top of page

January 6, 2022
GUEST COLUMN





We need to talk about Belfast
By the Derry University Group

Be under no illusion, the closure of Radio Foyle, regardless of how BBCNI is justifying it now, has been on the cards for decades...The former unionist leader, Mike Nesbitt, told the Guildhall this week that political power must be devolved away from the capitals.

 

 

BELFAST, Northern Ireland capital, is incapable of managing the administration and growth of Derry – as is the Belfast parliament, Stormont. 

Derry needs to be running its own city - and it must have the resources and structures returned to it to do so.

The Belfast Agenda, a universally-supported, aggressive development plan, will, if implemented, ensure that for the next century all the capital’s energies - and Stormont’s - will be spent establishing Belfast as NI’s ‘city-state’. It is, in effect, the culmination of the plan first conceived by the state at Partition.

Institutionally, the NI state and Stormont were constructed to service the northeastern coast. 

This policy of centralisation was born out of sectarianism, and while no-one is suggesting that Stormont 2.0 is continuing to act in a sectarian manner, the state’s underlying structures mean that policies enacted in the 1920s will always have a sectarian impact, unless and until they are actively put right. And Stormont 2.0 has failed to address this legacy.

In short, the recovery train cannot travel down the tracks if all the railroads have already been scrapped.

The devastating effects of this strategy on western regions are meticulously chronicled by the former Derry Journal editor Frank Curran in his stark and admonitory, 1986 history Countdown to Disaster (Gill & Co, introduction by John Hume). 

Post Partition, while Belfast grew and grew, Derry saw the closure of its manufacturing sector, shipyards and railway lines. We witnessed the refusal by the state to deliver industry and housing, or any form of growth and hope. And we were controversially denied the kernel of any new growth - our own university, the last remaining unresolved civil rights demand.

It is hard, if not impossible, to quantify how much of this was down to neglect, malign disinterest or active discrimination, but the impact certainly resulted in active discrimination. 

What began as corrupt governance rapidly became ingrained tradition and is now institutionalised. So much so that Belfast is now oblivious to its own historical inertia.

Any and all meaningful power is centred there and remains locked in there; the public sector, the private sector, the political sector and the media sector. All the money. 

More worryingly again for Derry, the second city, this power-base is being future-proofed by the locating of the state’s two universities in north and south Belfast. Eighty percent of all NI’s students are now in Belfast - a staggering number when you consider that London has just over 20 percent of England’s.

Protecting Foyle

 

No less a figure than the former unionist leader, Mike Nesbitt, told the meeting to discuss the job losses at Radio Foyle in the Guildhall this week that political power must be devolved away from the capitals. 

He spoke eloquently about how the loosening of the reins by London and Edinburgh has been hugely advantageous for the regions in England and Scotland.

The North West community has been advocating this for decades. And the tide is turning. 

In 2021, the Royal Irish Academy advocated a complete refit of the North’s higher education sector, while the British Secretary of State recently tabled a proposal for a cross-border university. 

Indeed, the rest of this island, and London, are now for the first time realising that, while Belfast and ‘NI Inc’ boomed under peace, the new devolved political structures were completely unable to deliver any meaningful growth for the regions. Belfast swallowed the peace dividend whole.

To resolve this and introduce a semblance of balance, Derry needs to be given its own head. As John Hume wrote, when he launched the university campaign sixty years ago, we need to “restore the equilibrium of Northern Ireland educationally, economically and culturally”. And Dublin and London need to help us assure that because Belfast cannot and will not. 

The two governments can best start by protecting what is already there – the region’s very much under-pressure media sector – even if this requires their direct intervention at the BBC top table. 

Be under no illusion, the closure of Radio Foyle, regardless of how BBCNI is justifying it now, has been on the cards for decades. What we are seeing today is the 21st-century outworking of 19th-century Belfast structures, unable to accept that Derry has its own voice independent of the capital.

It is about equality and identity – and about Belfast’s age-old institutional inability to allow equality or a different identity, outside its realm. And it must be redressed.

Twenty-five years on from the Good Friday Agreement, those who brokered the deal - the Irish and British governments, and supporters in the EU and US administrations - need to ensure that Derry and the border regions achieve their equality too, and that a just and lasting equilibrium is established. 

Mr Varadkar and Mr Sunak, we need to talk about Belfast.

ENDS

(Colmcille Press welcomes further guest contributions on this debate. If you are interested, please contact info@colmcillepress.com.) 

December 8, 2022
Feature Column: Another Story
Teachers in Need...
 
Anne Clarke (formerly Gray)

So this woman here fetched up at the Tech one day in the early 80s to teach a subject she knew damn all about.  Architecture?  Not a clue.  Not only that, but the day-release students in my group all worked in town planning or construction or architects’ offices, so they had a head-start on me and most were around the same age.  I don’t remember much about the syllabus I was given, but I do recall one of the topics was cubism.  I decided there was no point in winging it, so I came clean – sort of.  I didn’t know, and hadn’t been told, why the original, qualified lecturer was no longer available, so I just killed him off.  (Sympathy vote, you see.)  I then went through the syllabus with the students and established who already knew how much about what area.  Suggesting that we learn from each other, allocate specific topics to different people to research and try to get guest speakers in from their places of work, I soon had an enthusiastic and well-motivated group.  We ended up having a ball, had no bother getting volunteer speakers and I spent more time in the body of the class than I did in front of it.  I even ended up with an ardent admirer who handed me a letter at the end of the course, asking that I contact him if my marriage ever hit the rocks.  I could have been doing with that letter further down the road. ☺

The architecture course was a collaborative effort, but I also exploited my students shamelessly in another area, namely Media Studies.  The Tech was just across the road from Radio Foyle and neither organisation had a problem with me ferrying students back and forth to further their skills.  I showed them how to edit – on my material, I taught them how to research – for my programmes, and I encouraged then to come up with ideas for local coverage – which I later used.  Good, eh?

I also taught a couple of young men who were big into pub quizzes and I had cause to call upon their services at one stage.  The BBC had not long started supporting Children in Need and staff were all encouraged to do their bit.  And did so willingly.  When I was asked how I wanted to contribute to the Foyle effort, I airily replied, ‘Put me down for whatever you need.’  And that’s how I ended up on the radio quiz team and why I went running in a panic to my two student quiz whizz kids.  My general knowledge was, and still is, appalling, especially when it comes to geography, so the guys decided to concentrate on capital cities of the world.  They coached and questioned me for hours and hours and hours, mainly in the pub.  Did I get one question on capital cities?  No.  In a pub in Muff, with Anita beside me and Paddy Quiz (Doherty? Has to be….) heading up the opposition, my first question was, ‘What’s measured in hands?’  Bear in mind the fact that my father was a greengrocer, so my confident response was, ‘Bananas’.  Both audience and quiz-master thought I was playing for laughs, so I was allowed another go.  ‘Gloves?’  And by the time this supposed court jester’s final answer was called upon, Anita had hissed, ‘Horses’ in my ear.  And, do you know what, my friends?  We won.  In large part due to the fact that Paddy had over-imbibed and fell asleep in the middle of proceedings.

Another year, another Children in Need event and I was assigned a much more appropriate role – collecting the buckets of money and cheques from those who had  gathered outside Broadcasting House in Belfast.  That was the night a very famous person tore into me and told me to f*** off.  But that’s another story……………………

December 1, 2022

Feature Column: Another Story

First days at the Tech

 

Anne Clarke (formerly Gray)

 

When I started at the Tech in the early 80s, my very first memo from our formidable Head of Department, Margaret Baumann, read, ‘I don’t think the Board will agree to supply us with 47,241 long-arm staplers – will one do?’  Mortified.  My first requisition form filled in wrong.  But lesson learned – I never got the catalogue number and the amount mixed up ever again.

After 4 years’ teaching English at Faughan Valley, I was cock-a-hoop to have landed a post at North West College.  Lecturing sounded so much more prestigious than teaching and I thought I’d died and gone to heaven as, even though I had night-classes, I also had blocks of free time during the day.  To be fair, the evening sessions were a joy as the students there were older and well-motivated.  The time flew with such groups and most nights some of us would fetch up at Andy Cole’s afterwards to continue the session, or not as the mood took us.  At the other end of the job-satisfaction spectrum were the daytime teenage brickies and plumbers, painters and decorators, who considered it nothing short of hell to be subjected to a weekly session of Communications & Life Skills.  Double hell when this was the last session of the day, as it usually was.  Because the English Department ‘serviced’ Construction with this course, we were at that department’s mercy when it came to time-tabling and they gave us the graveyard shift when they could.  Often.  Bad enough to have fading youths straining at the leash to get home; worse when they couldn’t see the point of this stupid lesson anyway.

Letters to employers, application forms, CVs, interview role plays, grammar, spelling, punctuation – what a load of drivel.  They knew – and we did too – that in those days most of them would drift effortlessly into working alongside brothers or fathers or uncles, or would be recommended for a job by Jimmy down the road.  But we had to persevere and by God it was an uphill struggle.  It was also a point of pride that you tried not to complain to their core lecturers about bad behavior, cursing, deliberately shoddy work, inane excuses for not being able to do something or the odd muttered threat. ‘Me Da’s in the RA and he’ll soon sort you out,’ was hurled over the shoulder by one guy whom I vainly tried to keep behind for defacing a desk.

One evening, frazzled after one of these sessions and in belligerent mood, I found myself driving through the Bogside. (I always hit the central-locking when I did this, more to pacify my husband than out of any concern for myself.)  I pulled up at a red light, lit a cigarette and rolled the window down a little.  Next thing, these two drinks of water wearing balaclavas and wielding guns are in front of me, motioning me to get out of the car.  I’m still in classroom mode and, as they move to either side, I yell, ‘Get home to your mammies!’  (There may have been a swear word in there.) I put my foot to the floor and drove off, leaving them open-mouthed with arms the same length.  It didn’t take long for the enormity of what I’ve done to sink in.  I just remember my right leg beginning to jump like mad as the car kangarooed it home. ‘ Give them the car, give them the money, give them your bag’ – all drummed into me from an early age and all for nought.

I often wonder how many outside the teaching profession are aware of how poorly qualified some of us can be for some of the subjects we end up spouting on.  Not as a general rule, you understand, but in times of emergency and the lack of anyone suitable to step up to the blackboard.  (Not allowed to say that anymore.  Mea culpa.)  With mediocre ‘O’ levels in Irish, French and Geography, plus a fail in RE at Dip Ed level, I found myself teaching all of those subjects at various times in various schools.  I’m not just talking about covering the odd class for someone off sick.  I’m referring to maternity leaves or periods of secondment or even sudden death.  Months could go by with someone like me keeping a page ahead of the class.

But the Tech presented the greatest challenge and what turned out to be the most fulfilling experience.  After an urgent - and terrifying - summons to the principal’s office, Peter Gallagher went round the houses about team-work and all hands to the pump and how we all have hidden resources, before telling me that a night-class which was fully subscribed and due to begin the following evening was missing a lecturer.  Can’t remember why.  However, the upshot was that he was depending on me stepping into the breach and sure it would be no bother to a person of my calibre.  And that’s how this woman, who just about knew how to build a fire, ended up teaching architecture.  But that’s another story……………………………………..

November 23, 2022
Feature Column: That's Another Story



 

 

 

Anne Clarke
 

Fun and frivolity.  We had buckets of both in Derry.  Just as those caught up in WW2 report grabbing life by the throat and wringing what joy they could from that awful time, so too did we, as we lived our way round and through The Troubles.  Was this fecklessness or simply survival of the spirit?  I think the latter, as many of us were doing our own small bits in our own little spheres to promote tolerance, understanding and communication.

Fancy dress events were thick on the ground and the costumes we assumed allowed us to step outside of ourselves for an evening.  Two of these occasions stand out in my mind – one ridiculous and one poignant.

The first was a debating society one in Redcastle.  A group of us had hired out a minibus and a room to change in.  I’d sprayed my hair blonde and borrowed a vintage evening dress in the vain hope that I’d pass for Marilyn Monroe or Lana Turner.  I knew the zip was broken and had armed myself with needle and thread.  Anita sewed me into the dress beforehand and I proceeded to dispel any illusion of elegance by getting stuck into my halves of Bulmers and my fags.  A good time was had by all and we swayed back to the room to change into our civvies for the journey home.  Now to get out of the dress.  Did anyone have scissors?  No-one had scissors.  Too tiddly to figure that hotel reception could probably come up with the goods, the gallant Trevor Robinson proceeded to bite me out of my gown.  Anita loved to tell that story.

The second memorable event was just before Christmas one year in the Guildhall and features the wonderful Paddy Rice, who fetched up as a local yokel.  He had on the most voluminous mid-calf white shirty thing tied at the waist with rope.  Add a flat cap, a blackthorn stick and hob-nailed boots and he really looked the part.  When I asked where he’d got his smock, he told me it was a shroud.  His father had been an undertaker I seem to remember.

A few days later, we had a New Year’s Eve party.  Paddy and Doreen had been invited but didn’t show.  They were sadly missed, not least because it was one of those knees-ups where everyone brought a dish and we were a dessert short.  We were joking about the fact that it was the ‘Rice pudding’.  Imagine my guilt, and our horror and sadness, when the phone rang to tell us that Paddy had just died in a car accident.  And then, not long after, my photos of the fancy dress plopped through the letterbox.  The hairs stood up on the back of my neck when I saw that the only print which was over-exposed was the one of Paddy and Doreen.  When I hear traditional Irish music, I often think of Paddy, as well as that other well-loved BBC presenter, Tony McAuley.

Many of the people who attended that party are now dead.  Anita and Trevor, Áine Downey, Ollie McGilloway, Liz Erskine, Gerry Anderson, Cecilia Kennedy, Peter Mullan, Dáithí Murphy – all good people who made the world a better place when they were in it.  They live on in the hearts of those of us remaining.  We creak on and continue to seize happiness where we can – with our arthritic fingers and halting gait – but always, always buoyed up by wonderfully fond memories.

Like the time two young lads tried to hijack my car in the Bogside and I told them to get home to their mammies.  But that’s another story……………………..

November 15, 2022
Feature Column: Another Thing



 

 

 

Anne Clarke
 

It’s no exaggeration to say that being involved with Radio Foyle had a profound effect on the rest of my career.  As a direct result of working/playing there, some doors opened immediately and others further down the line.  One early joy was being asked to write for ‘Radio Times’.  I’m not sure that the tale of how this came about can be conveyed as well on paper as in speech, but I’ll try it anyway.  

 

My first series for Foyle focused on my own full-time job and was most originally called ‘Teacher, Teacher.’  Just before the first programme was due to be aired, I had a call from a very posh-sounding gentleman in London called Chaaahles – Charles to you.  He told me that ‘Radio Times’ had commissioned Sean McMahon to write an article on my upcoming series and could I please contact him.  ‘Can’t I write it myself?’ I asked.  No, I couldn’t he said because I was too close to the material and they wanted a more objective viewpoint.  But was I interested in writing for them?  Yes, indeed I was.

 

And indeed Chaaahles took me at my word.  A few days later, his plummy voice came down the line again.  Was I still interested?  I was.  Did I know anything about peegs and hawses and kys?  Sorry? Peegs and hawses and kys.  Pardon?  After excuses about a bad line etc. I finally cracked it.  Pigs and horses and cows.  No, I didn’t know a lot about farm animals.  Apparently that was fine and I was charged with writing 1,000 words about a future outside broadcast from Enniskillen Agricultural Show.

 

I clapped my hands with delight at this fresh opportunity.  Dismay and consternation soon followed.  I’d rushed out to buy an armful of farming magazines, but neither ‘The Progressive Farmer’ nor ‘The Small Stock Journal’ nor ‘Grassmen’ nor ‘Practical Pigs’ was throwing up any inspiration.  How to get a handle on this?  How to make it interesting?  Anita was as much use as a chocolate fireguard.  She wouldn’t even deign to think about the subject.  Farming, muck, ugh.  She shuddered and not a hair moved.  In the end, I based it on fair days in Cushendall.

 

My mate Chaahles loved it and more commissions followed.

 

What was it about those times?  There was such optimism and trust abroad.  Russell McKay offered me a job without ever meeting me (possibly because he’d never met me), Ian Kennedy gave me, and so many others, the wings to fly on air and here too was the bold Chaahles, who didn’t know me from a hole in the ground – hardly spoke the same language - assuming I could write just ‘cos I said so.  And there was me, making so many forays out of my comfort zone.  Probably because I didn’t have the wit to do otherwise.

 

Those were definitely the days, my friends, and Derry was the place to spend them in.

 

Lovely as the village and people were, everybody in my birthplace, Cushendall, knew the other’s business and I felt constrained.  Then we went to Belfast, where few knew or cared and I felt isolated.  And then came Derry with the best of both worlds.  A city with the heart of a village, a place to participate when the mood took you or withdraw when it didn’t.

 

I felt free and empowered in Derry.  I did a prodigious amount of work there and (I don’t know what it is about brushes) but I was frequently as daft as one too.  Nowhere else would I have dyed my hair green for Paddy’s Day, nowhere else would I have spent a day with the bin-men and nowhere else would my late and bearded husband have reveled in dressing up as the Sugar Plum Fairy.   But that’s another story…………………………………..

GUEST COLUMN
Michael O'Donnell

November 12, 2022

This is about a lot more than football

 

Michael O’Donnell, editor of A Game of Two Halves: The Terry Harkin Story, says Derry City's revival wasn’t just about the rebirth of a soccer club - it was about a lost city finding its voice again.

 

It was 1985. Ulster said no.

The Irish League, the League of Ireland and UEFA said yes.

In our part of the world it is impossible to keep politics out of anything and football is no exception. There were political reasons for Derry City’s expulsion from the Irish League in 1972 and that murky world needed to be navigated if the club was to again take its rightful place at the top table.

The story of how this happened is brilliantly covered in Kevin Harkin’s biography of his father Terry, ‘A Game Of Two Halves’. The inside story of how a casual chat over a cup of tea saw Terry float the idea of Derry entering the League of Ireland.

Terry, Tony O’Doherty, Eamon McLaughlin and Eddie Mahon, made it happen.

It is remarkable that within 18 months their dream became a reality. Even more so to realise that five years from that chat between Terry and Eddie, Derry City completed the first, and to date, only, clean sweep of League of Ireland trophies, 1989’s unique Treble.

But football is merely a subplot to the story.

This is about a city finding its voice. A city tormented by years of crippling unemployment, under investment, gerrymandered elections. Seeing our streets on the television was a daily event, the pictures festooned by the familiar voiceover words “shooting,” “bombing,” “killing,” “murder,” “condemnation.”

The narrative was changing.

I was eight years old when Derry left the Irish League. I was 22 when on September 8 1985, Home Farm wrote its name into our history as our first League of Ireland opponents. And, decent types that they are, they obliged us by losing 3-1.

What happened next I never saw coming. The way the city was consumed by football. We had our own heroes, our own players to sing about. Even our own songs.

This has never been better explained than by one of our own, the late Ryan McBride when he said “Young boys grow up dreaming to move across the water to Man United or Celtic, but my dream was to play for Derry City and to captain them.”

He did play for and captain Derry. And with such distinction they named a stadium after him.

This is what the club brought but not just to the sporting arena.

Hope. Ambition. The realisation that good things don’t just happen to other people in other places, peaked over the horizon.

People now had something positive to hang on to, a sense of purpose, togetherness, a shared aspiration. Even those who had no interest in football, found themselves in the middle of it. Nothing brings out the sandwich making expertise in Derry women than a good wake or an away match.

Following Derry in those days was to take a Master’s Degree in Irish geography, with fans able to proclaim with commendable confidence, how long it would take to get to EMFA, Newcastlewest, or Cobh if you left at 10.30 on Saturday morning, with allowances made for traffic entering Ardee, (it could bottleneck sometimes but they did have lovely floral arrangements to admire), and bathroom breaks.

It was during those moments that Derry’s greatest export, its people, became a living breathing advertisement for the city.

Thousand would descend on these towns and villages, drink their bars dry, fill their hotels and bring an unexpected financial boon. Footballs fans’ reputations at this time was poor, hosts were initially wary, however it took but a short time to see the truth, families travelled together to watch their team and have a good time.

There was never any trouble, it was, if you will, like games at Brandywell without the need for the local constabulary, policed by consent. No-one stepped out of line.

It’s a sobering thought that it is now 37 years since Derry joined the League of Ireland.

Our city, geographically, politically, culturally, and economically, can be viewed as an outpost by outsiders.

We disagree.

This is the place that produced two Nobel Laureates, chart topping singers and songwriters, award winning actors, and many, many internationally sports people.

The talent seeps through the barriers put in front of us.

We never stop.

We never give in and we never give up.

The success of Derry City is a huge manifestation of that attitude. Our football club was taken away from us and robbed generations of players of the opportunity to play the game ay senior level, and who knows, follow their predecessors Jobby Crossan, Fay Coyle, and Terry Harkin, and their successors James McClean, Shane Duffy and Paddy McCourt across the water and into the international game.

The motto of Barcelona “Mes que un club,” More Than A Club, travels well. It sits comfortably with Derry City.

As Felix Healy said after he scored the winner in the 1989 FAI Cup Final to secure the Treble.

“This particular day was more than about football. It was about a community. It was about a community that was wronged and forgotten about. It was this community saying ‘look at us now.’”

He’s right.

Look at us now.

Just look at us now.

November 9, 2022
ANOTHER STORY
Anne Clarke

 

How not to offend a Tullyally farmer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A brutal reality check for Anne this week, as her new radio boss gently explains that she's got the perfect voice for newsprint... 

Anita started, continued and ended her broadcasting career in a totally professional and competent way.  It was a joy to listen to her mellifluous delivery, command of language and distinctive, amusing take on life.  I, on the other hand, crashed disastrously onto the airwaves and Foyle’s listeners must have heaved a collective sigh of relief when Libby came back to assume proper control of her programme.  Those two weeks of holiday cover were the longest of my life.

Poor Maureen Gallagher was tasked with keeping me in line.  My stint on the afternoon magazine slot was my first as a presenter and Maureen’s first as a producer of other than her own material.  However bad I was, everything would have been a lot worse if it hadn’t been for Maureen and her expertise.  Most of the programme was live and, in the midst of chaos, we did have some laughs.  Like the time we covered an agricultural show and a goat attempted to eat my clipboard. Or the interview I managed to do with a sex-change model (man to woman) without once mentioning ‘penis’ or ‘vagina’.  For some reason I reckoned those words would give the vapours to Brandywell housewives and find disfavour with Tullyally farmers.

Some items were pre-recorded and I clearly remember one morning  interviewing a jeweller from Hatton Garden.  We were going to insert the clip in the afternoon by the way the phone-call was live.  I kept making mistakes and referring to morning.  About the third time I did this, I got so frustrated at myself I blurted out, ‘Oh shit!’  Maureen calmly came in with, ‘Cut out the crap, Anne.’  How apt.

The one thing Maureen couldn’t control was my lazy, drawly speech.  In what amounted to a debrief  after Libby’s triumphal return, Ian Kennedy said, ‘Anne, you’re great on the radio -  if it weren’t for your voice.’  Woe was me.  I went from Foyle straight to Anita’s where I exhausted her supply of tissues and wine.  And sympathy no doubt.

So, the end of my broadcasting career?  Not at all.  Ian seemed to like my ideas and interviewing style, so I moved to producing recorded pieces where I could largely edit out my own voice or keep trying out the links until I got a bit of life and speed into them.  God bless Mr. Kennedy.

Some months into contributing to Foyle, Anita and I walked into reception to a wondrous sight.  We’d been allocated our very own pigeon holes!  Proof positive that we had our feet under the table.  Those of you who have only met Anita fleetingly will find it hard to imagine this largely composed and unflappable public figure jumping up and down like a two year old and shrieking with delight.  I, of course, took it all in my stride. ☺☺

There was only one problem.  Most days we’d see everyone else’s pigeon holes bulging with interesting-looking communications, whereas ours only tended to house the lonely – but welcome – payslips or periodic memos.  Enter John Friel, the perfect gentleman who was about to present his new classical music programme, in between headmastering a local school.  John must have heard me bemoaning my lack of mail because a couple of days later I was ecstatic to see a respectable duo of proper letters in my box.  A wee white envelope and a long white one, both posted, one typed, one hand-written.  And both from John.   What a darlin’ man.

Anita never threw anything out.  Her capacious roof-space absorbed clothes, shoes, books, teaching notes, debating speeches, article drafts, theatre programmes – you name it, it went skywards.  She was even capable of getting sentimental over used biros.  I used to rib her mercilessly .  Then I unearthed my huge store of Derry memorabilia.  Pot, kettle…..she’d have the last laugh now.  I’ve even found newspaper clippings about a series I don’t recall doing.  But that’s another story……………………..

***

October 18, 2022
 
Guest columnist
ANNE CLARKE

Mind Your Aitches
 

This week Anne reflects on adapting to teaching life at Faughan Valley High School in the early 1980s 

 

I finally talked my principal down from ‘Equus’ for the school play, even though there could have been a ready supply of horses from many farming parents.  Russell McKay believed in stretching his pupils – and staff – but even elastic has a snapping point.  After many tussles, we compromised by putting on ‘She Stoops to Conquer’.  It soon became clear that even this was proving to be a bit of a challenge, so I ended up rewriting and shortening swathes of it to make it manageable.  Probably offended against every copyright law in existence, but there you have it.  Incarcerate me now.  The important thing was that the pupils involved loved strutting their stuff and Russell was pleased with the school’s first ever production.  And I had no problem rolling back and forth across the road to rehearsals.

 

If I’d depended on walking to and from work to put much of a dent in my 10,000 steps a day, I’d have been on a hiding to nothing.  Faughan Valley Secondary was a minute away from home as the crow flies, a wee bit more if you had no super powers.  There was only one downside to living so near.  I was scared that, if I had call to bring a troublemaker to heel, I might be in line for the odd stone through the window.  Maybe worse if it were known that I kicked with the wrong foot.  Anne Gray was a pretty neutral name, so that gave nothing away.  Still, I soon learned to add the extra bit onto the Our Father and say aitch instead of haitch, the litmus test for determining footery I think.

 

Not that this subterfuge would have pleased Russell, a committed educator and a liberal to boot.  He practiced positive discrimination before it became fashionable and was determined to get more Taigs into the staffroom.  In my day and in my sometimes imperfect memory, he only managed three of us – Anne McAuley, Geraldine Garvin and myself.  All women, all in our thirties and none of us would have scared you if you’d bumped into us on a dark night.  Coincidental I’m sure.

 

My head of department was Stella, a fearsome, super-organised English woman.  She was the only one who had her own seat in the staffroom – an armchair to the left of the wall-mounted electric heater.  God help any new teacher who dared to sit there.  Stella ran a strict ship.  Her classes were always beautifully behaved and their exercise books were a joy to behold.  My room was next door to hers, so I was always on my mettle.  Stella was married to a big shot in Dupont, or so she would have had us believe.  The most interesting thing about her was that she had a brother who was a falconer.

 

Stella and her husband, Richard, invited Bryan and I to dinner one night and, although everything about the meal was exquisite, my main memory of the evening is of Richard showing us Stella’s household folder.  It was hard not to match his enthusiasm for the laminated sheets detailing kitchen cupboard contents, bed linens for respective rooms, grocery shopping checklists etc., but we managed it. When we had them to our house – much to Bryan’s dismay - I ran myself ragged trying to impress.  I gave them a choice of starter, main course and dessert.  They were perfectly nice, maybe just a wee tad supercilious.  Bryan had only one culinary duty – to provide coffee at the end of the meal.  By that stage, he was so bored and far past himself, he plonked ignorant big mugs, the sugar bag and the milk bottle on the table and left us to it.  It took me years to forgive him.  Now I salute his nerve.

 

And then there were my debating teams and meeting Anita Robinson.  But that’s another story…

Guest columnist
MAIREAD MORRISON
 
Step We Gaily?

 

New columnist MAIREAD MORRISON says the current feis-fixing scandal is making a reel of hardworking Derry feis mothers.

 

It might have all  started with Riverdance.  Once folk realised that you could make a living from the jigs and the reels things got serious.  Politics and lobbyists came into the picture.  Prices of solo costumes, curly - wurly wigs  and leg tan escalated…training camps were set up for Serious Contenders…fellas paid more attention to their step-dancing ways.  

It hadn’t always been this way.  Many years ago Anita Robinson wrote about Feis Mammies (see article below) – that formidable breed of Mothers  who made damned sure their offspring would look better,  kick higher, rock faster, stand straighter and treble louder than any other candidate in any given  competition.  ’Tis a pity the Feis Mammies aren’t in total charge these days as the world of Irish Dancing is reeling (sorry) with reports of corruption in the judging and teaching of this once trouble-free and wholesome sphere.

Rules have evolved about make-up, curliness of hair or wig (females only, why?) about the suitability of costume/kilt/ tights/underwear/height of sock and other arcana known only to insiders.  Irish Dancing is now Big Business.  It hasn’t exactly issued its own cryptocurrency but perhaps this is only a matter of time…Alas, all is not well in the great world of the Scotland Open or the Western Canada Oireachtas.  There is talk of insider-trading, favours being done, threats being issued, competition fixing (God forbid).  We hear of sexual favours being offered to judges – who, (allegedly) are being treated like some kind of deity…there is a cute-hoor attitude at large (allegedly)…some teachers are  (allegedly) too friendly with judges, some parents are (allegedly) too friendly with teachers.  The Irish Dancing world is far from gruntled.  

What is being done?  Nobody will come right out and speak truth to power.  CLRG is aware of the situation and doing its best and trying to deal with what is, in simple terms, cheating on a national scale.  Cheating.   There is fear, righteous anger and frustration.  Arbitration would appear to be necessary but the world of Irish Dancing doesn’t have  a Teamsters Union and anyway, local committees are fraught with personal concerns.  Speak out   and you’ll never eat lunch in this rehearsal hall again, nor will your children or your grandchildren. 

 Who are the losers in all of this carry-on? The once wholesome and hair-spray-fraught world of Irish Dancing, that’s who…and, most importantly , the dancers themselves.  These youngsters work their hard shoes down to the fibreglass and get up at Christ o’clock of a morning to make it to competitions in the other side of the country.  They are too young (and well-trained) to strike, throw a wobbly or refuse to go on stage.  It’s a shame to see adults acting the maggot, fixing competitions, cheating – to call it what it is – and the  real stars, the dancers, are the  victims. 

 It might be possible to set up a counter-revolution but the great god Apathy rules here, and who would take it upon themselves to go agin the world of sock-glue and corruption that exists at the moment.  Does nobody care about these young people – genuine champion dancers – left weeping and heart-broken in the wings because some judge was (allegedly)  small-minded and crooked enough to either take a bribe or a trip to someone’s hotel room and afterwards award the prize to a lesser dancing mortal. 

It’s a pity Don Corleone, or Marlon Brando didn’t have a god-daughter in the Irish Dancing World.  I’m not saying a horse’s head in the judges’ beds would be the way to go, but it might be a start. 

 

 

 

FLASHBACK 

 

Anita Robinson’s great friend ANNE CLARKE has recovered the Irish News writer’s controversial ‘Feis column’ from April 2012...

 

There's only one word to describe them - grotesque. With their ungainly flat-footed walk, pumpkin-sized heads and lurid plumage, they're a strange sight, settling like a flock of flightless birds at the Waterfront Hall last week and migrating to Derry's Millennium Forum this. It's Easter week, peak performance season for the native Irish dancer. A curious mutation has overtaken the breed in the past 20 years. Once simply clad in modest knee-length garb devoid of ornament, they're now the Big Fat Gypsy Weddings of dance. Any pretence to Celtic design is long since abandoned in favour of riotous embroidery, appliqué, frogging and lace in shades of eye-watering fluorescence, with skirts so abbreviated the adjudicators' view of competitors must be mostly of big pants. One can appreciate the kaleidoscopic impact of colourful costuming in team dresses but most would justify a caution from the Taste Police.

 

Ditto, one might stomach the brash vulgarity of the dresses, were it not for the travesty of the wigs. Pretty girls with nice hair are compelled to conceal it under enormous confections of synthetic curls, giving the unfortunate impression they're supporting a gabled roof constructed entirely of cigarette butts, which bob distractingly with every step. Almost as weighty are their false lashes and triple layers of foundation. Mere toddlers are transformed into immature prom queens, coated in fake tan and bedizened with make-up, peering through a mass of false hair so top heavy it's a miracle they don't keel over. Their dwarf 'Liz-Taylor-as-Cleopatra' image is somewhat marred by the melodeon folds of their thick white ankle-socks. Season by season, the fiendish feis frock designers stealthily introduce a ghastly new fashion element and the feis mammies another accessory for their already overladen daughter, till there are some who resemble the gaudily-apparelled religious statues carried round continental streets at carnival time.

 

The phenomenon of Riverdance fairly shook the Irish dance establishment to its foundations. For a start, it threw out the buckram-stiffened costumes in favour of understated practice clothes, (but still too short); freed up the joints and, oh sacrilege, permitted the use of arms. From a sterile set of geometric moves, Irish team dance exploded into life. There was suddenly something powerfully visceral and celebratory about the concreted beat of steel-shod feet advancing like a tidal wave and audiences responded with an urgent primal enthusiasm. Naturally, traditionalists lament and purists deplore how Riverdance and all its athletic and aerobatic spin-offs corrupted the integrity of Irish terpsichory but at least the dancers performed with some show of emotion on their faces. Did you ever notice that most feis competitors dance wearing an expression of grim determination? And, if nothing else, Riverdance achieved the impossible in making the male Irish dancer macho and saved the nation from the sight of any more milk-white male knees peeking coyly out under mustard kilts.

 

Traditional versus modernist factions within the dancing fraternity might be better employed focusing their energies upon curbing the sartorial excesses of its practitioners before we become an international laughing-stock. Recent television footage portrayed our premier dancers as a row of garish prizes on a fairground stall, kewpie dolls, arms bonded to their sides, pogo-ing up and down like Masai warriors, their Medusa heads turning viewers to stone.

 

A propos of nothing, Joe Mahon, presenter of Lesser Spotted Ulster, once tongue-in-cheek suggested the theory that Irish dancing originated in famine times, when starving supplicants competed for food-aid before charity boards by rattling their bones. It certainly explains the rigid upper-body stance and the spasmodic high kick.

 

All forms of art, including dance, evolve and alter, interpreted anew by succeeding generations. Each era develops its own choreography. Attempting to put strictures on art forms is both useless and counter-productive. Human nature will always subvert them. Ninety years ago the first president of the Irish Free State posited a lyrical vision of "strong youths and comely maidens dancing at the crossroads".

 

DeValera, thou shouldst be living at this hour. 

(Courtesy Anita Robinson Archive/Irish News)

STARTS TODAY : NEW GUEST COLUMN
I Love Derry by Anne Clarke
Screen Shot 2022-10-10 at 10.57.37.png

I love Derry.

I lived there for 8 magical years from 1978-86 and go back as often as I can.  For my sins and the love of a good man, I’ve been parked in Brum for the last 26 years and have ties to bind me here.  However, all things being equal and yer man willing, I’d like nothing so much as to see out my days in Doire.   And that’s a huge compliment to the city from a woman born and bred in the sumptuously beautiful, supremely friendly Cushendall which also holds so many wonderful memories and a host of fabulous people.

So, what is it about Derry which grabs the heart of a runner like me?  Why is it that most of my closest connections and fondest reminiscences have root in that wee corner of the North West?  Now in my seventies, I have an overwhelming urge to record my stupendously happy and fulfilling Derry days.  While I still have my wits about me.  I think.

Let’s start.

I nearly got to Derry in my teens.  I had a ticket to see The Who in The Guildhall but the concert got cancelled.  Not a good beginning.

However, serendipity attended every aspect of moving more permanently some years later.  My late husband, Bryan, got promoted to a post in Derry and, more importantly, got sober at the same time.  (He made no secret of the fact that he was an alcoholic.)  We bought the dinkiest wee bungalow in Drumahoe for what seemed like the huge sum of £23,000 and I applied for a post teaching English just across the road in Faughan Valley Secondary School.  Everything seemed to be going our way.

Except.  The evening of the interview I found myself snowed in in Cushendall.  Panic ensued and I phoned the principal.  ‘Don’t worry,’ he said, ‘the job’s yours anyway.’  Couldn’t happen now.

And so, hubby, son and I found ourselves on the cusp of a new adventure.  New location, new house, new jobs and a new man in the house who came home from work on time and didn’t keep the pubs in business.  With ready-made friends in AA and Al-Anon, welcoming neighbours and helpful work colleagues, what wasn’t to like?  

I adored my house and my street and the range of characters who lived there.  We were in a little cul-de-sac, where most of us had young children.  The kitchens faced the street and all of us could keep an eye on the congregation of kids playing outside.  I acquired a daughter in Derry and just next door was Barbara, who had a boy and a girl a year older than mine.  She only bought the best for her two and considered her family complete, so I was the grateful recipient of high-class cast-offs.  They all went to the same school, so I got uniforms as well.  I think I only ever bought mine new knickers when I lived there.  

Then there was the man who was car-proud beyond words.  Rarely seen without a chamois in his hand, his house-bound wife wasn’t allowed to take the family car out when it rained and his company vehicle took the brunt of it.  Our street’s house-proud couple took the biscuit however.  This was my first encounter with removing shoes on entry and entry appeared to be into a small furniture shop.  Sofa and armchairs had never been divested of their plastic and price-tags still dangled from table lamps and other sundry items.  Or the guy who was quite high up in one of the services.  We got complacent at the sight of emergency vehicles, sirens going, lights flashing outside.  It was him testing response times.  Stupid bugger.

As for my work, well that was interesting to say the least.  Extrovert show-off that I am, with my interest in public speaking, debating and drama, I was hailed as the person who would rope in lots of accolades for the school.  The first play the principal wanted me to produce was ‘Equus’.  But that’s another story…

Screen Shot 2022-10-10 at 11.52.54.png

Coming Soon....

Featuring contributions from Dr Brian Lacey, Patricia Mhic Thorcaill, Séamas O’Reilly, Iseabál Mhic Ruairi, Declan McGonagle, Sophie Devlin, the family of Sr Clare Crockett, and a host of writers and historians from Derry and beyond.

 

Edited by Erin Hutcheon & Philly Barwise

Is é stair an Túir Fhada stair phobail Dhoire. The Long Tower story is the story of the people of Derry.’  Donal McKeown, Bishop of Derry

Latest News

The latest news from Colmcille Press. 

Independent & Local.

Search

Derry's Streets, heritage and history book for tourists, historians and those with an interest in Derry City, Ireland. Published by Colmcille Press.
Pictured: John Bryson's 'Derry's Streets' with the collection of new postcards of Derry's Streets. Available in our shop now.

There is no better way to explore a City so rich in heritage and culture like reading the history of its streets.


In the City, the street names that we find are important historical signposts of mapping a place's physical history, its economic, social, political and cultural history too. The history of street names have always created much debate in many places across the world. Street names have an impact on the way we read the City and when exploring a historical place like Derry, the heritage of the city is etched into plagues, signs and road-maps scattered across the landscape.



The late John Bryson, a Derry man, was one of the most authoritative & knowledgeable voices on the history of Derry City. In 2001 John Bryson published the first edition on the heritage of 'Derry's Streets' .The Belfast Telegraph said;


"The first edition of Streets of Derry (1625-2001), produced by Guildhall Press 20 years ago, rapidly became one of the most authoritative and sought-after histories of north west Ireland ever written."


It received recognition from historians as one of the most detailed history books on the mapping of Derry City, and was an excellent guide for tourists who wanted to learn more about the landscape and its heritage. However, Mr Bryson viewed the first edition as a work in progress.

The first edition of John Bryson's Derry's Streets. Published by Guildhall Press.

He immediately set about improving it by travelling further back into the dark ages and forward into the 21st century. The old edition is now being sold for as much as £150 online, but you can buy the new and improved book published by Colmcille Press for only £20.


In the new Columban Anniversary edition, readers can find a historical map of Derry created by John Bryson of the Columban Derry City c. 1510, which he named Daire.

The astounding work Mr. Bryson put into the map, will, as Garbhán Downey says, "certainly be known by generations to come as 'The Bryson Map'."


Throughout Bryson's Derry's Streets, there are many photographs and "reminders of [Derry's] industrial past through its built heritage include Nimmons Shirt Factory, Pennyburn Mill and the City Factory, while evocative names such as Jampot Row, Dark Lane and Fishboat Quay leap off the pages." (Irish Times)


Whether you're a history buff, a tourist, student or have a general interest in the heritage of the city, we would suggest you buy a copy of this fantastic book on the history and heritage of Derry City for yourself.


Buy John Bryson's Derry's Streets now from our website, Little Acorns, Foyle books or our Etsy store.








Our intern Clare, a student from the North West Regional College in Derry, takes a look at Seamus Heaney's 'hearth language' with the help of 'From Aftergrass to Yellow Boots' by poet and educator Maura Johnston.


When I started my internship at Colmcille Press, I was shown the many wonderful books that have been published so far and one in particular caught my eye. It was Maura Johnston's 'From Aftergrass to Yellow Boots', a glossary of Seamus Heaney's 'Hearth Language'.


I am a local of Portglenone originally, a stone's throw away from Seamus Heaney's homeplace in the townland of Bellaghy, County Derry. I would say I am an old student of Heaney's work as I studied his poems in school. When I picked up Maura Johnston's glossary, I re-discovered part of my heritage I had lost and, I was re-connected with the beautiful 'hearth language' of my homeland. In her introduction, Maura talks about the phrase 'hearth language' that Heaney uses, and explains how it is "the language we learn and use at first within the family and then... within the local community".

In school I read among other works, Heaney's poem 'Digging' and I vividly remember imagining Heaney with his pen 'snug as a gun' in his hand digging into the paper to write his poems. I remember also reading about the "fresh berries" that went sour and how Heaney filled a bath with "summer's blood" in "Blackberry Picking".


The language Heaney uses is a dialect and experience that is very close to my heart. Johnston's 'From Aftergrass to Yellow Boots', is a 126 page glossary that captures the rural experience, details and preserves a local dialect which students can use to assist them in reading the famous Irish poets work. For me, an old student of Seamus Heaney's work and a local of his homeland, I felt like a tourist retracing the language and what it means to speak this Derry dialect.

Within the book there are also pictures of Heaney's homeplace within Johnston's book giving the reader a visceral image of what Heaney tries to capture in his work, the simple but complicated life in the Derry townland.


I learned how my heritage and the dialect that Heaney and I both share and is slowly dying, Johnston's book has been able to preserve these words and phrases in a glossary that she hopes "will help readers of Seamus Heaney's poetry and plays...the explanations will enrich their reading and... help preserve his hearth language." (Introduction to 'From Aftergrass to Yellow Boots').


You can pick up a copy of Maura Johnston's 'From Aftergrass to Yellow Boots' on our website, Etsy shop or check buy from local Derry booksellers': Foyle Books and Little Acorns




All Products