Thursday 28 July 2011

15 - 'Stroke City, hey, mugger'

Grianan Aileach stone fort, outside Derry City in Co. Donegal

January 07, 2010

Last time we talked a wee bit about Fermanagh and I'm sure, by now, all those muggers up in Derry are wonderin' when on earth I'm gonna mention them! Derry is the second city of Northern Ireland and - although most people in Belfast and elsewhere don't seem to realise it - there is a great rivalry with Belfast. If you go up there for a visit they'll probably greet ye with, 'Are ye alright there, hey, mugger?' The word 'mugger' is just a version of 'mucker' - used elsewhere in Norn Iron. Yer mucker is just yer mate - and in Derry, yer mugger.

Derry is the Irish word for an oak wood, then in the 1640s - during the plantation of Ulster, mostly with Scots people - the city received a lot of investment from the City of London, so they changed the name to Londonderry. And the name has been a bone of contention ever since, with Protestants insisting on 'Londonderry' and Catholics holding fast to 'Derry', or sometimes, 'Derry City'. As they say up there, it's bin, 'Wile powerful altogether, hey!'

It is often referred to by Protestants as the Maiden City, from the time of the Siege of Derry back in 1689, when 13 Protestant apprentice boys closed & locked the city gates against the forces of the Catholic King James - King of England, Scotland and Ireland. The siege lasted 105 days and 8,000 people died, out of a population of 30,000, but the city was never taken - hence the phrase, 'The Maiden City'.

A few years ago the City Corporation voted to change the name back to 'Derry', although the county is still officially called, 'Londonderry'. A local BBC radio presenter attempted to solve the name problem by humorously referring to, 'Derry - stroke - Londonderry', which quickly got abbreviated to 'Stroke City'.

Derry is a major port and the best example of a walled city in Ireland. But the city is still quite divided, with some exceptions - most Protestants live on the east bank of the River Foyle - the 'Waterside'; and the majority of Catholics live on the west bank - the Cityside, which has the 'southern' county of Donegal as it's hinterland. So, if you pay a visit to Derry City, and you're not quite sure where you are, mebbe you'd be betther referring to it as 'Stroke City', until ye get yer bearin's, anyway!

I hadn't been to Derry City for a few years, and I'd arranged to stay this evenin' at the house of a local musician on the Waterside. On the way up to Derry I stopped for a wee cup a' tea at a friend's house in Maghera, and got talking, of course, so it was kinda late when I actually arrived where I was meant to be staying - only to find the house in darkness and no answer at the door. I tried ringin' from a phonebox in the City Centre, but no answer. Turns out this guy goes to bed at 9 every night and unplugs his phone!

OK, I thought, it's going to be an interesting night. I wandered just outside the city walls - beside the Bogside, there is a pub that friends of mine have played in - though all these pubs were now shut! I could hear Irish music coming from the next pub along and then spotted 4 people standing at a side door, which then opened. Before it closed, I quickly became the 5th person being let in 'after hours'.

I listened to the traditional music for a while, then took my pint upstairs to hear the rock band. Two girls were dancing and right beside me two guys were conversing in Irish, which I couldn't follow. After 5 or ten minutes of this I suddenly decided to turn and speak to them in Irish, 'Ta me mahony baile nua'n t'Ard', which means, "I'm from Newtownards'.

This resulted unexpectedly in a lot of apologies, like, 'We weren't really slaggin' ye off!' And I realised they'd bin trying to see if I understood them, by making mild insults in Irish! When I spoke some Irish, they were sure they'd been rumbled! The result of this was that Paul, Turlough and I - and their two girlfriends, who'd been the ones dancing - ended up back in Turlough's flat in the middle of Shantallow, on the Cityside. We spent a few hours chatting and, in fact, I slept on Turlough's sofa that night. All's well that ends well, eh?

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