Bloody Sunday and stumbling on a pen pal

Better Than Yesterday

The children ran down the sidewalk waiving to our van.  Then, at the last sidewalk painted in the union jack’s red, white and blue they stopped. They stood waiving and smiling. Murals on nearby walls read “no surrender” and “still under siege.”

On Wednesday, a radio trivia question marked the 46th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” asking where it took place in. I was flooded with memories, it seems like yesterday I was standing there on Rossville street. 

In the mid 1500’s the British colonized Derry, Northern Ireland, with pro-British Protestant loyalists as a means of controlling, anglicizing, and civilizing the resistant Gaelic, Irish Catholic region. In 1688, the Irish embattled the walled cities loyalist population for 105 days in what is known as the Siege of Derry.

Fast forward to 1969 during a time referred to as “the troubles.” Strengthened nationalists sought for Northern Ireland to leave the United Kingdom and rejoin a united Ireland. Many saw Derry as the epitome of British loyalist rule. Thousands of loyalists fled the city for outlying areas.  However, one group of about 250 Loyalists dug in. Their families fortified a small area just outside the old city walls known as “The Fountain.”

In January, 2002, I visited the Fountain with a group of college students. There we met of all things… a Brownie troop. We joined the witty and energetic girls activities at St. Columb’s Cathedral. What fun. They inquired about Tom Cruise and we couldn’t get enough of their accents. Next, they invited us to their Cathedral Youth Club. The girls remarked “marching” was one of their favorite hobbies.  Marching parades, led by bands are central to both groups heritage. Similar to American Independence day, loyalist marches commemorate events such as the siege.

Sometimes marches are in protest. This was the case on Jan. 30, 1972. The Irish nationalist community marched to protest the mass arrests of perceived IRA suspects. During the march, mere blocks from the Fountain, British soldiers tragically shot 28 unarmed civilians, killing 14.  

At the youth club, someone mistakenly asked “Why don’t you just give Northern Ireland back to the Irish?”

The leader’s response was quick and sharp. 

“What a novel idea. You should give America back to the Natives shouldn’t you.”

She added “my family lived here 200 years before America became a country.” 

That ended the conversation. 

Before we left, a 9 year old with dark hair and big blue eyes asked me “do you have hotmail?”

When I returned home there was an email from “Kat.” I  responded and you know what? Kat and I have been pen pals ever since. Over the years our conversations have changed. As a teenager she sometimes asked for advice and I did my best to answer. She died her hair red and got some tattoos. As time went on she asked me more about my life. She was now trying to help me.

Kat is married now and has two children. She has not asked about Tom Cruise in a while. Today I sent her a picture of the snow banks in my yard. She returned a picture of her son and daughter wrapped in scarves and mittens making a snowman in her yard, in the suburbs of Derry. 

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