July 11 – Derry, the town I love so well

july1012July 11th Hitching For Hope blog. Ruairí’s Hitching For Hope national listening tour is a one month project to hear, document and promote the visions and visions of the people of Ireland in advance of speaking at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties on July 29th & 30th . More info 

Blogging from the road, please excuse errors and sound quality issues etc.). Press the orange play icon on sound files to hear audio. 

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Latest blog (reviewing July 11th) 

I woke up at 6am to news that the abortion legislation vote had been adjourned. In the middle of the night Fine Gael TD Tom Barry had grabbed a female colleague and pulled her to his lap. What a powerful symbol of what is tolerated in our national parliament and an expression of the crap that women have to put up with in so many different ways.

I’d love to know if that TD, and indeed, others had been drinking in the Dail bar earlier that night. Perhaps we have a right to know? It wouldn’t be the first time that our national representatives were availing of the (subsidised) Dail bar while spending the night debating and voting on vital national legislation. What a way to run a country! And they wonder why many young people don’t vote.

At breakfast I chatted to Janet about the challenges that my generation faces in terms of negative equity, debt and joblessness and job insecurity. I listened as Janet spoke about how this compares to a world where secure jobs and secure structures and institutions promised pensions and certainties for the future.

It seems that many of the older generation have their mortgages paid off but many feel that the institutions they worked for and trusted (church, state, unions etc..) have let people down and in many ways have been corrupted. They fear that they will become ‘skype grandparents’, logging on to see the Canadian or Australian born grandchildren they will only meet every year or two.

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I did a bit of online work and then got on the road again and was no more than a minute on the road before I was picked up by a lovely couple called Nuala and Robbie. They encouraged me to stick around Derry and come to a Wally Page folk gig in Sandinos that night but I said it was unlikely as I was avoiding night time socialising and also needed to get on the road, ideally getting out of town to avoid the next day’s orange marches and difficulties in hitching.

Robbie dropped me to the door of the BBC Radio Foyle building where I wanted to drop by backpack for the day while I wandered around town chatting to people. Inside I got chatting to the friendly team from the Mark Patterson show and was offered coffee, fruit, stories and interent access. As I wandered off into town the lads asked me if I wanted to record some vox pops for their afternoon show. I’ve always loved radio as a form of media and said I’d be honoured to. They told me to be back in an hour with the footage so off I went in the 30 degrees heat, hitting the streets on a
mission to find hope.

Derry is a friendly confident place so I didn’t fear a shortage of speakers. Almost everyone I approached had something to say. I found a general theme around the relief at having peace and the lift that the city of culture status has given to this city that has suffered so much over the years. One woman on crutches told me about how she finds hope by being able to just get up in the morning despite her crippling pain.

She said we need to find strength from within and to stand up for our rights against government power grabs. On the impressive new peace bridge that connects the two physically and politially divided communities, I heard from a young father who said his son would grow up in a much better place than he did and to guy about my age who said that there is darkness everywhere but we can find hope by believing in the goodness of people and in working together. 8 year old Erin told me uses hope to wish for good weather and it seems her wishes were paying off.

On the way back to the BBC I had to dive into a hotel lobby and do an interview with Highland Radio before sprinting to get back in time. There the lads took my footage and started to get it ready for broadcast and  I hung out catching up on a few jobs including an interview with the Derry Journal newspaper. At 2pm I was invited into the study and Mark played some of my clips and said it was something he’d like to do more of on radio. He then interviewed me at length in a way that most interviewees never bother with.

He seemed genuinely interested in going deeper into the issues and listened intently as I spoke. This contrasted with many of the radio people I’ve met who warmly welcome you in, hardly listen and then shove you out the door as if it was the Lidl supermarket check-out. I love radio and believe in it’s power for change but Irish radio, like so many of our structures,  is badly in need of change.
I rushed down to the fantastic Culturlann Irish langage and culture centre (a living example of community effort) and met my schoolfriend Barry who was staying in nearby Inishowen to get a few days away from home in Belfast where the marching season was in full swing. He had a quick catch up before flying back to the BBC to do an interview with the RTE Radio One Mooney show. The fill-in presenter asked me a few questions about the trip and made a joke about the BBC salaries to which i replied that the RTE ones weren’t exactly bad.

As it turns out the BBC lads don’t earn a huge amount but so many of the RTE staff are on 100k-200k per year while broadcasting about the poverty in the country and the injustices around us. It can be hard to take sometimes especially when you can barely pay your own rent.

I don’t deny anyone a good salary for hard work and talent but sometimes you have to wonder if our license fee money is really worth the 2,000-4,000 per week that someone is being paid for a few hours of average quality radio. The challenge is that this is an issue that isn’t exactly going to be taken up by RTE itself and those that speak out may be marginalised as is often the case.

I love public broadcasting and want to see RTE flourish but I want to see a touch of reality and an injection of new raw fresh talent into the gene pool.

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Before leaving the BBC lads I asked them about my options for getting out of town the following morning before the marches. I said I’d love to stay for the marches as it would be wrong for me to ignore this huge happening on our island at a time when I wanted to learn about all people. Mark suggesated I stay the night and come with them to their outside broadcast the following day, to go around chatting to people and to act as a ‘view from the south’ during their broadcast. Happy days! I was in.

Myself and Barry wandered up the streets we used to hang out on when he was in college here 17 years ago. I used to spend a few days with him on my trips to and fro college in Scotland via the Belfast ferry. Those were happy days and mad days. We wandered in the Wah re3cord shop where I interviewed one of the staff about their battle with HMV.

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He told me how HMV had closed all its shops, left them jobless and left Derry people who had no credit cards or internet without the option of buying music and DVDs. They had took the initiative and opened the store called VMH, HMV spelled backwards. HMV threated to sue but the lads responded with classical Derry wit by turning the letters upside to WAH. Hard to argue with that, wah also being a real Derry colloqialism for saying ‘what?’.

We went and got a feed and chatted over the politics of Derry and the struggles of finance. I then got a tweet with a link to a Derry Journal article on my trip, live just hours after they had interviewed me:
We wandered on through the bogside area, the swampy land where Irish catholics (sometimes also called nationalists or republicans) were more or less dumped by the British government who conolised Derry (Londonderry to them) as part of the empire. It was here that ‘free Derry’ was born, a movement, a concept and a heartland of resistance to a lack of equality in housing, education, work, and voting.

Free Derry was specifically born due to the horrors of Bloody Sunday, a day in 1972 when British soliders shot 26 unarmed  civil rights  protesters, an act that also gave rise to the rebirth of the IRA and a new 30 year war that has only recently ended.
The murals around the area were testimony to the hardships, pain and struggle the people have endured over the years, and their solidarity with other struggles in South Africa, Palestine and elsewhere. The famous free Derry wall was even painted pink for gay pride day  recently as an encouraging act of working class solidarity with another group who has been marginalised and discriminated against.

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During the walk myself and Barry got chatting about my wedding plans for next year, during which I ‘popped the question’ and asked him to be my best man. No better man I thought, a good man and a solid friend who has made a good life for himself in Belfast where he is married with 2 gorgeous kids. He recently quit his job in construction to become a stay at home Dad, wanting to be close to his kids as they grow up with dedicated parental care during their early years, despite the challenges of living on a single salary.

Sometimes it is through acts like this that society changes, when people change the system by themselves, inspiring others to do the same. Eventually a new and better culture is born and laws change to reflect it. Hopefully we will see this change come soon, where families, mothers, and fathers are better supported.

Barry

Barry

I said goodbye to Barry and wandered across the peace bridge and over to the largely protestant (or sometimes called loyalist or unionist) side of the city called the waterside. I was staying in a union jacked lined street with Mark, the presenter from the radio station who kindly offered me a room. He was working in his garden and I spent some time writing up a blog before joining him later in the night to watch a bit of a Tom Petty documentary.

Just as I started to nod off Mark jumped off the couch and suggested we could sit on the couch anywhere and we should check out the live music in Sandinos. It was 11pm and I was exhausted but I said what the hell. Sandinos was buzzing.

A hot bed of misfits, rebels and all ages. I bumped into the couple who had given me a lift and I thanked them for the tip. They were older people out having a great time, dancing and smiling.  They were living life and it was good to see as too many hide away when older, watching the misery and fear of late night TV that seems to be centered and doom and gloom current affairs shows, celebrity whatever the hell, whore yourself to an entrepreneur, or some brutal crime show that puts thoughts of murder into your head before you hit the hay. Not exactly relaxing! Sometimes you just have to get outside, go for a walk or a boogie, shake off the day.

Wally Page was in fully swing with his band and we managed to catch an hour of his pulsating folk music including several songs that have been made popular by his friend Christy Moore. The music was soul food. I loved the rawness of the bar, the mixed ages of the crowd, the fact the gig didn’t start at 8pm like in Dublin, and that you could still get a drink late and night without having to go to some overpriced squashed super pub that robs you blind.

On the way back over the peace bridge we noticed smoke in the sky that was coming from the fountain area of the city. The foundation is a so called loyalist enclave, the last remaining part of the city side of Derry where protestants have their own community. Just 250 families live in this area, surrounded by one of Northern Ireland’s largest nationalist populations. Mark suggested we head back over and check out the bonfire, which is a traditional twelft  or twelfv eve event.
 It was 2am. I was tired and my only experience of such bonfires was from the TV when they seemed to burn Irish flags and symbols of Irish or catholic culture. They didn’t strike me as fun cultural places to go hang out. But feck it, I was on the road, ready to listen and learn. I may not get the chance again. So off we went. We wandered up into the  somewhat delabadated area of small terraced houses and union jack covered streets. We sat beside some locals
who were busy drinking beer while looking over at the bonfire as another group of drinkers, drummers and flute players shouted across the street. The toxic smell of tyres burning filled the air. I didn’t like it.

I was afraid to open my mouth for fear my accent or name would give it away that I was from ‘the other side’. The others were giving Mark a bit of grief over something that was on, or not on, his radio show. He tackled them head on about it and although tempers weren’t raised I didn’t fancy my chances of introducing myself and my hitching tour to people at 2am in the morning.

A few of the group left and things seemed to calm. I sat and listened as a younger woman started talking to me about this and that. I left her to it for a while before speaking so that when I did at least there was some kind of relationship for her to engage with the fact there was someone from alien territory hanging out at their drink fueled bonfire.

We chatted away and they told me how Channel 4 had been hanging out waiting for and wanting trouble to broadcast to their world. They said they were sick of it, being whored out as bad guys, while they just wanted to get on with life. We shared a beer and chatted away and eventually we headed off before the night drifted into more twists and turns.

I can’t say it was a fun experience but it was an insight into an other world, a side we don’t see, the borders that still exist, and to the people we’re told hate us. It seems to me that the issues aren’t so much about religion and culture
but more about economics, class and opportunity. The middle classes get to mingle together in mixed schools, at university, at rugby matches, on holidays, and in the suburbs, while the poorer people are pushed into ghettos of poverty, left to believe that the other side’s poor people are the enemy, left following the spin and propaganda of people who push agendas that seek to control. Divide and rule.
I was once again reminded of James Connolly’s march in Belfast over 100 years ago where both 1000s from both communities joined together in common cause – the cause of a decent living and a bright future. With a new peace embedding into hearts and minds I hoped that we may once again march together.

United we stand. Divided we fall.
The hitching for hope continues…

Thanks for all your support.

Ruairí

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Places I have visited so far
Galway City, Spiddal, Moycullenl, Oughterard, Cleggan, Inishbofin, Clifden, Mam Cross, Leenane, Westport, Croagh Patrick, Newport, Achill Island, Rossport, Belmullet, Ballina, Sligo, Bundoran, Donegal Town, Mountcharles, St. John’s Pt, Letterkenny, Derry.

Media coverage
Galway Bay FM, iRadio, the Galway Independent, Mid West Radio, Ocean FM, Tipp FM, WorldIrish.com, Highland Radio, BBC Radio Foyle x 3, the Derry Journal, DonegalDaily.com, RTE Radio One Mooney Show, the Irish Times, theJournal.ie.

Links to media coverage

TheJournal.ie
Irish Times

Derry Journal
RTE Radio – Mooney show

About this trip | Blog | Facebook Twitter | E-news LinkedIn | | Donate | Photos | Audio