Derry. Three full days visiting a city and the surrounding countryside that sparked a thirst I didn’t know I had. A thirst to know more about this land, the people who live here, and the stories that lay unheard in the rocks, hills, and river bottoms of the people who inhabited the land long before the Irish settled here (those stories only seen in a few relics.) This final day open for reflecting and resting before I begin the Coast-to-Coast on Sunday. Not much “doing” today. More about being.
My daughter, Lauren, studied for a year here at Ulster University Magee a decade ago. It was a study abroad program. The focus: peace and conflict studies. This community has known conflict deep in its soul. It now cherishes peace. They know peace is fragile as the molted feathers of a dove left in the sun to bake. The recent murder of journalist Lyra McKee in Derry happened a few days before I arrived and her funeral service was up the road in Belfast while I was here. What I can share with you in meeting a few people of Derry, especially Free Derry, which is where most of “the Troubles” took place from 1968-1998, is they wanted me to know “This is not us. This was wrong. We want to find the person who did this.” Most don’t want to return to the violence.
Lauren joined me on this part of my sojourn. I wanted to hear about her experiences from college and to let her show me around. In the decade since she lived here, she saw changes that reflected a more peaceful coexistence, including the Peace Bridge that had been built across the Foyle River joining the predominately Protestant side of Derry to the Catholic side. We arrived on a sunny extended Easter holiday week and families were traversing the span, enjoying each others company.
I could feel a sense of healing and Derry has been recognized internationally for its efforts at peace and reconciliation. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has visited. I was told a good book to read and site to visit is “Can I Give Him My Eyes” by Richard Moore. Richard lost his eyesight at age 10 due to rubber bullets fired by British soldiers during the violence and his father asked the surgeon if he could offer his eyes so his son could see.
Conflicts Have Deep Roots. Listening to Stories is Medicine.
Tourism is growing due to Game of Thrones (not something I watch, but I understand it is filmed here.) The land is lush, the people open and tell wonderful stories. The history is rich. Oh, about that history. Conflict doesn’t not spring up over night. The “root” of the the Troubles is over 400 years old. The more I learned and got some “depth,” the more “shallow” I felt my understanding was. One man told me; “We’ve come to respect each other’s history. The Catholics visit our museum and we visit theirs.” Learning to listen to each other.
Sojourn Companions For The Day
A day out driving via a private taxi tour (the only way to go if you have four or less people!) meandered up a coastline rich with nesting birds, craggy rock and sandy beaches. Past the golf course where the British Open will be played. To the Giant’s Causeway (basalt columns,) standing tall with legend. It was a wee bit crowded, with the rocks seeming to be covered with ants (actually tourists.) The coaches pulling into the parking lot looked like caterpillars ready to chow down on the countryside. I must admit, the basalt columns I saw in Scotland (Staffa) were calmer and therefore more impactful for me. Sorry N. Ireland. We journeyed further and crossed the Rope Bridge (Carrick-a-Rede) and finally saw the Dark Hedges before returning home.
Loss: A Common Theme—Again
What was most touching about our tour was our driver, Dermot. He knew the land, having grown up in Derry, and could share stories on a personal level. It was also his birthday! How special to spend the day with him. He had his own stories of loss, and there is that common theme again. It popped up a few more times during my stay. Loss of parents and other family members. And Illness. And resilience. One way of working through loss. There are these big yellow bins alongside the roadways in both Scotland and Ireland that say “grit” on the top. Dermot said that is to salt the road when it frosts. Individuals are responsible for taking care of their own portion of small roadways. I hear a lot of “grit” in the stories alongside the losses. And really, no one can enter into our losses for us. We have to go through them ourselves.
When Joy Steps in To Relieve Grief
Another reflection is percolating as I consider the hundreds of community losses due to “the Troubles” and the centuries of loss prior to those and how is Grief a companion in those circumstances? How is it different when your child becomes the martyr? When your husband dies for “a cause?” How do you “move through” something when it is part of a larger narrative? I have only receive snippets from the stories I have heard, but this is what I am sensing: Grief is tired of being a constant companion to the folks in Derry (or Londonderry, to be in line with the official name.) Grief wants to rest and allow Joy to take the lead. And yes, it is more complicated. (After I wrote my initial draft of this blog, I read this commentary.) I am not naive. And as John Lennon’s song “Imagine” says, “You may say I am a dreamer.” I will own that. And I know I am new to this area and cannot speak for Derry. I don’t pretend to. I am just sharing my experience. And what I heard is the people are having parades and celebrations now with less worry.
No one keens like the Irish, but they also know how to dance and rejoice. The energy felt welcoming. Relieved. Derry has shown me how Grief can companion us through the worst of loss. Derry is showing me how Joy can return us to our best selves.
What does resilience look like to you? Where does your grit come from? Has there been a time in your life when you felt Grief stepped aside and Joy became your focus?”
Shortly I’ll be on a plane back to Glasgow to sleep a few hours, then in the morning catch two trains for St. Bees, where I start the Coast-to-Coast on Sunday, April 27th. Thirteen straight days of hiking. Yes, I am feeling nervous. I have been training AND this will push my almost 60 year-old body in ways I can’t anticipate. Once again, I will be letting go and trusting. Also, internet access will be less available, so it might be awhile before I post a blog or on Facebook/Instagram. I’ll see you somewhere down the road.
And, here is an interesting thing that happened as I went through security to fly to Derry. I took my watch off and somehow, it did not get back on my wrist (I remember picking it up.) No, it is not in “Lost Property.” I checked. The metaphor for me: as I lose track of time on this sojourn (and time really is slipping away) my watch seemed to let go of me as if to say, “you don’t need me anymore.”
Photo gallery of Derry and surrounding countryside. The murals of the Bogside are in important part of the story of the Troubles.