Derry, A City Mending and Remaking

First of all Derry must be one of the most underrated cities in Ireland and the British Isles. Though much recognition has come its way. Designated as the UK’s City of Culture with events such as the North Atlantic Fiddle Convention hosted in this city next year. Just today, across the Peace Bridge, Derry hosted a free concert for 10,000 people in cahoots with the One Day for Peace movement culminating soon. OMG! Jude Law!

Needless to say I didn’t go. I was busy wandering the city, and by dinner I was worked. Should rallied and walked across the bridge but couldn’t imagine standing for another three to five hours. Fireworks from my B&B were good enough, pictured below.

I started off receiving a tour of from the Free Derry Museum. If you click the link you may recognize the song these Irish Catholics were singing. Derry is the birthplace of the Troubles so to speak, but its history in connection to the root problem of British-Irish conflict is not recent. In fact, Derry was the first plantation city in Ireland as the English throne sent settlers to build a fort to combat the Spanish and French forces trying to use the North Atlantic as a strategic route to attack their homeland in the 17th C. The Seige of Derry is remembered as an event in which the Unionisst recall their forefathers The Apprentice Boys withstood the onslaught of Catholic King James II in his assertion to the Divine Right of English Kings. This survival of the 100 day long siege from across the River Foyle is still commemorated to this day on July 12 with the marches that I mentioned in my first post.

The Free Derry Museum exists to commemorate the beginning of the Troubles from 1968-1972. The residents of the Bogside (a huge slum of a Catholic majority where the river used to flow in the days of James and the Apprentice Boys) used the cues and examples from the American Civil Rights push to assert their own human rights. Bogsiders were disenfranchised in the city, had little access to jobs and could not own property. In the slum generations of families were forces to live under one roof and squalor. One set of row homes housed 244 in 50 residences! The local police, The Royal Ulster Constabulary force stopped the marches and violence ensued. From there, the Bogside became the powderkeg of the Troubles. Eventually the British Army was brought in to relieve the tension and the RUC. Use the links to connect the dots if you wish.

Initially the locals thought this was the United Nations army to relieve the tensions, but the dark reality set in and the Troubles amped up. The presence of students from across the North flooded Derry to support in peaceful tactics a la American Civil Rights Activists. The wall commemorating the ideal, You Are Now Entering Free Derry, borrowed the slogan from a Berkeley student proclaiming the same.

Tragically, the Bogside is also home to Bloody Sunday. The brother of my tour guide was killed that day running from the Army. This was meant to be a peaceful march followed by speakers by the Free Derry wall. A few protesters decided to try marching into the forbidden route, shots were fired and each victim was killed from a wound in their back. All were running away. None were armed or dangerous. It took until the last few years for the British government to apologize and acknowledge these were in fact murders and not acts of self defense on behalf of the army. This a moving gesture on behalf of David Cameron. The link is a brief video of the speech with footage from Derry and the community’s response. The Saville Inquiryhealed many wounds.

In a more present sense, the Bogside’s deplorable slums were razed and newer more accommodating housing projects were built. Still the walls above the Bogside remained (they still remain if you notice from my pictures), the IRA set up shop in Derry and the British Army presence in Northern Ireland remained until 1998 and the Good Friday Agreement.

Now from my experiences so far, it seems that people of my parents’ generation and those who survived the Troubles acknowledge that things have changed and progress has been made. But I haven’t been able to crack their perspective as to the bridges across communities divides that I wish to find. The people my age, those who lived through the end but not worst of the Troubles, have a deeper perspective on the nature of education and efforts to remedy and remake the community. For many Bogsiders, the pacification of their community is enough and bridges unnecessary.

I then walked up the hill where the walls of the Fort from the Siege of Derry still exist. Around the corner, exists The Fountain, an intentional housing project to integrate Protestant Unionists into the City side of River Foyle during the seventies. They have provocative murals as well and colorful curbs to mark their territory. The communities cannot feel farther apart. The Bogside below, vast and grided. The Fountain tucked away, clean and close to the walls. I hope you find the pictures interesting.

The murals are obviously much different, but the Bogside Artists have been able to communicate the workings of peace in Northern Ireland. Subtle imagery communicates the peace process. I hope you can see the connections. I know I will be using these images in my classroom. At the Free Derry Museum I purchased a book cataloging murals across Northern Ireland, much of which I’ll see in Belfast next week.

The Verbal Arts Center is close to The Fountain and within the Walls. It is a nonprofit supporting Northern Irish literature and creative pursuits. They have a great library dedicated to Irish publishing houses. I talked to resident artist David Campbell who is a comic book/graphic novel artist. He provided me with some great resources and an example of art curriculum to bridge the youth divide. Celtic and Rangers are Scottish football clubs. You either love them or hate them depending on your religious, political stances. Very intriguing model. I purchased Stories in Conflict and Peace and Reconciliation Worksheets for Facilitators to use directly in my Borders curriculum next semester. Super excited by these.

Finally I stumbled into a community office that I forget the name of. Just dropped in and grabbed a booklet of the Sure What’s the Problem Community Relations Week for May of 2011 in Derry. Impressive curriculum for the entire community to dialogue and create new directions for the bridging divides. Such classes included: A Flag Audit of Households, Ethical and Shared Remembering, Screening Histories of the Conflict, Football for All, and the Launch of a Garden of Reflection to name a few. Impressive community building.

Derry is an unbelievable gem. It is only fitting that I began my research with this city. It is also fitting that I stumbled upon it, gathered steam with a chance encounter on a train to Belfast and culminates sooner than it should. This is a must visit city. Brilliant!

The Angel House has been a welcoming haven for me. Located just above the Bogside, eye level with the Walls if you will, this family has been great with advice, generosity and compassion. Cheers!

Tomorrow I head to Strabane, twenty minutes south. This is a border town that saw its share of the Troubles. No one in this city can imagine why I am headed there instead of staying in Derry. But I am going to connect with the family of Aidan McLaughlin, whom we hosted through Project Children. We have never met his parents. I’ll meet his niece and nehpew tomorrow as well. Greatly excited.

Keep in mind today was really the first true day of my hands on ethnography. I could’ve written another four blog posts about it. Whew. Thanks Fund For Teachers!

The Derry Poems

Composed on napkins in the Ice Wharf over a Guinness or two, a wonderful salad and the first installment of Fish and Chips.


of troubles
they’ve survived

can’t imagine why they choose the suffering
of budweiser

The Doherty clan, from which we get our wonderful last name, claims it ancient lands in this area to Malin Head, the most northern point of the island…

I choose which ones look like me
their noses and postures
each Doherty and Docherty
and Dougherty Dougherty Dougherty

like they’d sign their name
the way I do
crossing the t
with the bogrise of y

The Next Movement
(not autobiographical)

The developed world’s Buddha
is traveling lonesome
but not without company

The suffering is breaking his phone
piece by piece
each day

The meditation
pocketless pants


An old Irishman knows how to fill a barstool
like a ghost
in a house he’ll never leave

Belly up with Baby Jesus
against a Derry bar
and you’ll swear
Ulster is the Holy Land

An Oxford Professor’s Revelation

Give the part of Juliet to a Bogside lass
and she’ll butcher the iambic candence

so crassly unique

he’ll renounce
allegiance to the Queen’s language

The Ride to Derry

Rushed my way out of the hostel by 8:30 this morning before the roommates were awake. Munching a PB&J on the walk to Connelly Station I realized how crushed I have been in these last few days. The jet lag has caught up to me and I entered the train station to buy my ticket to Belfast and Derry. I forgot my debit card at the ticket window, but thankfully I was aware enough to hear my name being called over the loudspeaker. One of the few places on earth where a stranger can look at the name on my card and pronounce it correctly. That was worth a laugh and a complete relief. I would’ve been super bummed had I lost that.

The train to Belfast rides the coast a bit looking east towards the British Isles. Beautiful. Sheep, vales and tiny towns. Wasn’t amazingly green, but apparently Dublin area is the driest part of the island. I was not feeling great from the evening before and a terrible night sleep. I could barely keep my head up on the way. Just before Belfast, I looked at the young man across from me and noticed he had a Che Guevara bracelet. Had to ask! Che’s mother was a Lynch. All the Irish know about Che. We started talking about education in our different corners of the world. We both had equal parts lament and pride, though I was more pessimistic about the American form of educating.

I was ready to deboard, change my Ameros into Pounds and head onto a train for Derry. Thankfully Chris Gaskin, my new buddy, knew that the bus to Derry is quicker and more enjoyable. It was great. I wouldn’t have known how to get through the city in our cab to the bus depot. Before I knew it, we were talking about the Troubles, Irish economics, the outlook for Irish youth and the similarities between our lives. Great conversation. We talked nearly the entire time, before I think we both realized how tired we were. He was on his way to meet his new ladyfriend and I needed to jot some ideas down from our conversation:

Chris is from South Armagh. One of the strongholds for the IRA during the Troubles. A town of 2000 people in a rural mountain valley just on the border. Mostly a Catholic Republican town. He explained how it was safer for the community itself during the Troubles when there were clear boundaries for crime. With the order of the Troubles, and clear cut enemies or philosophies to support, there was a need to support the cause in the community, that is the agenda of the IRA fighting the Unionist Protestants in NI. Crime within the Armagh community was frowned upon.

Ironically, with the arms away and no more political agenda, the area has eroded into a more fractured dangerous community. Granted many operations hatched in South Armagh were some of the bloodiest attacks on the Unionist community in the North. But without the pecking order of the IRA in his community, Chris related that South Armagh is more dangerous to the regular citizen. Keep in mind it is a majority, almost completely, Catholic community.

In general, not just with Chris’ community, the Catholic families have place a strong importance on education. Essentially, in the North, they had to work harder to level the playing field for themselves with the politics controlled by the Protestants. But this need for an education has increased as there isn’t a cause  to plug into and nothing to win from conflict.

Schools are mainly segregated in the north (Catholics/Republicans are likely to call it the North or the six counties while Protestants/Unionists are more likely to refer to it as Northern Ireland). Chris is 27, so he was 13 when the Good Friday Agreement was written. Without the violence of the Troubles combined with a more globalized experience due to the economic boom of the 2000s, Chris points to the Universities as contributing to a less radicalized place. Republican and Unionist fervor subsides, in Chris’ experience, due the sophistication of pursuing degrees. The educated see less sense in sectarianism. Those still passionate about the divides seem more like they have a grudge that can’t be satisfied. He thinks greater society does not want to see their grudges satisfied.

In terms of the religious roots of these issues, cultural identity is directly related to their faith based affiliations with the Church. It seems though less and less youth attend or practice their religion. So as the political divides in the communities have eased, as have the cultural distinctions related to seeing the differences between their faiths. Yet another reason to hate is being lost as the next generation comes of age, I suppose.

Entering Derry on the east side of the community, I noticed a lot of Union Jacks and Northern Irish flags. I asked Chris if flying these colors still incites the fervor and foul taste in the mouth as it once did. He said they are useful. It is nice to know where you are. Chris said he’s going to hook me up with a contact in South Armagh for the week of July 2nd. I hope that works out.

Here are some pictures of the Irish countryside between Belfast and Derry. GREEN!

Pictures of Dublin

I remember a scene in Howl starring James Franco about the publication of Allen Ginsberg’s American epic in the late fifties. He spoke of wandering the streets of NYC from dawn until dusk until he was brought to tears. Partly because of the strain. But after walking Dublin without an agenda and no great desire besides to see the city. I can understand why he would do this for humility and inspiration.

After the light breakfast fare at the hostel of rice cereal and a piece of bread, I headed out with a few goals. St. Stephen’s Green Trinity College and the Book of Kells, Dublin Castle and the Chase Beatty Library. Saw everything I wanted to. The Green was beautiful. Practiced some yoga with children’s voices and birds as soundtrack.

With that clear base for the day, things seemed to get spiritual. The Book of Kells is the illustrated Gospels so to speak. Created in the Dark Ages on Iona, it stands as one of the few artistic legacies from this time in Europe. Housed in an unbelievable Library with a copy of every book in the British Isles at the time the collection was commissioned in the mid 19th C.

Dublin Castleis about a mile away, but it took three hours to get there. Willfully lost, I headed way south on Camden Ave. Walked through some quiet neighborhoods and when I returned to the busier part of town I was famished and discombobulated by the noise and bustle. The Dublin Castle was cool, but a flyby. The highlight of the afternoon was a conversation from Javier from Nicaragua. A student of Princeton we talked about everything imaginable. He’s a student of Literature and I interrupted his reading of Moby Dick. Good man. Lucky to be here for his summer.

The Chase Beatty Library is a collection of this American’s unreal collection of ancient texts. He had the first biography of Rumi written in the 13th C written by his son. There were books of all religions. Remarkable collection. Something I had no idea existed in Dublin. A beautiful hidden gem.


American Wanderer

Whew. Catching my breath in Dublin. Monday I arrived bright and early and quickly got lost wandering around the streets. This tends to happen when you don’t carry a map and I was happier to stumble upon than stalk. Had a pint at the Poet’s Corner bar when I couldn’t find my hostel. The barkeep politely told me I was within four hundred steps. I dropped my bags and continued wandering. This side of the River Liffey, that side. No rhyme or reason. Found some interesting scenes. Really I was just wasting time before I could check in, shower, sleep. Check, check, check.

Tonight I met Deonne and her mother for dinner and the Ireland Italy match. Italy 2-0. The Irish figured it was going to happen, so no big deal. Dinner was great. The Temple Bar area is the touristy part of Dublin. Expensive. Irish Stew for 17 Euro! Great to spend time with someone I knew.

I went back to the hostel after the game and found a bar across the street featuring traditional music and dancing. Great craic, as they say. Met a fine lad named Dwayne. He was steering clear the shakes from his night before with his boys in Temple Bar. Apparently sobering up in Dublin means drinking 6-7 the next night. He was a great guy. Our conversation ran the gauntlet. The Troubles, the hard nature of growing up a Dubliner. Cuba, and he’s been. Football. The quintessential Irish man. Friendly. Generous. Genuine. Endless liver.

Good times. Ready for rest.

A Final Post in the US

My trip is starting to take shape nicely. I have made hostel reservations for the next two nights in Dublin as I adjust to the time change and two days of flying. I will be lucky enough to share a night with Deonne Kahler and her mother. Deonne is a wonderful writing coach and woman from Taos, New Mexico as well. After checking into the Liffey, just a block away from the River of the same name and the Ha’ Penny Bridge, we’ll meet up for a bite and take in the Ireland Italy EuroCup tilt. It may not be a victory for the boys in green, but you can be sure of the celebration. Dublin will provide me with the chance to see Trinity College, the Ireland Writers House and find a hole-in-the-wall bookshop to purchase some poetry.

I have been researching and reading some modern Irish poets to gauge their take on the Troubles and begin to immerse myself in the artistic representation of this time in Irish history. Seamus Heaney is a poet of global renown. He is Derry born and selections from his first four books, especially Death of a Naturalist and North, have been with me for months. He captures the rural quiet of Ireland’s past in his early work and delicately grapples with the growing turbulence in Northern Ireland as the timeline of his work and the 70s intertwines. Another star of this time, though a bit younger, emerged from Belfast in 1948. Ciaran Carson’s work has been a revelation for me. I will be buying his books Belfast Confetti and The Irish for No if possible (use the link to hear the poet recite Belfast Confetti). Just as in our country, there are hundreds more poets more than worthy of mention, but that’ll do for now.

After my time in Dublin it will be time to really engage in the ethnographic study of my fellowship. I will take a train headed for Londonderry or Derry, depending on who you ask. I will be staying in a quaint spot within the Bogside and minutes from the world famous Mural Walk on Rossville Street. Waiting to hear a confirmation from the Bogside artists, but I hope to use these artists to dive into how legacy of the Troubles for Derry youth. Two days in Derry for now. But that’s as far as I’ll commit. Otherwise I’d like to allow for an organic experience and allow for opportunities to present themselves as I travel. I have no idea the wealth of expertise for my classroom I will meet until I meet them. So why build it up too much.

As I experience Dublin, I will look into a firm itinerary beyond Derry and into the weekend. I plan on arriving in Belfast Sunday night to extend the fellowship into the most war ravished city of the Troubles. Exciting stuff!

The Empty Seat

I wrote this piece on the plane from Houston to Philadelphia before I spent the evening with my parents. Traveling alone presents an opportunity for adventure and courageous daring (thanks, Josan), but is a reminder of how I live the majority of my life as a single chap in a small mountain town. Props to the grand slam poet from Derry, Seamus Heaney, as reading his work before I fell asleep most certainly influenced the cadence of my thoughts upon waking.

I woke from a nap
impossible to measure in minutes
or rest so high up
hoping I was surrounded
by something familiar, to be with
these stories I am
carrying in the messenger
bag and head, the stowaways
in my heart.

But waking in this hull of strangeness
the faces are just out of reach
like the drinkers on round two down
the row already loose on cabin pressure
and Absolute, the girl rising from the exit
seats fashionably emaciated and pierced lipped
like my students’ metal mouths and gaunt
exposed angles, that easy rapport between
attendants dancing up and down the aisle
always hovering. Next to me
the empty seat
I’ve always wanted to be an invitation
for someone to shatter the distance
and take them with me.

Introduction to the Ireland Fellowship

The weather can remind one of place and memories.  Today I am reminded of what I’ll be missing while I am in Ireland for the next three weeks. The skies are rumbling and rowdy this afternoon above northern New Mexico. The rain is loud on my steel roof. The stallion statue above my kitchen frozen in deluge. South of here, hundreds of miles, forests in the Land of Enchantment are burning at historic rates. Hot and swift. Among the Rio Grande, the music teeming in our plaza and slow burn of increasingly hot summer days, I will be missing the wild rain and fire of the high desert summer.

Perhaps I can bring some precipitation from the Irish jet stream home with me. I don’t think cloud seeds and cool weather need to be declared at customs. The thermometer may not reach 70˚ while visiting. I cannot imagine fire on an island so green. Unless it involves peat.

Here are the bookends of my trip which I will miss on both ends.

On Saturday 16 June, in Dublin, I will miss Bloomsday. Dubliners and revelers of James Joyce recount the steps of Leopold Bloom, the protagonist from the authors Irish epic Ulysses. The entire novel takes place on one day in Dublin, 16 June 1904. Presumably the acolytes of the Irish novelist start from Dun Laoghaire (dun LEERY, ½ hour away) in a tower where Joyce once lived and his novel begins. From there the all day adventure follows the path of Bloom as he traversed the regular streets and day of Dublin.

On 12 July, I will be missing the Orangeboys marching in towns across Northern Ireland to commemorate the Battle of the Boyne. As English kings struggled for the crown at the twilight of the 17th century, Catholic James II and Protestant William III clashed at this decisive battle north of Dublin. William of Orange (hence the Orangeboys) won the battle and secured the throne for Protestant rule in England. This was a final rebellion as it were for the English kings and what followed soured English-Irish relations for the next three hundred years. The Penal Laws were passed to strip the rights of Irish Catholics and outlawed Gaelic culture. So when the Protestant-Unionist-Northern Irish march to commemorate this battle one can imagine the emotional consequences each summer. One group marches. The Catholic-Republican-Northern Irish protest. It is not just a show.

Fund For Teachers has been gracious enough to award me my second Fellowship this summer to travel Ireland from 17 June through 6 July. I will be studying more the tensions on the island than the literary tromps through a day in Dublin’s past. I will be investigating the legacy of the Troubles for Irish youth. As I learn and expand my perspective on local borders, I hope to return to my students and help them build bridges in their own community across our own centuries old divides and differences.

I hope to tour Belfast, Derry, Strabane and rural Northern Ireland to discover the legacy of Peace Walls, murals and neighborhood divides; collaborate with researchers and gather their materials/readings/experts to use in my classroom; interview members of young community, students and teachers if possible, to share their voices with my own students concerning violence, drugs, awareness of Irish history and outlook for their future; and finally to meet with poets and visual artists to learn how the legacy of the Troubles, identity issues and border concerns influence their work.

My touring will be packed with experiences. I will be wandering rough sectarian neighborhoods where I’ll stick out like a sore thumb. I politely seat myself in seedy pubs presenting myself as a poet immersing himself in modern Irish verse and maybe buy a round (not on the dole of FFT, of course). I wish to meet students at the Hazlewood Integrated College. I hope to reconnect with a family friend in Strabane, an isolated border town near County Donegal. I relish the opporunity to hang with poet Colin Dardis and his performance mates in Belfast. I am thankful for the outreach of the Institute for Conflict Research and the Northern Ireland Foundation. We’ll see happens.

At this point all I know is that I’ll land in Dublin on Monday 7:45AM, watch football’s Boys in Green take on Italy at the EuroCup that night, and spend the next day getting my bearings in Ireland’s capital bustling with gray. Itinerary to come.

If you have an opinion, suggestion or comment please feel free to post on anything I may be brash enough to write. This blog will be a chronicle of my trip, but will also serve as a curricular tool in my classroom. The more voices the better.