Less than a fortnight ago, a bunch of us stood on the same spot a Sunday-coated Bryan Dobson has been broadcasting from all day. A Tommie Gorman of sorts to the right of me, an Adams prototype to the left. One as earnest as the other is capable of talking in ever increasing circles. Both praying to fuck I’d quit my best Bryan routine and immediately desist from asking awkward questions (“How’s the head?” etc.).
Having dodged the residential debriefing in the bar, my relative freshness was beginning to produce a sound similar to the early morning vacuum cleaner outside their hotel door. The one they were rudely dragged away from to join the guided walk of the Walls. A bonding exercise some genius had thought to line up for the morning after. It seemed like a good idea at the time. One we all fell for since it didn’t involve any more turning to our neighbour in the group to discuss What It All Means, or the dreaded C word (‘comfort break’).
When the morning showed up however, constitutions and concentration were as wobbly and out-of-focus as the photo above. This view being the actual pixel quality of Gerry and Tommie’s respective vision till they reached the bar at lunch for a much-needed comfort break (comfort being a broad term). Their delicacy tested by the fatal combination of joviality and pride found in our recommended 5 star tour-guide. A Derry man, in short.
For a Donegal woman to be taken in hand for a walk around her neighbour’s garden, there had to be an incentive otherwise what was the point? Once the stabilisers came off my family shopping trips, and the annual Christmas Eve excursions, I had mastered these streets with no hands. But I hold my hands up to having adopted the swagger of the local. For of course, I am not, and never was, a local. Our territories share a hinterland but we have always been the culchie cousins to our edgier brethren over the border. What with their unmistakable pretentious-stripping vowels and punk histories as steep and deep as the streets they live on. And like all things lying on the doorstep, I stepped over it without looking down after a while.
To the top right of the photo (behind Bryan, if you’re watching RTE), you’ll see the green area where a photo for an Undertones record sleeve was taken. Higher up adjacent on the left, a multi-coloured strip of second floor windows includes the house Martin McGuinness is being waked in tonight; while directly across the main road to the left, John Hume’s home is just out of view, just like John Hume. Somewhere close by, someone is vehemently denying they are related to Phil Coulter.
The girl, immaculate in her school uniform, dominating the photo on the gable wall, was the first child killed in the Conflict. Her name was Annette McGavigan, and her father sat by that wall talking to his daughter every day until grief came for him, too. Elsewhere, the door of Sandinos swings open with a crumpled up Eamonn McCann sauntering towards whatever pew hosts his pint. Women push prams up the vertiginous path of life. And together they all converge in a place we Donegal folk subtly understand as indomitable Derry. The ragged, proud, aging, but always cooler cousin.