Daniel O’Connell

the man associated with Derrynane is Daniel O’Connell, referred to by many as The Liberator (or Emancipator) of Ireland. dedicated to gaining rights for the (mostly poor) Catholics of Ireland from the wealthy Protestant majority, O’Connell opposed the violence associated with armed revolts, such as that which occurred in 1798. he studied law in France during the Revolution, and returned to Ireland in time to witness the worst of the bloodshed for the ’98 Rebellion. consequently, he became a ardent supporter of non-violent direct action. basically, he inaugurated the first major non-violent, popular social movement in history. in 1823, he established the Catholic Association, which had a penny-per-month membership fee and championed electoral reform, tenants’ rights and economic development. in part because of his masterful oratorical skills, O’Connell cultivated a massive following. one of his “Monster Meetings” at the Hill of Tara drew 100,000 people.

he was the first Catholic person elected to the British Parliament, despite the fact that Catholics could not hold such positions at the time. apparently, he was only allowed to stand for the election because of a loophole, and it was assumed that he would not take his seat because it would require taking an (anti-Catholic) Oath of Supremacy, and acknowledge the King George IV as head of the Church of England. in order to prevent another uprising, the British passed the Act of Catholic Emancipation. 
having extracted rights for Catholics from the British government, O’Connell set out on a campaign to repeal the Act of Union. during this campaign, he was jailed in Dublin for a time. upon his release, the people of Dublin presented him with a magnificent “triumphal chariot,” which is now on display at Derrynane.

O’Connell died during the Famine in Genoa on his way to Rome (in 1847). his time in prison had weakened him and, at the age of seventy-one, the arduous trip to Italy was more than he could withstand. his heart was buried in Rome, and the rest of his body returned to Dublin for burial.
obviously, his non-violent tactics inspired later social movement leaders, including Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. additionally, his Catholic Association shaped politics in the United States, as it was carried over by emigrants of the Famine and used to shape political organizations where large Irish communities were established.

Doo Lough Valley

though gorgeous, the Doo Lough Valley is known for one of the more devastating tragedies I heard about the Famine.
 in March 1849, destitute tenants of Louisburgh were told to walk to the lodge at Delphi (where they were told they would meet an inspector who would determine whether they could continue receiving assistance). some six hundred people set out on the twelve-mile walk along a beautiful but desolate valley. when they arrived at Delphi Lodge, they were turned away. (the inspector was supposed to show up in Louisburgh, but went on to Delphi Lodge for some reason instead.) the people were already devestatingly weak from malnutrition and years of living under the oppression of the Famine. numbers are disputed (at least between the places i checked), but on the walk back from Delphi Lodge to Louisburgh as many as 200 people died. there’s a stone cross commemorating the tragedy just over the road from where i am standing in this picture. every year there is a Memorial Walk, and in 1988 (just prior to the abolition of apartheid) Desmond Tutu participated.
that’s the thing about Connemara; because it was so dependant on the potato, the area was particularly affected by the Famine. it seems that around every corner there is some reminder of tragedy on some scale. but in spite of that, life has moved on; can’t dwell on tragedy and loss forever, even if it has dramatically shaped the present and fundamentally altered the course that events might take.
(Joseph O’Connor has an interesting historical fiction novel that personalizes the effects of the Famine, in which the characters hail from Connemara (the nearest town is Clifden, and the Big City is Galway): Star of the Sea.)

Siege of Derry

as promised, a bit on the Siege of Derry.

ultimately, the Glorious Revolution in England ousted Catholic James II from power in favor of Protestant William of Orange and his wife Mary (James’ daughter), but in the meantime there was a bit of a “revolution” to determine who would gain power. when William & Mary took power, James fled but eventually returned by way of Ireland, hoping to reclaim his title through garnering support of Catholic Ireland. as he approached Derry, the city “fathers” dithered about what course of action to take … until a group of apprentice boys took it upon themselves to shut the gates of the city, closing the city off from advancing Jacobite forces attempting to take the city. the city was under siege for 105 days, during which time as much as half the population living within the walls died.

eventually, the forces of William of Orange were able to breach the blockade on the River Foyle and get supplies to the defenders of the Walled City of Derry, essentially defeating the Jacobite forces to the west. the conflict wasn’t over, but the remainder of the engagements between Jacobite and Orange troops did not go well for James, whose death knell came at the Battle of the Boyne, on the River Boyne north of Dublin and whose valley is home to many more monuments spanning millennium.

every year, the Protestants of Derry celebrate the efforts of the Apprentice Boys, who closed the gates of Derry to the adavancing Jacobite forces, with marches similar to those of the Orange Order elsewhere in the north of Ireland. these marches do not sit well with the Catholic community (and led to more than one confrontation during the Troubles); they go along the city walls and are highly visible from the Bogside and other Catholic areas to the west of the city walls. these marches were a threatening reminder of repression and centuries of abuse and disenfranchisement. as previously mentioned, the Apprentice Boys march in 1969 led directly to the Battle of the Bogside and establishment of Free Derry. the marches continue, though the scale of violence seen in 1969 went unrepeated (at least during the marching season). doesn’t mean the marches aren’t crass or designed to be threatening.

Battle of the Bogside

the other major, catalyzing event to occur in Derry was the Battle of the Bogside. i know i haven’t explained the nature of Bogside yet, but soon. tomorrow, maybe. for now, we’ll stick to this mural.

in August 1969, tensions were even higher than normal when the Apprentice Boys held their annual march, to commemorate the Protestant victory in the Siege of Derry (again, more on that in a later post). the Catholic community protested the march, confronting the Protestant gathering and ultimately throwing stones and what have you at one another. the police chased the Catholics into the Bogside, where they set up defenses and barricades.

in the mural, over the Rioter’s right shoulder you can see the Rossville Flats, which stood on Rossville Street. in a nutshell, they were shit flats, built to keep Catholics segregated in the Bogside and, because of insane property-owning-electoral laws, served to disenfranchise the Catholic population on a massive scale. during conflict with police, however, it became apparent that it was a pretty good location for launching attacks on police and troops down in the road. too high for their weaponry to reach and affording a good vantage point for lobbing stones and petrol bombs.

the rioting lasted for three days. in the end, British troops were called in to calm the situation; longstanding tensions between the Protestant-dominated Royal Ulster Constabulary meant that those defending Bogside would not let up if it meant letting up on the RUC. the B-Specials were called up to enter the fray, which would certainly only serve to escalate the situation. in comparison to facing down the RUC bolstered by the B-Specials, in late 1969 the British troops were seen as a neutral force, one that didnt’ necessarily have baggage or history with the Bogside community, and who might be reasonable in their policing, at least. as history attests, that attitude didn’t last. by this point, the Bogside was thoroughly mobilized; returning to the status quo, impossible. in fact, the previous month, the community set up the Derry Citizens’ Defence Association, to protect against oppression and aggression from the local police force. following the Battle of the Bogside, the DCDA took over control of the Bogside and, until Operation Motorman three years later, neither local police nor British troops were able to penetrate beyond the Free Derry wall.