Friday, May 5, 2023

Beginnings of "An Irish Odyssey"


An Irish Odyssey

Chapter 1

           The sign pierced my deepest mind: “England is Ireland’s Enemy.”

It was as harsh in its style as in its words, printed in black block letters on white, a sign framed on a metal stand.  Not your usual graffiti, and there was plenty of that in Londonderry’s streets, even in 2022.

          As we walked along the city wall of Old Derry, our guide pointed out where the wall had been raised and augmented by chain link fencing and razor wire.

          “Below us,” he said, “Is the Catholic neighborhood of Bogside.  Up here on the other side of the wall is one of the headquarters of the Protestant forces.  Why do you think they made this wall higher?”

          “To keep the Catholics out?” said a member of our tour group.

          “Even more than that,” the guide replied.  “People down below would throw bottles filled with flammable liquid over the wall and into this building.”

          “Ah, Molotov Cocktails,” someone else said.

          “Yes,” said the guide.

          “I’m confused,” I said. “I thought The Troubles ended with the Good Friday Peace Treaty in 1998.”

          “I suppose you could say so in theory,” the guide added. “But even now each side has different interpretations of what that document means. I guess you could say it ended the particular Troubles here in Northern Ireland, but the sectarian differences between Ireland and England are deep-rooted.  The history goes all the way back to the English King Henry VIII, in the sixteenth century. That was when Henry established the Church of England, the beginning of Protestantism.”

          “So he could defy the Pope, right?” said a woman beside me.

          “Yes, and all because he wanted to divorce his first wife so he could marry Anne Boleyn,” added a man behind me.

          Our guide was smiling and nodding his head. “The strangest part is that both sides—Protestant and Catholic—living here in Ireland rarely attend church.”

          “So it’s not really about religion at all—”

          “Of course not,” the guide nodded.  “It’s all politics, and always has been. England has always considered this island a big problem, ever since King Henry. One side commits violent atrocities, and the other side retaliates in the same way.  The spiral never really ends, though right now we’re in a period of relative peace.”

          “Except for the occasional Molotov Cocktail?” the man behind me laughed.

          “I’m confused,” I said, raising my hand. “Which name is correct here—Derry or Londonderry?”

          Again he smiled, “If you’re Catholic, it’s Derry. And if you’re Protestant it’s Londonderry.”


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