Derry Essays 7: Derry Culture or Londonderry Culture. Which?

Culture is a slippery concept to get a grip of. According to Chairman Mao: –

“ People live and move in culture as fish live and move in water.”

This is true of an homogeneous people like the Chinese. The people of Derry aren’t homogeneous but are culturally divided. A more apt view of Derry culture is that of Dr Goebbels: –

“ Every time I hear the word culture, I reach for my Luger and release the safety catch.”

This is true of Europe with its plethora of clashing cultures. The clash of cultures in Derry has been a factor in the troubles.

If one were to ask the Bogside —What is your culture? — You would be told –Irish–. But the nature of such a culture is unclear.  The people in the Bogside speak English watch the B. B. C. and I. T. V. and read the “ Catholic” Derry Journal. The same is true of the middle class Culmore Rd.

If one were to ask the people of the Fountain Estate their culture, you would be told — British–.but a British culture for the Fountain is as enigmatic as is an Irish culture for the Bogside. The people of the Fountain speak English, watch the B.B.C. and I.T.V. but read the  “ Protestant” Londonderry Sentinel.

The same is true of middle class protestant areas in the Waterside. A British culture is puzzle. There are English, Irish Scottish and Welsh cultures for sure but surely British has nothing to do with culture but with political power and economic strength. Sinn Fein’s objection to linking the term U.K. to culture in Derry is valid.

In fact the U.K. is a constitutional matter and is unconnected with culture.

Culture can be expressed in language, a literature of stature, song dance and music. Has Derry got a literature of stature? Brian Friel has rightly won international acclaim for drama but only two of his plays are about Derry. Brian Friel hasn’t attempted to bridge the city’s cultural divide in his writing. He is identified as being on the Irish side of the divide. The same is true of the writing of the Derry academic Seamus Deane.

Nothing more than song reflects the sectarian cultural divide of the city. A well known song about the city has two names — Lovely Derry on the Banks of the Foyle is the Catholic name— Londonderry on the Banks of the Foyle — is the Protestant name. The well-known song by Phil Coulter — The Town I Loved So Well – polarises the communities in these lines: –

“ Now the army’s installed by the old gas yard wall,

And the damned barbed wire gets higher and higher

With their tanks and guns, my God what have they done?

To the town I loved so well.”

This goes down well with the Catholic community but angers Protestants. They point out that these lines are a slur on the British Army and what was done to Derry was done by the guns car bombs and death squads of the Provisional I.R.A.

Dana is associated with the cultural life of the City but the song— All Kinds of Everything—is a song about anything and anyone. But by going into politics in the Republic and as a defender of Catholic values these place her on the Irish Catholic side the city’s cultural divide so like other Derry celebrities she doesn’t bridge the divide.

The Undertones won acclaim far beyond Derry with the pop song  —Teenage Kicks –.  But here Teenagers from the Protestant Waterside are reluctant to socialise in the Catholic West Bank lest they be assaulted. Those are the real “ Teenage Kicks” of Derry

The people are also divided over dance. Prior to the troubles there was a ballet school in the City but ballet was seen as dance for Protestants while Irish dance was dance for Catholics. Music is similarly divided.  There is a beautiful melody associated with Derry but in the Protestant community and by the B.B.C. the melody is named — The Londonderry Air– but in the Catholic community and on R.T.E. the melody is named — The Derry Air—.

The promotion of Derry as the U.K. City of Culture is an attempt by the British establishment in Ireland (North and South) and by Westminster to apply a cosmetic to mask the ugly sectarian scar that disfigures the face of the city. To correct this scar will require radical constitutional surgery not alone to the face of Derry but to the face of the whole of Ireland.

In the meantime Derry would be well advised to put culture on the back burner and make its first priority the eradication of the sectarian sickness that infects the city; the second priority is to have the city’s economic growth increase to raise the level of wealth in the city. Wealth and culture are inter-related.

The outstanding cities of culture in Europe like Milan, Florence, Venice, and Vienna, Paris and Berne are all wealthy cities. A wealthy non-sectarian Derry will be a cultural city. It has been said of Derry— If a Rembrandt were put up for sale in Derry one would be offered a fiver for the frame–.