A guest blog from Greenbelters Fiona and John Cheek …
One of the highlights of Greenbelt for John and I last year was The Bogside Artists. We were just blown away with their exhibition and talk. We’ve both long had an interest in things Irish, including finding out more about what really happened during The Troubles in the North. Last August, we learnt a lot of new things about what happened in Derry, particularly on Bloody Sunday. We spoke to The Bogside Artists at the festival last August and promised we would visit.
And so about a month ago, we kept our promise – acting on something that we’d taken away with us from last years’ festival. We had a trip to the island of Ireland, with a visit to Derry as the centrepiece. And we met with 2/3 of the Bogside Artists. We had a guided tour from Kevin Hasson (see him pictured with John here) starting from the edge of the city centre and taking in the People’s Gallery.
The artists were working on the Bernadette Devlin mural (the one with the loud-hailer featured in it) – the paint-marked clothes were not for show!
Another highlight came when we sat down in a front room in one of the Bogside estate flats (lived in by family of the Kelly brothers) and spoke with Kevin and William Kelly (Tom was away in the US). We heard Kevin’s emotional and shocking first-hand account of Bloody Sunday (he was a teenager caught up on the periphery of the violence as he had gone to a sweet shop with a friend, which was an excuse to go and see what the civil rights march was about).
Also, it was great personally as we were made welcome in this front room as English ‘Prods’, just around the corner from where people were shot by the British Army. That really showed how much things have changed there.
The other great thing about our time with The Bogside Artists is that they were still talking about the impact Greenbelt had on them in late June. They talked highly of the positive, open and inclusive response they got all weekend, and they specifically mentioned how important it felt to them that they had spoken with some ex-military that were at the festival and who had served in Northern Ireland.
No visit to Derry is complete without seeing the city walls and the fortifications built by the English which led to the name Londonderry being given to the city. Today in Derry, there is still a literal divide between the Bogside (Nationalist/Republican) and The Fountains estates (Loyalist/Unionist) but we’d recommend anyone to go and visit and see for themselves how communities can live side by side in peace.