a professor at Loyola University, Chicago. He writes and reviews plays, while also teaching modern Irish and English drama. Moving from Derry, N. Ireland to Chicago in 2004, he continues to enjoy is work with the Irish American community. He can be reached: [email protected]