We were standing on the old walls of Derry city overlooking a housing estate on the outskirts of the city which is close to the Donegal border.
It was 12 July. Yes, indeed, what a day to be in Derry. My husband Tim had plans to visit Derry.
I felt sad that I even asked those questions
Our friends encouraged us: “As you’re here; go in and see the march for yourselves. Park in Sainsbury’s and walk in.” I asked: “Is it wise? Might it be dangerous?” We were assured that we’d be grand.
I felt sad that I even asked those questions. It was probably prompted by the huge exodus of people that we met as they left Northern Ireland and travelled west to Donegal for that week. The traffic stretched out for miles and miles on the roads leading away from the North.
We were happy to be travelling in the opposite direction.
We asked one of the many policemen around as to where we might view the march
We did as we were advised and parked in Sainsbury’s. We walked along the banks of the River Foyle, recognised the Peace Bridge and crossed it briefly. Tim pointed out various landmarks gleaned from his historical readings over the years. We asked one of the many policemen around as to where we might view the march. He directed us to The Diamond.
Two riot police were stationed at the corner of Ferry Quay Street where the march would enter The Diamond. I had never seen riot police before. It wasn’t long before we heard the music of the bands in the distance. It sounded festive and I relaxed.
The standard bearers bowed their colours and flags in salute to the monument
The first tune we heard was Whiskey in the Jar and we remembered Phil Lynott. The bands came, they were few in number. We counted but three women. We could have missed a few. Spectators were also scarce, probably due to people’s reluctance to congregate because of COVID-19 worries.
The standard bearers bowed their colours and flags in salute to the monument. It was erected in 1927 and stands 40 feet tall. It is dedicated to the citizens of the city who lost their lives while in military service during World War I. Their names are engraved upon it. Poppy wreaths had been laid. The Orange Lodge march circled the monument and exited up Bishop Street to follow the walls of the old city. They broke into the controversial tune The Sash.
The whole affair was over in a matter of minutes. As we stood there on the walls with a few tourists about and two armed policemen. Tim left my side and asked one policeman to orientate him on the layout of the city. I cringed fearing that the discussion might not go too well. He pointed out the Bogside and the Creggan. There was a pitch visible. Tim asked what it was.
The policeman didn’t know the name of the Gaelic grounds or didn’t want to say? Who knows!
The policeman answered. “That’s where they play football.” Tim continued: “What is the name of it?” He tried to recall the name of it himself.
The policeman answered with a grin: “You’re asking the wrong side on a day like today!” The policeman didn’t know the name of the Gaelic grounds or didn’t want to say? Who knows! He was very polite. We were looking at Celtic Park.
“You’re asking the wrong side today!” is the summary of the history. There are sides defined on religious grounds and then corrupted and complicated by political beliefs. There is hurt and memory and human stories and lived experiences. It all matters. People on both sides talk freely about the other side. The need for identity and recognition is stark.
Here it’s not just a bunch of lads kicking a ball around the pitch
Conflict is strange and it never goes away. The scars of the violent struggle remain through the generations. I’m reading a book about growing up during the troubles by Alix O’Neill called The Troubles With Us. It’s a good read if you prefer to understand history through the human story like I do.
She writes: “Everything is politics in Northern Ireland, especially football. Catholics support Celtic; Protestants, Rangers... Here it’s not just a bunch of lads kicking a ball around the pitch. It’s an expression of identity – and the divide.” We enjoyed our visit to Derry.