New peace wall for Londonderry and thoughts on divided communities

Derry City Council last week approved planning permission for a new peace wall. From the Belfast Telegraph:

The 170-metre long fence at the playing fields at Lisnagelvin in Londonderry will be erected as soon as possible. A litany of incidents at the interface, including sectarian abuse, stone throwing, attacks on the police, underage drinking and the lighting of fires have been recorded since last September.

This peace line seems to have been requested and endorsed by all the relevant community groups etc. from both sides of the divide.

A council spokesman said council representatives had met with residents, community groups and the police to identify what type of approach could be adopted to best prevent further trouble in the area.
This led to the recommendation that the erection of the 1.8 metre high palisade fence along the Irish Street boundary of the field would significantly reduce the problems faced.

The fact that these peace lines are needed so long after the supposed end of The Troubles is of course a bit depressing. However, the reality is that community division and tension has not changed. The children who are the main protagonists in these skirmishes were even born when the ceasefires were announced.

The peace lines are predominantly (though not exclusively) in working class areas in our towns. In the country we culchies do things so much better.

Many villages in Northern Ireland are almost completely one side or the other: Armagh has the likes of Richhill in the north and Crossmaglen in the south of the county. Often, however, the villages of different sorts neighbour one another: Kilrea (70% plus nationalist) is beside Garvagh (80% plus unionist). In Fermanagh Kesh (almost 100% unionist) is down the road from Ederney (practically the reverse).

The true countryside is often just as divided. Where I was brought up there were literally no Catholics for several miles: actually there was almost no one but Presbyterians for nearly as great a distance (a few Episcopalians were allowed to lurk about on sufferance). There were no flags (apart from coming up to the 12th) but the area was practically 100% unionist.

Sometimes these areas have a tattered Union flag, Ulster flag or Tricolour but frequently not. Even when there is a more mixed community the reality is that all the locals know which areas are which, often down to which house is from which side and even which field and whether they have in the past been “sold wrong.”

In the country there is rarely much in the way of sectarian infighting which might need a peace wall but the walls are there all right in people’s minds.

The reasons for the division is multi factorial: largely segregated schooling; separate sporting and cultural activities; high levels of church attendance which automatically separates people. The churches are not to blame, it is simply that the church often offers the focal point of a rural community providing friendships for life, social activities and a sporting venue all within its own section of the community.

In a rural context this benign apartheid is pretty harmless as it is in middle class areas of towns and cities. It probably does not even cost that much money and is a characteristic shared albeit with different descriptors of division with many other places in the world. In the areas where it leads to inter community strife that is clearly different and unacceptable. However, it seems to be a sad fact that peace lines are needed and wanted by the local community. In such scenarios it is probably completely unfair for outsiders, usually middle class do gooders, to criticise the local people who crave security. Indeed the do gooders often live in equally divided communities or else are preening themselves that in their area there is no division on sectarian grounds: maybe not and no one would throw a brick at their neighbours window for being from the other community. Then again they might throw an empty bottle of Chianti if they thought the peasants were going to move in next door, or travellers, or asylum seekers etc. etc.

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