Friday 8 November 2013

So what’s in a name?

The day peace was forged brought a promise of redemption for us all. Clearly aware of the timing, those involved in the talks pushed beyond the midnight hour to a conclusion on 10 April 1998. It was a Good Friday, in every sense of the name.
The outcome was officially entitled ‘The Agreement,’ yet we hailed it as the Good Friday Agreement, basking in that ‘feel good’ designation and remarking on the contrast with the blood-soaked days that preceded it – Bloody Friday, Bloody Sunday and more from a lengthy calendar of horror.
So we breathed a collective sigh of relief as dawn broke and cheered again when the Good Friday Agreement was sealed by popular vote throughout the island. However, we wavered when it was delivered for action because, by then, we had begun to forget what it was called.
The Irish Times began designating it the Belfast Agreement, as if its intrinsic value was vested in a place. This suggested that if you simply changed venue, you could change the outcome. But even the subsequent St Andrews Agreement failed to fire the popular imagination. It was mere housekeeping with the reminder that the Good Friday Agreement was still the ‘only show in town’.
The ‘Belfast Agreement’ certainly had its proponents and foremost among them were the opponents, uncomfortable with the positive connotations of a Good Friday Agreement.
The ‘Belfast Agreement’ was also upheld by pedantic commentators, insisting that similar accords are called after the place in which they are agreed – Treaty of Versailles etc. Yet what we had was not ‘site specific’ to Belfast, another treaty to be added to a catalogue of place-name accords. It was more than an armistice between belligerents or even a treaty between sovereign powers.
It was endorsed by the Irish, British and American governments, by the European Union and all its constituent members, as well as by other governments, religious leaders and people of goodwill throughout the entire world. However, our Good Friday Agreement was also an unprecedented accord between all the people of Ireland to forge a better future for all of us and to do this in peace. Together we hailed it as a new model of peace-making.
So most of us persisted doggedly with the Good Friday Agreement, even against the guiles of media style guides. In one memorable early purge, the Irish Times – ever- vigilant enforcer of the geographical designation – pursued it all the way into a report on the Presbyterian General Assembly with one naysayer remarking that the “only Belfast Agreement” he recognised, “was won for us on the cross by our Saviour”!
Fifteen years on, vigilance is still needed against those who would unpick what was won for us at the dawn of that Good Friday. Its promise is still denied by dissidents, including those who by stealth diminish the name we bestowed on the Agreement in our first acclamation.
They came after the name; let’s ensure they don’t succeed in coming after the terms. 

Thursday 3 October 2013

Logged on while wallas wait in wings

It's help yourself to street food in Toronto's Little India.
My sons and I still laugh about the ‘water walla’ at the restaurant in the Little India district of Toronto, Ontario. We went there for dinner once upon the mid-1990s, tempted by the early bird special buffet deal on a winter Sunday evening.
The water walla was poised with a large pitcher less than a discreet distance from our table in the otherwise empty dining-room. Each time one of us drank some water, he pounced to replenish the glass. Our early-bird special dining experience became a cat-and-mouse game of trying to cause a distraction and surreptitiously take a sip without alerting the hired help.
By the end of the meal, we were kinked up with laughter. Yet we never went back to dine there again.
I am reminded of the water walla every time I go online nowadays. And while it is touching to know that Google, Facebook and all the other conglomerates of the ether-world are anxious to replenish my glass – while emptying my wallet, no doubt – it has become another cat-and-mouse game and this one never seems to end.
So time after time, I am proffered pictures of ‘attractive women 40+’ to tempt me into a dating website; the latest models of hiking boots to help my getaway fantasies; alluring travel deals for ‘silver surfers’; and so much more. Frankly it is getting a little embarrassing to think that a great host of online wallas is waiting to pounce on my every perceived desire and replenish my glass.
Yet I can’t seem to get up from the table, settle my bill and leave. And each time I make a choice to do something that is seemingly innocuous, another little detail of my life goes winging its way to the wallas.
The ones on Facebook are the most persistent. They now want to know where I was born, where I live now, where I went to school and every other possible detail they can winnow from the chaff of my life. Yet after several years of active Facebooking, I should think it obvious that, since I have chosen not to ‘complete my profile’, I might want to maintain some degree of discretion on the private details of my life.
I must have got lost at that point.
So if I want to take a surreptitious sip, then that is my business, not theirs.
Yet how in heck do they know so much already? Not that I have ever taken a sip from the proffered, but so obviously bogus, dating websites offering 'scores of attractive' middle-aged women near where I live (on the faraway Frontier, of course), I am still curious to know how they computed my age range. At least it saves me the embarrassment of explaining to my partner why the online Googles are offering me ‘attractive women’ of inappropriate vintage. And I suppose hiking boots are also less suspicious than other forms of apparel.
I ponder this while the wallas wait, thinking that like everything else nowadays, it probably has to do with Logarithms.
Now I wish I had paid more attention in Maths class! 

Friday 27 September 2013

Post haste costs more

In Derry City’s main Post Office yesterday, I presented a small parcel for postage. The clerk behind the bandit screen asked where it was going.
‘County Westmeath,’ I replied. 
She consulted her screen and commented, ‘Air mail.’ 
Thinking I had misheard, I repeated, ‘Air mail?’ – adding that question mark of astonishment.
The clerk then explained that this postage to Westmeath was 'across the border' and so classified as an ‘international delivery’. As such, it incurred the same charge as a delivery 'anywhere else within the European Union'.
In other words, mailing a small parcel to Bridgend in County Donegal, just one mile out the road from Derry, incurs the same cost as mailing it to Bucharest. Meanwhile, the same parcel could be delivered as ‘domestic’ mail to Brighton or Lerwick at a fraction of the cost.
Somewhat stunned, I forked out the £7.85 demanded and my parcel was dispatched for its ‘flight’. I immediately regretted that decision. In future I’ll deliver myself – almost free of charge – to a post office in Lifford to conduct similar business.
You’ve got to be on top of your game when you’re living on the Border. 

Sunday 11 August 2013

All eyes on the Derg

For the past week, Castlederg has been near the top of the news agenda. The small frontier town sits on the most westerly fringe of the United Kingdom, cheek-by-jowl with Donegal’s Finn Valley in the north-west of Ireland.
This was the chosen venue for the Tyrone commemoration of its ‘Republican dead’ from the recent conflict – including 53 IRA activists. The event was timed to coincide with the anniversary of the death of two IRA men from the Castlederg area who were killed when the bomb they were transporting into the town exploded prematurely.
The Republican event caused outrage among members of the Protestant Unionist Loyalist (PUL) communities as a desecration of the memory of 31 of their family, friends and neighbours killed by the IRA in the locality. They organised a protest rally to coincide with the Republican parade.
So on the afternoon of Sunday, 11 August 2013, Castlederg braced for confrontation at the Ferguson Crescent interface.
This is where the town's two virtually segregated parts meet. They are even designated by distinct names – Bridgetown, bedecked in union flags and loyalist bunting; and Churchtown, where the Republican parade would take place along Castlefinn Road and through the Catholic nationalist estates.
This is what happened!
(All photos copyright of Darach MacDonald.)

Local Protestant clergymen prepare for the service on The Diamond that was the central feature of their protest.

Republicans begin to assemble at the Priest's Lane car park.

Gordon Speirs provides musical accompaniment for the protest prayer service.

More Republicans gather at Priest's Lane.

One of the Republican flute bands arrives.

The Republican parade assembles in the shadow of the watchtower of the huge but now almost totally vacant Castlederg police fortress.

Sinn Féin, including Pat Doherty MP on left, carry wreaths. 

Republican stewards form a line across the Ferguson Crescent interface, with Loyalist stewards about 50 metres beyond them at The Diamond, with police in between.

The provincial flags of Ireland are carried in the vanguard by the parade colour party.

One of the Republican flute bands wheels around into Castlefinn Road.

The Ulster flag with its provincial counterparts.

Strabane's Republican Flute Band features two bass drummers.

Strabane fluters set off on the parade route.

The colour party of Tyrone's Martin Hurson Memorial Flute Band.

The Martin Hurson Memorial Band's flute corps.

Fluters mark time as the parade stalls momentarily.

A commotion in the background, where one Loyalist protester made an attempt to break through caused police to rush to the far line of the interface.

A Republican band from Donegal.

Tír Chonaill fluters follow their bass drum.

A Sinn Féin group from Armagh city at the Tyrone commemoration.

Another Republican band, from north Antrim, this time steps it out.

Crossmaglen Sinn Féin banner carried in the Castlederg parade.

The final Republican band, from south Derry, steps it out.

The police turn their backs to Loyalist protesters on one side…

… as the Republican parade marches off up Castlefinn Road.

Back at The Diamond, Loyalist protesters gather at the 'Cutting Edge' of the town's interface.

A parading band re-emerges onto Castlefinn Road from one of Castlederg's estates.

The colour party of the Martin Hurson Memorial Flute Band.

The Martin Hurson Memorial RFB drummers

Fluters in the Martin Hurson Memorial band.

The Tír Chonaill colour party steps along.

A young drummer flanked by his bandsmen.

Bearing along the Irish tricolour.

Flag-bearer at the end of the parade route.

The Donegal band arrives at the Republican shine in Castlederg.

The Martin Hurson Memorial RFB prepares to fall out.

Marking time on the last tune.

The Rasharkin Sons of Ireland band arrives.

Rasharkin fluters marching along.

One of the banners carried on the parade features 1916 heroes.

Images of local republican heroes on the wall above the shrine.

Castlederg republicans display their banners.

The colour party line up before the new Republican shrine.

Tuesday 23 July 2013

Dumped again in the Windy City

The attractive offer.
It’s still happening with Aer Lingus, despite the recent announcement by my airline of choice that it was inaugurating direct flights from Dublin to Toronto next year1.
Today I got another of those promotional emails offering me £40 off a return flight on its ‘USA  and Canada’ services. Having commented publicly (on Facebook) about the happy outcome of a previous Frontier Post blog about the lack of this precise service, I wanted to get in as early as possible on the fruits of my campaign2
So I checked it out and the price was agreeable… even attractive.
I set about placing a booking for next February. Price still OK, but then I checked the flight schedule.
Aer Lingus was offering to fly me over most of eastern Canada and the Great Lakes into the United States and dump me in Chicago's O’Hare airport again. It would arrange with United Airlines to then take me back across the Great Lakes to Canada where I wanted to go in the first place. 
The real deal.
That’s exactly like offering to fly me from Dublin to Athens, Greece, and then dumping me in Cairo, Egypt, at the mercy of a third party airline!
It's the same on the return leg – first west on United Airlines to Chicago, then back east to Dublin! 
The duration of the flight times offered are 12 hours and 59 minutes on the outward flight, and a staggering 20 hours on the homeward flight!
Given time for all those normal departure and arrival formalities, that would extract almost two entire days for hanging around airport terminals and sitting in a flying tin tube from a two-week vacation! 
And given my recent difficulties with US Customs and Border Protection3, I would probably have to allow even more flexitime in my schedule for dealing with the ugly face of America on border patrol.
I’m sending an email reply to Aer Lingus right now asking that they send no similar offers to me until they study the map and see that Canada is not simply somewhere else on the outskirts of the Windy City… and I’m enclosing this blog post as well!



Tuesday 18 June 2013

Facing up to the G8

Neo-Jesus from Glasgow and the Big Yin.

Cheeky message on the march.

Foyle Pride and Fermanagh police.

Embracing first language to shun capitalism.

Another message for Obama.

Old heroic causes never die.

Big boards for big message.

On the march to the barricades.

The biggest drip in the protest.
Come on Donegal!

A protester from Prince Edward Island in the island town.

Familiar faces in Enniskillen.

Stripped to the skin by austerity

And pigs would fly… 

G8 not welcome here.

Our banner on the protest march.

A patrol on the river and police on the hills.

Nothing to do but lean on a fence and collect overtime.

Fist salute from Eddie Molloy.

Sit down protesters.

Relax and enjoy the evening.

Faces in the crowd at the 'ring of steel' roadblock.

Faces and phones in the crowd.

Another miscarriage of justice.

Listening to the speakers.

Jester has a smoke.

A comfy seat for now.

Settling down for the  night.

Clerical advice from the Craggy Island contingent.

Game for the protest.

This road sign says it all.

Crochet crusaders at the 'ring of steel' fence.

Veteran protester Eammon McCann addresses crowd.

£4m for security fence and it was breached easily.

A singalong on the way back to town.

We're left with the bill for this convoy of about 50 police Landrovers.

This shop front is as fake as political promises.