Seeking peace. Striving for justice. Together.
Post by Andy Gans, pastor of Fort King Presbyterian Church in Ocala, FL
Derry/Londonderry was our destination today. You may be asking why the name Derry/Londonderry. The names, as with many things, have roots to the struggle between Unionists (Protestants) and Nationalists (Catholics). The Unionists call the city Londonderry because of their loyalty to the Crown of England and the Nationalists refuse to use the name with London. The name you call the city identifies you, and the side, you have chosen.
Derry/Londonderry is a beautiful city along the north central coast of Ireland but it has been besieged for years by this conflict. Some may remember this town from the the movie Bloody Sunday. The movie was about a 1972 Nationalist protest march for civil rights with in the city. The demonstration was meant to be a peaceful march but became violent when British soldiers opened fire on the crowd killing 14. tensions are still heightened today as Protestants and Catholics are still separated ideologically and physically. This city too has a "Peace Wall" whose intention is to keep hostilities down within the city. The historic city, which still has its 400 year old wall surrounding it, is 90% Catholic with only 4% of the historic city population being Protestant. The "Peace Wall" separates these two groups within the historic city. Across the Foyle river the population is predominately Protestant.
Today we spoke with the Bishop of the Derry Diocese of the Church of Ireland (Anglican), Ken Good. The Bishop says the true problem, or reason for the conflict, is the struggle for who will control the land. He says the fight is for sovereignty of the land and certain people will do anything to gain or keep control.
After a wonderful conversation with the Bishop we were guided on a historical city tour around the old wall. This tour pointed out many of the historical land marks of the conflict and showed us many of the divisions that still exist. As we walked and discussed many of the challenges we eventually came to an are called the Bog Side, an area of the city where the 1972 march and killings took place. As our guide explained the history he also revealed to us that he was one of the demonstrators who eventually joined the Irish Republican Army (IRA). He spoke how he now has distanced himself from that paramilitary group and is on the front lines of peace and reconciliation talks. Our conversation was amazing with this man and we are forever thankful for his insight and honesty. Hearing his story was, for many, the highlight of the day.
Tomorrow our group will try to make sense of all we have learned. We will have conversations on how what we've learned here might be used to help, and create, opportunities for peace back home in our church and community.