Are We Not Men?

This bizarre question was asked on a record cover in 1978—I was in England, slap bang in the middle of the New Wave movement. My neighbors were a punk rock band—one of their classic lines was: ‘I thought we were just a passing phase.’ The delivery of punk involved a very simple chord structure, plenty of distortion, and the occasional gob on the audience.

The answer to that question was: We Are Devo!

And it is devolution that rules the day in Europe. However, apart from the U.K.’s referendum on withdrawal from the European Union, the would-be devolvers are provinces of Member States—these ‘sub-states’ want to be part of the EU, but as independent countries.

A sign promotes the devolution of Catalunya on the mountains east of Belfast.

A sign promotes the devolution of Catalonia on the mountains west of Belfast.

On the road out of Belfast a sign had been made for N9, the date when Catalans were voting for independence—it said YES YES. Catalonia is a Spanish province with a population of over seven million. About 37% of the 5.4 million eligible voters returned a ballot—eighty percent in favor of independence.

Catalonia is a very different land to Castile—when the spy Pêro da Covilhã arrives there in 1487, he greets the locals with ‘bom dia,’ the same word as in Portugal.

The vote was illegal, but it’s not going away.

Northern Ireland is much more relaxed than when I first went there a decade ago, but as you head west out of Belfast through the Catholic neighborhoods and take the road to Derry, which forms the border with the Irish county of Donegal, there is plenty of evidence of times gone by.

A cross on the shore of the River Bann reads: In memory of Rody McCorley who was hanged here for his part in the risins (sic) of 1798 Those who died for Ireland Let not their memory die.

Irish nationalists paint 'London' out of all the road signs through County Derry.

Irish nationalists paint ‘London’ out of all the road signs through County Derry.

The English added the prefix ‘London’ to the original Irish Daire—the new name was not well received by the locals. This becomes evident on the roadsigns in the western part of County Antrim, after the freeway ends and the single lane road begins to wind up the Glenshane Pass.

Derry itself is where the troubles of yesteryear are most in evidence. The city walls are immaculately preserved, and I walked a part of them in the driving rain.

I climbed onto the walls at Bishop’s Gate, where James II demanded entry into the city during the 1689 siege. Bishop Hervey marked the spot one hundred years later with the building of the gate, which also remembers the Battle of the Boyne, a tragic day in Nationalist history.

From there the bogside is visible, outside the city walls. This is the main Catholic area, and includes whole neighborhoods that were a no-go area for the British army and police during the Troubles.

The protestant Fountain neighborhood is opposite, and in both areas many people feel disenfranchised, and share the notion that the peace process hasn’t really brought benefits. Hardliners from the older generations strive to maintain the hatred that caused so much past suffering.

Derry has the highest unemployment in the U.K., almost fifty percent higher than the national average. A plaque on the walls identified the two traditional industries in the region—linen manufacture, particularly shirts, and whiskey distilling. A couple of years ago, Fruit of the Loom closed its manufacturing plant, which employed ten thousand people—in a city of one hundred thousand, that hurts.

Mural art captures the hatred in parts of the community.

Mural art captures the hatred in parts of the community.

My host took me through some of the ‘warmer’ areas of town, places where you really shouldn’t be. He was kind enough to let me stop and click a few pictures—that got me a few dirty looks from the locals.

Like devolution, there is a lot of discontent sitting just below the surface—we didn’t linger.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones.

 

 

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