County Tyrone: Dungannon

Thursday 14th June 2018. Cloudy. Occasional rain.

Dungannon (population 17,000) is 68 kilometres (41 miles) from Belfast. I live roughly mid-way between Dungannon and Belfast.

I lived for three years in Dungannon from 1979 until 1982. For part of this time I worked in Belfast and for part of the time I worked in Portadown.

Today I took the bus from Belfast at 3.15pm. I wanted to replicate my old journey “home” more than thirty nine years ago. The bus travelled along the M1 motorway.

The bus arrived in Dungannon about 4.10pm.

My history with Dungannon actually goes back further. To around 1960. An aunt lived near the railway station and worked in a newspaper/refreshment kiosk at the station. The station was closed in the mid 1960s and the area was derelict when I lived there. The old railway bridge is still there. And nice to see that the old track lines have been landscaped and there is a new public walkway.

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Demoraphically…and this always matters in “Northern Ireland” …the town is now about 60% Catholic-nationalist and 30% Protestant unionists. There is a large population of European Union migrants, especially Portuguese (themselves second generation from Portugal’s former African colonies) who work in the food processing industry.

My earliest recollections of Dungannon are of a divided society. The first Civil Rights march in 1968 was from Coalisland to Dungannon and discrimination in housing, jobs and opportunities was the norm. There are still echoes of this. The Square divides Scotch Street and Irish Street.

The trappings in the Town Square are “British”.

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The “old” police station looks like a military fortress. Indeed the urban myth persists that the design was mistakenly sent to Ireland by the British Government in Victorian times. It is widely believed that it was intended for the North West Frontier of British India.

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To some extent, Dungannon is still a frontier town but unlike the City of Derry, there is still an exaggerated place for British symbolism. Thru the Troubles, whether thru violence or electoral change or simply demographics, there is an ongoing process called the “Greening of the West”, a process where unionist power and influence have declined while nationalist power and influence have increased.

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Ranfurly House, also in the Square is now a heritage centre telling the story of Dungannon. Dungannon (originally “Gannons Fort” was a stronghold of the O’Neill clan (the most powerful in Ulster) in the middle ages. They lost power and wtih most Gaelic chiefs left Ireland in 1607.

The O’Neills ruled the Castle from about 1300 until their departure. The Castle then went to Arthur Chichester, the English architect of the Plantation of Ulster. At the end of the 17th century, the Castle passed to the Earl of Ranfurly (Knox) who built a new towered structure. The ruin can still be seen behind Ranfurly House.

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I stayed in Dungannon for about an hour. The walk downhill from the Square to the Bus Station is a lot easier than the uphill walk.

I took the 5.10pm bus to Portadown (via Moy, Charlemont and Loughgall). This is a route I travelled on a daily basis when I lived in Dungannon and worked near Portadown. It takes about 50 minutes. I arrived in Portadown before 6pm and was home by 6.20pm

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County Monaghan: Monaghan Town

Wednesday 13th June 2018. Drizzle.

Monaghan (population 8,000) is about 55 kilometres (33 miles) from my home. So the journey by bus from Lurgan (via Portadown, Armagh and Middletown) takes just over an hour. I arrived in Monaghan about 11am.

The Diamond and Courthouse Square are in the centre of the town. But apart from the two shopping malls, it looks a little shabby.

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Monaghan is in the Republic of Ireland but is in Ulster. Therefore part of the Ulster Plantation. Indeed the walk from and to the bus station took me along a road named “Plantation Road”.  There was a former unionist presence and still a comparatively large number of Protestants in and around the town.

The Gaelic clan in pre-Elizabethan times was the McMahons but they lost control to the English about 1595.

The Westenra Hotel is named for the exotically named family who dominated the town in the 19th century.

The obelisk is dedicated to Colonel Dawson, a local landowner who was killed at the Battle of Inkerman (1854)  during the Crimean War.

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Monaghan was the scene of a devasting explosion in May 1974. It was carried out by loyalists from County Armagh. There is open speculation that British Intelligence was involved but this is one of the aspects of the Troubles that we will never know.

For many years there has been a plaque to mark the tragedy.

Monaghan1Knowing that President Mary McAleese had unveiled a memorial to mark the thirtieth anniversary in 2004, I asked for directions but shockingly I had to ask four people before someone could point it out. One even directed me to an unrelated  sculpture called “The Hive”.

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The monument to the Monaghan Bombing is actually a candle-shaped sculpture which has seven “candle-shapes” within it and each candle names one of the victims.

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Nearby in Dublin Street, is the birthplace of Charles Gavan Duffy (1806-1903), Irish patriot, who emigrated to Australia and became Premier of the State of Victoria.

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My overall impression of Monaghan is negative. As a historian of sorts, I like to believe that History is important but the shocking ignorance displayed in Monaghan leads me to question that view.

I got a bus home about 1pm.

County Derry: Derry City

Tuesday 12th June 2018, Warm. Cloudy.

The city of Derry (population 90,000) is about 115 kilometres (73 miles) north west of Belfast. My wife and I travelled by train from Lurgan, changing to another train at Belfast. We arrived in Derry about 11.30am.

The name of the city is contentious. The name derives from the Irish word “Doire” meaning “oak grove”. The prefix  “London-” was added in 1613 during the Plantation of Ulster by English and Scottish settlers. The “plantation” in this part of Ulster was financed by guilds in the City of London.

Unionists call the city “Londonderry” and nationalists call it “Derry”.

This is at times near farcical. During the Troubles in the 1970s and 1980s, BBC and UTV News programmes deliberately alternated the words “Londonderry” and “Derry” as some kinda politically correct neutrality. This was picked up by a local broadcaster, Gerry Anderson in the 1980s, who referred to “Derry-Stroke-Londonderry” or simply “Stroke City”.

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The city is overwhelmingly nationalist and would like the city to be officially known as “Derry”. In 2013, the city was the “UK (sic) City of Culture” and the term “Derry-Londonderry” became common. And as Life often imitates Art, this term is used in the media and as the accepted destination on trains and buses.

There are two key dates in Derry’s History. The first is the 1688-89 Siege of Derry when the Protestant Williamite population held the city against the Catholic Jacobite forces. The Siege began when apprentices in local trades shut the gates against the advancing Jacobites (December 1688) and only relieved by Williamite ships in July 1689.

These two events are commemorated annually and the Protestant “loyal Order” (the Apprentice Boys of Derry) have their headquarters here. The Siege plays an important part in unionist tradition and folklore. “Northern Ireland’s” unionists still regard themselves as a community under siege from Irish nationalists.

The other key date is January 1972 and the event known as “Bloody Sunday” when thirteen unarmed civilians (a fourteenth later died) were murdered by British Paratroopers. This act of murder and subsequent delayed exoneration by the British government (2010) is a significant part of Irish nationalist tradition.

“Bloody Sunday” itself is part of a chain of events that includes the blatant gerrymandering of the politics of the Derry so that the minority unionist population could control the city and discriminate against Catholics in housing and jobs. “Bloody Sunday” has to be seen in the context of the Civil Rights movement (started in 1968) the Battle of the Bogside and the start of the Troubles (1969) and the introduction of Internment without Trial (1971) and a subsequent timeline that includes the escalation of violence until the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. One of the main Civil Rights leaders was John Hume, later SDLP leader, who would later win the Nobel Peace Prize and one of the main IRA leaders after Bloody Sunday was Martin McGuinness (died 2017) who would become joint Chief Minister with DUP leader Rev Ian Paisley and two of his successors.

Some photographs from the Bogside, including Free Derry Corner,  the Bloody Sunday Memorial and some murals.

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The democratisation of Derry made  the city a bastion of SDLP values which includes Reconciliation but in the last few years, Sinn Féin has been the most prominent nationalist voice.

Some postcards projecting the image Derry wants to have, including the Peace Bridge and Hands attempting to shake hands across the River Foyle. The West Bank is predominantly nationalist and the East Bank has a high percentage of unionists.

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On this visit I did not go to the Tower Museum which presents a neutral and somewhat sanitised view of History. Nor did I go to the Apprentice Boys Heritage Centre which wishes to present the unionist case. I have no problem with partisan History. It is still History.

But I did visit the Museum of Free Derry in the Bogside. The Rossville flats are demolished but this is the site of the 1972 Massacre. The museum is now in a new building, having for years operated in a makeshift building.

The official re-appraisal of Bloody Sunday and the British apology has made the nationalist-history mainstream. The artefacts in the Museum are very impressive, especially the blood-stained banner of the Civil Rights banner carried on Bloody Sunday. Photos are below.

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But what does it all mean?

Derry9 Well the plaque on the wall says it all. Bloody Sunday is an imperialist crime but not specific to Derry. It has happened at Wounded Knee, Armritsar and Sharpville. And it is happening on the Gaza Strip.

County Down: Bangor

Monday 11th June 2018. Warm but Cloudy.

Bangor (population 60,000) is a seaside town 23 kilometres (13 miles) from Belfast on the south shore of Belfast Lough.

For well over a century, it has been a place where Belfast folks made day trips. In the 1930s the advertising slogan for the train service was “Belfast and Back for a Bob (shilling)”. Certainly in the late 1950s and 1960s, the trip cost more but it was inevitable that my father would repeat this old slogan as he, my mother, my sister and I got on the Bangor-bound train. We maybe went two or three times during the summer.

The first sense of excitement was hurrying down the hill from Bangor station and the first glimpse of the Clock Tower (it is called the McKee Clock) at the shore.

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Much has changed. The small beach has now gone and there is a marina for yachts. There is still a beach about a mile from this spot. Much of the typical seaside frontage, fish and chip shops, amusement arcades, pubs have now gone, replaced by a small group of kiosks for local artists and up-market hotels and bars.

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The Tourist Information Office is in the old Tower.

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Essentially Bangor is a neutral area (albeit a unionist area) in the north of Ireland. The Troubles largely passed the town by. In part, this is because it is overwhelmingly unionist but it is also gentrified and middle class and too “respectable” for anything as common as The Troubles.

There are three main streets. Main Street leads from the train station to the Promenade at the marina so the natural walk is downhill Main Street along the promenade and then uphill thru High Street. Both are shopping areas but High Street has the bars. Turning right into Hamilton Road leads to Main Street and the station.

There are a lot of churches along Hamilton Road as well as the library and Ward Park, a large public park with ducks and some dangerous looking geese wandering free.

The pic below was taken at First Presbyterian Church and is of a youn girl Amy Carmichael who “lived a life of Grace£ and died at an old age in the 1950s. Although I have been past this church several times in the last ten years, I have not noticed it before.

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There are several dentists, doctors, solicitors and accountants along Hamilton Road and to emphasise its middle class respectability, there is a very large Freemason Temple.

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Across from the train station is the Castle Park area.

The overall feel of Bangor is that it is a town that has changed in my lifetime. The “seaside” town is largely gone and while the train station was once about day trippers, it is now about commuters travelling to Belfast.

 

County Dublin: Shankill

ShankillThursday 7th June 2018. Very hot.

I travelled on the Route 145 Ballywaltrim (Dublin Bus) from Heuston Station. Shankill is about 17 kilometres (just over ten miles) south east of Dublin City Centre. It is close to the county border with County Wicklow.

The journey takes almost an hour thru busy traffic. Shankill (population 15,000) is now part of the Dublin commuter belt but its single main street has a “village” feel to it. Rather like Lucan, which I had stopped off in earlier in the day.

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I stayed in Shankill for about half an hour before catching the !145″ back to Heuston Station, arriving at about 6.25pm.

County Dublin: Lucan

Thursday 7th May 2018. Very hot.

Travelling by Dublin Bus from Celbridge to Dublin, I stopped off at Lucan.

The village of Lucan (population 50,000) is about 12 kilometres (7 miles)  west of Dublin City Centre. It is familiar to me from the early 1970s when I travelled regularly between Dublin and Maynooth. Less than fifty years ago, the population was just 5,000 but this is not a direct comparison. “Modern” Lucan is now very much part f the Dublin commuter belt and includes areas not previously considered to be part of the town.Lucan

It retains some of the old “village” atmosphere.

I stayed about half an hour before continuing my journey to Dublin.

County Kildare: Celbridge

The Bus Éireann (Route 120) coach from Edenderry to Dublin passed thru some very pleasant villages in County Kildare. I arrived in Celbridge at about 11.30am.

Celbridge is 23 kilometres (14 miles) from Dublin. The population is about 20,000, a far cry from the 2,000 people who lived here in the early 1970s when I first came thru this town. Most of the population were born elsewhere in Ireland or beyond.

It is situated on the River Liffey and is home to the Celbridge Paddlers, one of Ireland’s leading canoe clubs.

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The narrow main street features a statue of Arthur Guinness whose  father owned a brewery in Celbridge. Arthur went on to establish the Guinness brewery in Dublin.

I spent about an hour in the town before getting a Dublin-bound bus.