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Dubliners Diary - By Terry O'Sullivan
This article first appeared in the Evening Press,Monday, August 4th, 1969 p7.
From the Walls - Derry on a Sunday morning
The first time I went to Derry I walked its sunlit walls early on a Sunday morning about nine and watched the chimney far beneath me as each family in Bogside announced that the woman of the house was up and working.
There was almost no wind and each plume of smoke retained its shape and entity for 30 feet or more and then leaned ever gracefully, and all the smoke plumes drifted away together like the little swans in the ballet.
There was no sound at all except the ringing of Church bells, no movement in the streets, and as I looked down from the height of "Roaring Meg", that symbolic old canon, and said to myself that here at last in Ireland I had seen the true shape of a city. I can still see that misty morning autumnal picture, not so long ago. I had realised then that beneath the silvery cobwebs of an Autumn morning, the gems of strife were being warmed to activity.
As I looked down on Derry from the heights above Rosemount this weekend, I remember that saad little memory from the life of Christ, when he wept over Jerusalem.
Down in the heart of the city, just a few people, going nowhere. Shop and bank windows boarded up. An air of listlessness, and of menacing inactivity. Only once or twice I have sensed that animal fear of the jungle . . . and I recalled a Sunday afternoon in Harlem, broken bottles in the gutters, no movement on the streets dribbling with fire escapes, broken and uncleaned windows, through the gaps in which obscene shapes ...Most menacing ...no people.
There was the first time 1 crossed the Green Line in Nicosia, between Greek and Turk, and knew that somewhere, from a minaret or a window, someone was judging his range on his rifle to me. Briseann an duchais tre shuillibh an chait -everyman carries inside himself his natural radar.
No surrender in Clonmany
WITH so many setting out for a week-end holiday, I joined in and headed for that part of Ireland where 60 p.c. of the people are named O'Doherty ...the Inishowen peninsula.
Here, with the O'Dohertys are the Kearneys, the McGonigals, the O'Donnells (of course), the McLaughlins, and the Harkins, and this peninsula. which is only 25 miles long, prods a finger into the Atlantic. The tip of that finger nail is Malin Head, the peninsula is almost drowned in salt water for Lough Swilly and Lough Foyle between them have the place nearly surrounded. What the sea can't do, the Border has done, and now you need to have a deliberate intention to visit this peninsula. It has advantages and disadvantages of an Island.
There is no Grade A hotel in the peninsula and the largest hotel there is, and quite a famous one, the Lough Swilly, Buncrana. reports a nail biting Season with cancellations matching those experienced in Portrush, Portstewart and even Bangor.
We all know why of course. The reason was on the front pages of this morning papers, once again. Insuppressible and undefeated and thinking in terms of "No surrender" even if they don't say it, is the community of the tiny well painted innocent little town of Clonmany; way up near Malin Head.
Every Tuesday, some 400 able bodied men call to the garda station, then to the post office, then have a chat and go home. They have drawn their unemployment benefit for the week ...400 out of a total man, woman and child , population of 2500.
Clonmany believes it has the highest unemployment rate of any community in Ireland, and its population has halved since 1891.
It has forty births so far this year. Ten years ago It had 130.
Crafts and skills
Just as you may think that I am about to depress you with more facts and figures the bugles "Reveille" and out of the shallow Donegal valley, sheltered by rough mountains and moorland, there appears a handful of young people, a mixture of students and teachers and trade and business, and without any money, or guarantees of money, they get together and announce what must be the most shoestring Festival in the world.
God knows, the word 'Festival' makes any Communist jump three feet in the air.
But there is something about the spirit of Clonmany that is most heartening, something typical of the spirit of Donegal.
When a bunch of twenty year olds, acknowledging the fact of the tradition of emigration from their parish bond together to welcome the emigrants home, on holiday for a week or so, the candid honesty of purpose is richly appealing.
If you can't fight the facts of life, then at least make them less depressing. The young people of Clonmany forming a youth Club, sought to add laughter and gaiety to the silent little town. They borrowed what was once the local landlord's market house (in which his tolls could be measured), and transformed it into a quaint little folk museum and they laid a concrete dance floor on half of the earthen floor. So many young people came and are coming these nights to the entertainments that the folk museum has had to be thinned down a bit, and probably as the week goes on, the dances will overflow onto the original floor!
The immigrants home from Inverary, and the towns of England never had such a welcome before, and all of a sudden there seems to be so many things to do...from the fascination of watching sheep and dog trials (in these mountains, sheep dogs are very important members of the family) to horse shoe throwing, and 'international' football matches between the emigrants and the men who stayed at home.
Small stuff compared with the Horse show at Ballsbridge...but wait, the RDS was founded to promote and sustain the very skills that the Clonmany men have and a look at their folk museum, about 20 feet by 20 feet, illustrates my meaning.
Marius Harkin, a teacher of French in St Eunans Letterkenny; Colm Toland, a science student of U.C.D.; Hugo Boyce, a mechanic; Delores Mc Gonigal, Roger Gill, May Margaret Farren, Sally Comiskey, and Packy Carney...all in their twenties...these are the people who have said "No Surrender".
- Colm showed me around the tiny Folk Museum, holding the domestic implements still in active use in the farmhouses here in North East Donegal. I could identify the turf creels, and the potato streamer woven from sally rods; the milk churn and the various old patterns of century old plates on the country dresser. (They even have eggs lined along one shelf, as is the custom). The settle bad beat me, and it had to be opened for me to explain, and I didn't get the Donegal name right for the local bench, that I called a "form", and which Colm said was a creepy. There was the smoke blackened crane at the fireplace and a collection of great pots and a pot oven. There'll be more of course, the wooden dips for milk and well water, made with all the skill of a cooper and with the joins between the pieces of timber lined with rushes to act as washers.
"There is no Irish left here now", added the creator of the Youth Club, Marius Harkin. "The last of it was around the Gap of Mamore. Socially this peninsula of Inishowen has always been patchwork, with the two British artillery garrisons, one at Fort Dunree and the other at Leenan. During the 1914-18 war the Enniskillen Dragoons had a rest camp set up here near Clonmany. There is a Chichester tomb in the overgrown graveyard of the ruined Protestant church just on the side of town, and recently, and privately, Major Chichester Clarke came to visit it".
Lough Foyle, massive and as heavily buoyed as the Mersey led us to Quigleys Point where now Lou Shorrt, well known to and in Clontarf, runs a sophisticated late night restaurant called the Point Inn. He trained both in the States and in Britain, reaps the harvest of his hard work...and the differential laws of the Six counties and the Republic.
Facing the Music
- For Derry is 15 minutes away. . . and the bars close at ten at night, closing completely on Sundays. Last night every table in the Point Inn was booked out, largely by executives from the Du Pont plant in Derry, letting their hair down till 2.am.
Recently here I had the temerity to name the top ten scenic view points in Ireland, in my experience. Having written without stopping to think on a PR basis, I counted back and discovered that out of my ten, no less than five were in historic Ulster!
After our run to the Inishowen peninsula I must add on another . . . the Gap of Mamore between Dunree and Leenan. The hairpin gradients on this are much more exciting than those of the Healy Pass or the Conor pass or the climb out of Boyle or the climb to Lisdoonvarna.
Will the Inishowen Peninsula be discovered, its deserted beaches and dramatic scenery become household names?
Not until there is a sophisticated hotel there. The Lough Swilly is about to build a new wing facing the marvellous Sunsets of Lough Swilly. Its launch, three quarter decked with a new and more powerful engine.
The casual and even the most map reading tourist, does not like venturing into a comparatively large peninsula which has no first class accommodation, especially now that Cork and Kerry have filled all their gaps.
I know that the Donegal and Derry folk in Dublin are a happy community. They might consider getting away for Horse Show Week . . . and a five hour drive to Clonmany. The town deserves well out of the state, and it has not asked for help.
I am back reluctantly to face the music of Horse Show Week, but I hope to begin with that very funny "toot toot" on the steam whistles of the Steam Fair at Stradbally . . . and then visit Birr, the beau geste of the midland towns.