Last Saturday was my annual pilgrimage to the Maiden City to commemorate the Relief of Derry. Personally I have never been one of those Unionists who got overly hung up on the interchangeable use of the words Derry and Londonderry. I’ve been a member of the Apprentice Boys of Derry for 20 years this very month, and for as long as I can remember Saturday has always been ‘Derry Day’ to myself, my family, my friends and basically everyone I know. There are other reasons to justify my personal general lack of annoyance, for example in 1913 the Ulster Volunteer Force in the area had no problem organising its 4 Battalions of over 3000 men under the moniker of the City of Derry Regiment (though incidentally elsewhere in the County it was the North Londonderry Regiment and South Londonderry Regiment).
But then it’s easy for me to not feel emotively affected by the change of a name when I live over 80 miles away! It isn’t my school being renamed for example. For those in the City who feel their family and cultural history is being rewritten, there are a whole different set of emotions.
I noted this morning with interest a very relevant piece in the Middle East section of the BBC news portal on the use of place names as weapons. A piece that bears a striking amount of similarities to the ‘Stroke City’ issue. Yolande Knell opens with a tale of her plane trip to Israel from Dublin, and being asked by a Jewish-Israeli boy where she was going, she answered Jerusalem. She was told in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t Jerusalem, “it’s Yerushalayim.” Yolande’s piece outlines the ongoing political battle being waged over place names in Israel, making the observation that:
the struggle to control the historical narrative is played out most tangibly in language
Yolande explains how there is a major dispute currently ongoing in Israel, where there is a campaign by rightist Jews to ‘Judaise’ ALL place names. In turn, and in a sentiment remarkably similar to one shared by the Maiden City’s Protestant population, Palestinians in turn believe the tactic is simply an attempt to “erase” them.
Palestine activist Huda Iman states in a quote that could be taken from the mouth of many a Fountain resident:
it’s destroying any trust. They’re erasing all traces of Palestinian identity.”
Just substitute Palestinian with Protestant or Unionist…