I’m a 50 year old Derry Girl, teacher of Drama and English in a local all girls’ grammar school and mother of two teenage daughters. I’ve lived in Derry all my life. My parents instilled in us a deep love of Donegal, its wild and often soft scenery, its simplicity and the gentle, unassuming people. Every Sunday we made the pilgrimage to Bridgend and then on to Rathmullan for the Football Special; Ballyliffin for the 70s delight of Chicken Maryland in the Strand Hotel or a brisk walk along Fahan beach to shake off whatever cobwebs might have incurred the night before. We made this journey often to escape the dark backdrop of trouble and conflict in the North and consequently we crossed a border. We bristled every time. Whether that was because of the heavy presence of a machine gun dangling just below a seven year olds eye line as a stranger peered into the back of the car, or the loaded and unfamiliar accents of the soldiers or my A Level Irish studying brother’s need to answer all queries in what he held to be his native tongue this was a side of life in growing up in the 70s and 80s that was grim and hard to fathom.
I remember one time my brother taking me up to an unmarked border road way above Derry and we danced a little jig straddling both sides feeling free and rebellious.
The narrative that went along with the presence of this border and all its aspects – barbed wire, searchlights, watch towers, guns, walkie talkies, hob nailed boots ran deep into our DNA. It didn’t stop us traveling but it weighed heavy on our minds for many years. When the peace process began and culminated in the Good Friday Agreement to witness the dismantling of the physical structures of the border was like having steel clamps removed from our hearts – to see our roads clear and uninterrupted felt wonderful. We were able to enjoy a healthy relationship with our neighbours in Donegal once again.
To think that now I am having to explain to my daughters that some of what we thought we had left behind could return is just horrifying. This is why I am joining Derry Girls Against Borders and I believe so strongly that we have a massive case to be heard. This is about a way of life. We cannot go back to any form of hard border. All it takes is one misinterpretation of a physical presence whether it is a camera or a barrier and we are sliding back into something very grave, very depressing and potentially very dangerous.
For those born at the end of the 60s this will shake our confidence to the core. We do not want flashbacks. We do not want stops or checks. We have worked so hard to get to where we are. Our home town is often held up as a working example of how conflict can be resolved.
I would urge everyone to get on board with this, to sign the petition to stand up against what is an assault on our way of life, our freedom and our well-being.
Tell your stories, be heard.
Derry Girl, Maeve Connelly
This is a guest slot to give a platform for new writers either as a one off, or a prelude to becoming part of the regular Slugger team.