DERRY – Tuesday marked the 10-year anniversary of the first IRA ceasefire, the culmination of years of official and behind-the-scenes negotiation and confidence building. After yet more intricate and stop-and-start dealings, the way was paved for the Good Friday Agreement of April 1998, aimed at permanently settling the 30-year civil conflict in Northern Ireland. With the guns largely silent and the daily litany of bombings, assassinations, and sectarian murder now largely a thing of the past, the focus is on the current political impasse that has stalled the implementation of the landmark peace deal.
DERRY – The third major day of Northern Ireland’s marching season passed off without any major incidents, marking a relatively trouble-free summer during what is usually a confrontational and edgy time for the province.
On Saturday, over 15,000 members of the radical Apprentice Boys association – part of the Protestant or British “loyalist/unionist” camp, as opposed to the predominantly Catholic Irish “nationalist” or “republican” side of the divide – marched through Northern Ireland’s second city, Derry, also known as Londonderry.
The bowler-hatted and orange-sashed bands marched through the city’s predominantly Loyalist Waterside before crossing the Foyle River to pass through the mainly Nationalist Cityside, where over 60 per cent of the city’s population lives. The route passes close by the Bogside area, the city’s nationalist stronghold, before turning back to cross the Foyle River via The Fountain — the main loyalist enclave on the Cityside.
Does the answer lie in the past? Under British rule, particularly before the Great Famine in the 1840s, the manufacture of absinthe-potency alcohol known as poitín was a nationwide illegal cottage industry requiring little technical expertise or equipment. This quasi-hallucinogenic brew was widely popularised as both a symbol of defiance of British rule (the Royal Irish Constabulary and its antecedents had special units designed to stamp out the industry/custom, which were met with ingenious schemes to maintain underground production) and a quick, cheap means of getting hammered.