Postcards from Northern Ireland

The landscape of Northern Ireland writes its own folklore: the islands of Rathlin, Islay, Jura and the coast of Scotland appear and disappear in mist and clouds. The shore is chequered with black basalt and white limestone. Waves break on white rocks peppered with black ones and the cliffs gleam in the sunshine. As you approach the Giants’ Causeway basalt dominates the coastline.  Names of places like Port Moon, Port na Spanaigh tell their own stories. Houses, field and garden walls are built of the white limestone or black hexagons.  On Rathlin Island the RSPB reserve is a whirling mass of puffins, razorbills and guillemots where the noise, the smell, the spectacle is a short-lived miracle every summer. Here also, the many seals haul themselves out on to the rocks, moan eerily and slip in and out of the water according to the tide. Hares stand to attention as you pass.  Local men hold model yacht races on an inland lough: the boats are handmade to a traditional design and their proud owners have to wade out into the water to push their boats out to catch the wind during the many summer competitions. 

 Back on the mainland, we couldn’t help noticing the Union Jack bunting that fluttered in the villages. At the approach of one coastal town a huge crown bedecked  the centre of a roundabout. A few miles further along, Irish words appear in shop and pub windows with ne’er a red, white and blue flag in sight.  In one die-hard Unionist village pavement kerbs had been painted red, white and blue while in the neighbouring village the kerbstones were painted the orange and green of Nationalist colours. The idea of painting kerbstones seems quite extreme to me, something more than hanging up a Union Jack with the picture of the queen in the middle.  

In Derry there’s a beautiful new Peace Bridge across the River Foyle, and plans laid for when they are UK’s Capital of Culture next year. Over the years although we had witnessed so much on television about the Troubles we had not begun to understand anything of the nature of the conflict until we caught a glimpse of the terrifying closeness of the deadly divisions between the Bogside estate and the much more affluent walled interior, once dominated by Protestant Unionists.  In the Free Derry Museum we watched a video of a huge demonstration by some thousands of people against the brutal policy of internment  without trial that had been held on the very beach at Magilligan Point we had walked only the day before  –  seven miles of silvery sands where we had collected shells, found pink dulse to eat, drunk Irish Coffee (ie with whisky) in  a local pub, driven past a huge prison in the dunes. What was particularly moving was the story of Presbyterian Minister Dr David Latimer’s relationship with Martin McGuinness which had been such an inspiration for the whole peace process.  That royal handshake next week is going to be a powerful symbol.

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About Rebecca Gethin

Rebecca Gethin is a poet and a novelist. Cinnamon Press published her third collection, All the Time in the World in 2017. Another pamphlet is forthcoming with Three Drops Press. Her second novel, What the horses heard, was published by Cinnamon Press in May 2014. Her second poetry collection - A Handful of Water - was published by Cinnamon in 2013. Her first - River is the Plural of Rain - was published by Oversteps Books in 2009. Her novel Liar Dice won the Cinnamon Press Novel Writing Award in 2010 and was published in 2011. She lives on Dartmoor and writes occasional pieces about wildlife and nature. Her poems appear in a variety of poetry magazines and in several anthologies.
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2 Responses to Postcards from Northern Ireland

  1. elly nobbs says:

    Good post.. I don’t always keep up with the news, so I followed up what you wrote by reading this article. http://www.scotsman.com/scotland-on-sunday/uk/royal-handshake-for-ex-ira-man-welcomed-1-2373286 . Thanks.

    • How amazing you researched it. It has been a bone of contention as to whether either or both would do the deed, and should they or not? Her moving visit to S. Ireland last year probably paved the way. Cheers B

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