Slugger O'Toole

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A view of UK City of Culture from the near abroad

Tue 13 November 2012, 9:54am

It’s heart warming to see the Independent commissioning an essay about UK City of Culture 2013. The piece tells us much about the generation and background of  Grainne Maguire, the young writer with a southern background and experience of living in London for whom the north is a strange and alien place. Grainne has real insight about the role of art in “telling what is was really like.” But only the fitfully interested young  could believe that for many Bloody Sunday was the start of the Troubles. Still, it may go to show that obsessing over the history is becoming a minority sport and no bad thing.

The advantage art has over facts is that it tells you what it was really like, how it actually felt, what things are really all about. You may disagree with someone political beliefs but when faced with your shared humanity, it’s much harder to hate someone and dismiss their opinions as not worth listening to. Facts can tell us what happened but art tells us why and how it felt. It gives a community space to tell their truth, away from the reports, the spin and the prejudice

The shooting of thirteen unarmed civilians by the British army in Derry in 1972 is seen by many as the start of The Troubles. It’s fitting then that two years after an inquiry that finally revealed the truth about that awful day, that this city is given the chance to begin the next chapter in Northern Irish history.

It’s also fitting that it’s their local boy who offers in a poem the one prayer both sides can believe in, that at long last “The longed-for tidal wave of justice can rise up, and hope and history rhyme” and finally offer a place with two names, the one future it deserves.

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Comments (26)

  1. Nevin (profile) says:

    “Facts can tell us what happened but art tells us why and how it felt. It gives a community space to tell their truth, away from the reports, the spin and the prejudice” .. Gráinne’s blog and other stuff

    Is it not fanciful to claim that various forms of artistic expression are devoid of spin and prejudice? Gráinne tells us she’s a stand-up comedian and a member of the Labour party – what a fantastic opportunity for spin and prejudice. In a clip from a Sky News exchange linked to the paralympics she comes to the defence of fellow comedian Jimmy Carr. If I can borrow briefly from one of Jimmy’s pieces, no one in a wheel-chair is going to walk out during one of her performances.

    I’m largely devoid of talent in the realm of the arts. A friend recently invited me to spot the references in something she had just composed. There were two empty paint tubes – the openings at right-angles to the bodies and ‘looking’ at me – stuck on a piece of hardboard – and that was what I saw and all that I saw. Apparently it had something to do with annunciation :)

    I was a bit surprised to see Gráinne refer to Seamus Heaney as a local lad. Neither Seamus nor I are city slickers – we’re culchies – he from near Castledawson and later Bellaghy, me from near Bushmills. I dabble in family history, history and politics. You can look at the 1911 census where you will find Seamus’ father Patrick and his Heaney grandparents, James and Sarah. They’re living on a farm in the townland of Tamniaran [possibly meaning Ó hEaghráin's field] and Wiki mentions this townland as Seamus’ birthplace. A fascinating fact from the census record is that James and Sarah produced THREE sets of twins in their first nine years of marriage; a remarkable outcome in an era when giving birth could be much much riskier than it is now.

    The best joke yet I’ve heard yet about the UK City of Culture is that its programme was launched in London in the Irish embassy :)

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  2. changeisneeded (profile) black spot says:

    The british bribe the castle catholics once more..
    the rest get left behind.. all part of the peace process.

    And the Fleadh will be shite. A stain on its reputation. Its brought to you courtesy of sustained bullying from the aforementioned castle catholics-(shinners). Look forward to getting thrown out of pubs and told to go to your bed by your local friendly ruc men…

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  3. Dixie Elliott (profile) says:

    In regards to funding and things…

    I expect to hear that arrivals at next year’s party will find that someone has already consumed all the party food and drink and that they will have to make do with egg and onion sandwiches and cheap wine.

    Burp!!

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  4. Covenanter (profile) black spot says:

    “I was a bit surprised to see Gráinne refer to Seamus Heaney as a local lad.”

    They seem determined to push that lie. The Glenshane Pass lies between Heaney’s home place and the UK City of Culture.

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  5. Dixie Elliott (profile) says:

    Ah but Heaney’s brains came from Derry City, being as he was educated in Saint Columb’s College in Bishop Street.

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  6. Egg and onion sandwiches!

    There’s no need to be disgusting, Dixie. ;-)

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  7. Nevin (profile) says:

    Dixie, Seamus’ (Mid) Ulster English is rooted in Mossbawn in south Derry, not Buncrana Road, in Toner’s bog, not down the road from the Bogside.

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  8. Nevin,

    You should come over here. South Derry wrt the city is very local.

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  9. Nevin (profile) says:

    I’ve been over there, Joe! Gráinne is using local in the context of the city. She’s also referring to the ‘capital of culture’. Where was the Independent editor/sub-editor? ;)

    Take a look at this quote from the end of her blog:

    It’s also fitting that it’s their local boy who offers, in a poem, the one prayer both sides can believe in, that at long last “The longed-for tidal wave of justice can rise up, and hope and history rhyme” and finally offer a place with two names, the one future it deserves.

    Now that line from Heaney resonates with Irish unity, a hoped-for United Ireland as espoused by John Hume. Now that’s not something that Unionists and Nationalists agree on.

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  10. Dixie Elliott (profile) says:

    Right thats Seamus Heaney crossed off the guest list for next years All Ireland Irish Morris Dancing competition to be held at Free Derry Corner.

    Bloody foreigner!

    Anyway at least Phil Coulters songs rythmed…

    “well we sang shang-a-lang as we ran with the gang”

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  11. Nevin (profile) says:

    “All Ireland Irish Morris Dancing competition to be held at Free Derry Corner.”

    Lacks the elegance of the English style, Dixie; the bin-lids and the hurls are more difficult to manoeuvre :)

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  12. Harry Flashman (profile) says:

    Heaney wouldn’t have gone to Buncrana Road as that campus (ooh, aren’t we College boys the posh wans?) wasn’t opened until 1974.

    Heaney mentions the College bell ringing (Bishop Street) in the very sad poem on the loss of his little brother in a car accident.

    If he went to St Columb’s, Derry can claim him in much the same way we hail Martin O’Neill as one of our one.

    Sod the culchies if they don’t like it.

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  13. Harry,

    Agree. I’m an old boy myself; 59-65. Hume taught me French for a year.

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  14. Nevin (profile) says:

    Thanks for information and correction about the campus, Harry. It also seems the Belfast kitchen was too hot for Seamus!

    This other quote from Gráinne’s blog certainly gave me a laugh:

    Growing up in the south, north of the border was a confusing place to me. Peace grants, peace trains, reconciliation patch work quilts, full of well meaning middle class women, talking earnestly about nurturing cross community cultural understanding through dialogue and knitting. It was all part of the weirdness that was Northern Ireland.

    Where did she get this ‘weird’ notion from, especially the bit about middle class women? Has she got a bee in her bonnet about class? Is knitting and reconciliation a middle class thingy? Surely they do this sort of thing in the South too.

    I visited Dublin and Wicklow in 1973 shortly before the establishment of Glencree. I met some folks who wanted to do something for the North, especially the children. My suggestion was that they do something for local children and link up with similar groups in the North to share experiences

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  15. Harry Flashman (profile) says:

    “Hume taught me French for a year.”

    When people, almost always from the Sinn Fein corner slavishly seek to break up the grammar school system in the North in favour of a socialized comprehensive system that even the English are sick of I always think of the ingratitude of it all.

    Whatever may be said of life for Catholics in Northern Ireland what must always be appreciated was the jewel in the crown of Northern Nationalist/Catholic society; the schools. The Catholic education system provided working class Catholics with one of the finest educations available in Europe if not the world, for free.

    It was an astonishing achievement. It is particularly noticeable for me now that I no longer live there and I have to pay through the nose for an education for my kids that they would be handed free if I was still in Derry.

    St Columb’s College produced two Nobel Prize winners within a few years of each other. One was the son of an unemployed ex-soldier (if I’m not mistaken) from the Bogside, the other came from a family of eleven, his father a small farmer. In any other society such men would have never broken the bounds of their class and upbringing, through the Catholic education system they went on to achieve greatness and global renown.

    And instead of cherishing that system we want to break it up on the basis of a failed so-called egalitarian ideology. Mind boggling, aboslutely mind-boggling.

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  16. aquifer (profile) says:

    Derry was a key port in the battle of the Atlantic, so helped ensure that the UK had culture rather than kultur.

    How would An Gaelige have done under the 3rd Reich?

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  17. galloglaigh (profile) says:

    How would An Gaelige have done under the 3rd Reich?

    Probably as bad as it has done under the British Reich. 60 years after the 3rd Reich was removed from Germany though, minority and indigenous languages are protected. That says more about the unionist political establishment in Ulster, than it does about Germany post WWII…

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  18. Covenanter. The remainder of the A6 from Heaney’s home to Belfast is a fair distance as well but that didn’t stop the Belfast camaign from poaching SH for their European Culture City of bid, using his brief stay at Queen’s,[along with one or two other of the northwest's famous personalities]. Seems a bit farfetched.

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  19. Toastedpuffin (profile) says:

    Is there any truth to the rumour they’re changing the slogan on Free Derry Corner to “You are now entering Free Derry, UK”?

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  20. Toastedpuffin,

    Spray cans are pretty cheap. Feel free.

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  21. Toastedpuffin (profile) says:

    Joe

    Spray cans are cheap, and healthcare is free, but have you seen the price of funerals? Yikes.

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  22. Toasted puffin 10.46
    In fairness, there’s more of it being renamed ‘You are now entering Free Cwmderi after the the village in the Welsh tv soap, Pobol y cwm.

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  23. Covenanter (profile) black spot says:

    “Probably as bad as it has done under the British Reich. 60 years after the 3rd Reich was removed from Germany though, minority and indigenous languages are protected. That says more about the unionist political establishment in Ulster, than it does about Germany post WWII…”

    What does it tell us about the ROI political establishment post WW2? In the years after De valera went to the German ebassy to express his deep sympathy on the death of the Fuhrer I mean.

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  24. There’s also a piece in this weekend’s Travel section of the New York Times.

    Superficially tickles all the usual erogenous zones, but only if you’re distinctly icky — and nowhere near the best quality you’d expect there.

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  25. Well, aquifer @ 6:39 am, you really subverted the thread there! Well trolled!

    In case you’re all excited, just remember that Colonel Dan Bryan of G2 was an honoured guest of the Royal Navy at Lisahally on 14 May 1945, when the eight U-Boats were formally surrendered to Admiral Horton.

    Not everything is what it seems.

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  26. [...] A view of UK City of Culture from the near abroad (sluggerotoole.com) [...]

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