I had a pretty strong Republican flare to my Thursday, so Friday had to even out a bit. After my tour of the Bogside and murals, my hosts hooked me up with a private tour from Martin McCrossin, Derry’s unofficially official tour guide. We talked about what was important to me on my final day. He drove me around for about twenty minutes before stopping into Derry’s First Presbyterian Church. Being the gregarious character he is, Martin walked right in and introduced me to Ronald Simpson, a congregation member. I also met, though briefly, Rev. David Lattimore. Rev. Lattimore is the man responsible for bringing in Martin McGuinness to visit the services held in the Church. Mr. McGuinness is a former Provisional IRA man and current First Minister in Northern Ireland. When I say Provisional IRA, I do mean terrorist. Rev. Lattimore was bringing into the church a sworn enemy of the congregation. Mr. Simpson included.
This was a pivotal step for the City of Derry. Reconciliation is happening slowly but surely as is across the North. Note everyone is quick to accept it, but nonetheless people are moving on. Mr. Simpson, by his count, lost 35 friends during the Troubles. The British Army was in Londerderry, by his estimation, to keep the Protestant civilians safe. The IRA used bombings and killings to seize the community into fear while charging the British government to pay for improvements across the community.
But at the core, Mr. Simpson, like much of the citizens in the area acknowledge that everyday people are the same. They were all poor laborers at the time of the Civil Rights push. And had the riots and killings not radicalized the Catholic Republicans, many in the Protestant community would have eventually joined the cause for better jobs, living conditions and access to home ownership. Mr. Simpson explained how the Protestant community was wary of the peace process due to how ravenous the IRA and the Bogside community had seemed in their thirst for destruction. When Martin McGuinness visited two years ago, it felt like a murderer had been let off the hook. According to Mr. Simpson, the peace process had pacified a war zone, but allowed many criminals to walk free with impunity.
Just a door down is the Apprentice Boys’ Hall. This organization preserves the history of the Siege of Derry. The Apprentice Boys closed the city walls and opened them when the Siege was lifted. The organization still preserves the memory of the Siege and the city’s walls themselves. This is a Protestant Unionist organization and their tactics have been perceived as antagonistic by the Catholic Republican population of Derry. Their annual marches in July are times of tense air.
With the help of Martin McCrossin, I was able to walk right in and meet with Billy Moore and his son Stuart Moore. Mr. Moore is the General Secretary of the Apprentice Boys. His leadership has helped open dialogues with members across the community to ensure safety during the marches and clarity on the desire to march. Mr. Moore said the Apprentice Boys are not trying to puff their chests and reignite sectarian violence. They simply wish to share the memory of the Siege of Derry, not the victors or losers. All history is shared. He envisions his organization reaching out to schools and community organizations to explain the mission of the Apprentice Boys. “For too long we’ve looked inward.” Mr. Moore sees the landscape of the City of Derry changing slowly but surely as the community tolerates as it moves toward acceptance with a shared space for celebrations. As he says, “Dialogue corrects misconceptions.”
(Pictured: Billy Moore the General Secretary of the Apprentice Boys, Apprentice Boys Hall, City of Derry’s Peace Bridge