Posted by: lifeonislandtime | August 11, 2015

The Troubles

The Irish Troubles
I wanted to visit Northern Ireland to get a sense of The Troubles now that they are calmer. What I learned is that neither side is right, nor is either side wrong. 
“The Troubles” is such a sanitized term for guerrilla warfare in protest of white apartheid. In Belfast, the Shankhill neighborhood and the Gaeltracht illustrate how sectarian the neighborhoods used to be. The murals are sectarian but not militant these days. On the Protestant side they show pride in being Loyal Subjects and are strongly anti-home rule. The Catholic side shows honor for the Hunger Strikers and advocate for home rule and free Palestine. 
Once down in the city, however, one would never know there were even sectarian leanings. We were in the city for Pride Parade, and everyone was united in their rainbow flags instead of their sectarian ones. Even within the sectarian neighborhoods, the division between Catholic and Protestant is not as rigid as it once was.
In Derry, however, the sectarian lines are sharper. Derry was ground-zero for the troubles, and is recovering slower. The British Army left only 6 years ago, and until that time had “listening towers” around the city so they could listen in on your conversations to ensure the town’s “safety.” In 1972 The Bogside Neighborhood (Catholic tenements mainly) essentially seceded from Northern Ireland and the town of Derry, built barricades, and called themselves “Free Derry.” I’m sure you can guess just how much the (Protestant) Mayor of Derry and the British Government appreciated that. The result was the Battle of the Bogside. The British Military broke through the barricades, broke down doors, and indiscriminately used rubber bullets on the populace, killing 17. The IRA “Freedom Fighters” aren’t innocent in this either, but those killed and injured weren’t all IRA fighters. One was a grandfather.
The real question is why? Why did the British government stomp so heavily on Derry? 
The answer is in politics. Catholics outnumber Protestants In Derry by 3-to-1, yet the Protestants are the “ruling class.” How? By backwards and downright Jim Crow voting laws: Only property owners may vote. The Catholic majority, historically denied education and access to middle class jobs, are predominantly renters. This allows only the propertied middle class and above access to the political system, where they continue to make laws that benefit themselves. Sound familiar? 
The Protestant city council feared the masses were getting out of hand and called for help. The British government, seeing a chance to make an example, jumped with both feet on Derry. The consequence was 30+ years of urban guerrilla warfare.
In Belfast, one feels the troubles are over and the city is beginning to heal. In Derry, the troubles aren’t over. They’re just simmering below the surface, waiting for the right time…

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