Cultural Democracy in Derry, Distorted and Subverted

Guest writer Anne Mc Closkey, MB, with her take on recent cultural events in Derry.

And so the DerrystrokelondonderryUKfcityofculture Fleadh has been and gone. The pop up bars and pop in traders have gone back to wherever they popped from, and, with the tunes still ringing in their heads, the people of Derry have descended back down to reality. Of course The Fleadh was brilliant. There hasn’t been a bad one ever!

Comhaltas Ceolta√≠ri √Čireann, (the Musicians Collective of Ireland) was founded in 1951, to promote and develop Irish traditional music and to bring it from the doldrums into which it had fallen, following centuries of cultural imperialism, to the modern age. Job done, without a doubt. Over the years since the first Fleadh in 1951, the festival has grown from a gathering of a few hundred enthusiasts to an international music festival ranking with the best globally.

Although Comhaltas was undoubtedly the catalyst and facilitator of that process, the people who made it happen were the thousands of musicians, the parents and the teachers who have passed the tunes from generation to generation, through the centuries. Most taught without praise or payment, and they played only for the love of the music, and for the love of the country whose story it told. Our culture is central to who we are, and to where we came from. It tells our story as a nation and as a people.

We’ve been told that Comhaltas is a non-political organisation. It’s in the constitution. Those of us who objected to the Fleadh being brought to Derry as the jewel in the crown of this year-long celebration of Derry’s place within the United Kingdom (ref Act of Union 1800, amended 1922) were castigated as trying to “bring politics into it.” This is truly turning reality on its head.

To have the Fleadh coming to Derry any year but this one would have been politically neutral, and would have been welcomed by all right minded people. A long overdue visit to the northern state of our national music festival. But to bring it this year, as the jewel in the crown of the UK-fest is a different matter entirely. So contentious was it that it required the distortion and subversion of the democratic processes of the organisation of Comhaltas itself in order to bring it about. The decision was imposed, over the heads of lifelong members and activists, by a virtual coup d’etat. It was just about as politically influenced a decision as it is possible to have made. Many members resigned as a direct consequence, after years of service, not only locally but regionally and nationally. One Legacy of the City of Culture year that won’t make it to the glossy brochure I’ll bet!

Like the Maoris, whose tribal leaders danced in their grass skirts for the amusement of Queen Victoria, we, or those who act on our behalf have laid our culture and history on the altar of Empire.

A couple of intrepid souls painted “UK” over the “IE” in the e-mail address on Free Derry Wall, and wrote underneath “CULTURE FOR SALE”, every night for a month. Every morning the thought police had it restored it to its former glory. Even Free Derry Wall, it seems, must be a loyal subject of Her Royal Highness. Dissention has never been less tolerated. Anyone who doesn’t fall in line is “locked in the past”, not “moving forward” a “slave of history”. Using the “D” word to name our city is like a breach of some newly introduced code of etiquette, faintly shameful, not in good taste. We have so many cool alternatives now!

To have managed to have brought Derry, the historic cradle of resistance, to this point is a remarkable achievement. That we have come through half a century of hardship and heartbreak, of imprisonment and bloodshed and the seemingly never-ending funerals, so that Derry might become a UK icon, seems surreal. In place of our proud tradition, going back through centuries, of resistance to imperialism and all that it represents, we have a celebration of our conquest and colonisation, arranged and served up on our behalf by our leaders. No wonder that many of those who walked the sad and lonely walk since 1969 are left bewildered and disillusioned.

The Fleadh was brilliant, but I’m only sayin…..


  1. Brilliant piece and very true !!!

  2. I read this on facebook this morning and thought it a great article. Coming from a well repected member of the community, it exposes the underhad methods used to bring the All Ireland Fleadh to the maiden city during its year as 'British City of Culture'. This article leaves the reader in no doubt as to the political nature of the decision which was opposed by rank and file members across the counrty. The fact that the reputation of the Fleadh has been seriously damaged by such blatant political expediency is to the absolute shame of those responsible.

  3. Get a brain ANN-

    [ Act of union 1800 Amended 1922 ]-
    Aye-the movement got rid of those laws in 1998-you complete bore/non reader of the Good Friday Agreement-

    This has been a huge success for the Fleadh this year when it was held in Derry city because of the exposure it got and the numbers who attended-times are good-and Derry will soon be the Venue again-all welcome-

  4. Enjoyable read. Didn't visit the event personally but it seems the business community were delighted with the turn out.

    I'm happy for Derry to be honest. I've had a fantastic four years in it. Community relations for some reason seem better than anywhere else in the North. Some people suggested the Waterside events were better than those across the bridge. But like I say, wasn't there so can't confirm it.

    But it seemed to be a well organised and conducted event without any ugliness reported. Maybe a lesson in that for others?

  5. Michaelhenry,

    all wecome ... including the Paras.

    And don't tell us McGuinness wouldn't have the brass neck to do it and that the bovine crew would not fall into line mooing in appreciation 'they are our Paras too you know.'

    This is an excellent piece of writing and raises issues of concern and public interest. Perhaps that explains the angst it has induced in some.

  6. I think forgetting the SF issue for a moment the event was good for Derry and the festival. It showed the city hosting an all-Ireland event in a positive light. Unionists in Derry for some reason engage in a positive way which they refuse to contemplate elsewhere.

    Personally I don't accept the grass-skirted 'native' analogy at all. It was all good for the event organisers, Derry and the country. SF will 'stick' themselves to any publicity op' like the proverbial foul substance to a blanket.

    Of course Marty Mc would welcome the Paras he's an honorary member of both the Royal family and the RUC. But I don't think the 500,000 who flocked through Derry were worrying about him or SF.

  7. AM-

    " Including the Paras "-

    The Paras no longer exist in Derry city as a regiment-so they will not turn up during the good days there-and most days now are good ones-that proud city has out-lived them-

  8. Ahh Michael, The Good Friday Agreement that exercise in constructive ambiguity , do you or your party pay as much attention to it as you would like people to believe?

    Lets take a snippet and see what you think, after all I do value your opinion on matters of British involvement in the Puppet Parliament Controlled Occupied Six Counties.

    'The power of the sovereign government with jurisdiction there shall be exercised with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people in the diversity of their identities and traditions and shall be founded on the principles of full respect for, and equality of, civil, political, social and cultural rights, of freedom from discrimination for all citizens, and of parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos and aspirations of both communities".

    Do we have rigorous impartiality? Could you define it for me and possibly cite an example or two?

    Do we have respect for and equality of civil, political and cultural rights? If we do how do you account for the abuse of stop & search powers, the abuse of POW's, the internment of Martin Corey? What about the attacks on children by the PSNI in Derry, 3 public meetings and not one elected representative from Sinn Fein showed up. What about that Bill of Rights?

    How about Derry Sinn Fein Cllr Barney O'Hagan making derogatory comments about the Brit queen on social media? Was that equality of cultural rights for Unionists beliefs? After all your party cried foul when a Derry stoop Councillor who wouldn't have as much brains as a false face said he would need a translator to understand a Scottish Sinn Fein Councillor, yet you shinners were oddly silent on wee Barney's balls up!

    How about the attacks by loyalists/Unionists on the recent anti-interment march, how about the Ardoyne protesters fined for peaceful protest? How many unionists/loyalists including elected representatives have been arrested and charged over flag protests? Be a good fellow and ring PSNI HQ to find out could you?

    Are citizens free from discrimination? Could you ask the former Sinn Fein Councillor in Belfast who discriminated against a homeless man did he forget to read the GFA? Or what about the former Sinn Fein mayor/leading shinner in Derry who gave a sitting Sinn Fein Councillor a job no interview... paid for by public funds, did he not discriminate? Does that not fly in the face of 'with due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity'?

    Maybe that bit was missing on your copy?

    So before you call on people to 'get a brain' can I suggest two small things, firstly learn how to correctly spell the name of the person you are addressing, unless you were being constructively ambiguous? And secondly before you accuse people of being a 'non reader' of the GFA would it help to read it yourself?

  9. so it is only Derry wans are allowed and no one else? That is hardly consistent with the 'all welcome' sentiment. What about the British queen - is she not welcome then?

  10. Anthony,

    What about the British queen - is she not welcome then?

    Her Majesty was represented by her 'Lord Lieutenant' - the Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead

  11. In devilish mood this evening Robert!

  12. Anthony,

    'In devilish mood this evening Robert!'

    Non reader of the GFA some might say.

    A friend of mine who attended some of the events told me she witnessed a guy wearing a Celtic top applauding a performance by a Loyalist flute band. Larry per chance?

  13. What a truly refreshing read Anne. Fair play to you.

  14. Robert

    'A friend of mine who attended some of the events told me she witnessed a guy wearing a Celtic top applauding a performance by a Loyalist flute band. Larry per chance?'

    Actually did the guided tour of the Walkers Club up on the walls during my degree and thoroughly enjoyed it. Also did an article on the walls themselves and their significance to everyone in the city. (scored a 1st)

    I do applaud the orders in Derry and at Rosnowlagh, but from in front of my TV.

  15. Just for the record, I did read the Belfast agreement-that's why, like the DUP who now are partners in government, I didn't vote for it! Anne.