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13 May 2010 Edition

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The Mary Nelis Column

Writings on walls

As elections go the campaign to take seats in the British Parliament at Westminster, was a fairly mundane affair, illuminated only by the Fermanagh/South Tyrone result, now known as Michelle and  ‘the famous four’.
In Derry it was left to Gerry Adams to explain that this election was about political leadership and taking back our power from John Bull’s island . In any event despite a great campaign by Martina Anderson and the tremendous Sinn Féin electoral machine, we didn’t pull it off. That’s down the road, for we have our sights on greater things than taking seats in a place that in this election particularly, clearly reflects the failure and the corruption of the British political system.
However that’s where the other candidates of whatever hue in the Foyle constituency wanted to go and they were all prepared to swear an oath to an English Queen, a woman who heads up the wealthiest dynasty in the world and who puts profit before people, to get there.
Apart from the other candidates selling out their principles with oaths to royalty, the only other spate in the Derry election, was about walls, Free Derry Wall, to be precise.
The ‘People before Profit’ candidate, the veteran journalist Eamon McCann, was first out of the starting blocks in erecting his billboard on the back of the famous wall. And a good billboard it was even if Eamon looked a bit like the famous sculpture by Rodin of the guy sitting with his head on his hands. He was challenged to remove the billboard by Sinn Féin who stated that they had booked the wall some weeks in advance to display Martina Anderson’s more colourful election slogan.
In recent years because of the popularity attached to advertising or promoting causes on the back of the famous wall, a Committee was established to ensure everyone was given an opportunity to book the use of the wall in advance.
Never one to miss a journalistic opportunity, McCann used his influence in the media to dispute the Sinn Féin claim but eventually had to concede that he had jumped the queue and subsequently remove his billboard.
Sour grapes or dirty electioneering, call it what you will, the Sinn Féin billboard of Martina Anderson was paint bombed the night it was erected. It was a carbon copy attack of the defacing of the wall by elements of the British Army who over the years, not only paint bombed the famous wall but also tried to demolish it.
In 1982, British soldiers driving a centurion tank, attacked the wall knocking down most of it and obliterating the famous slogan ‘You are now Entering Free Derry’. It was left to members of Sinn Féin in the days after the attack , to build it up again. The wall had to be stripped, replastered and repainted, and those now belatedly claiming that the wall belongs to everyone and not Sinn Féin, made no effort with the restoration work then or since. Nor have those blogging on the various internet sites about the walls ownership showed the slightest concern over the years for its upkeep.
Yes, the wall belongs to everyone and to no one. But its real symbolism and its message is as alive today as it was when the late Caker Casey or Liam Hillen wrote ‘You are now entering Free Derry,’ for even the painting of the famous slogan all those years ago is disputed by Eamon McCann.
Our aspiration for a free Derry and a free Ireland still beckons, threatened only by the British and the reactionary politics of those who long ago abandoned that concept. It’s easier to throw paint bombs.

great campaign: Mitchel McLaughlin, Martin McGuinness, Mary Nelis and Martina Anderson  

An Phoblacht Magazine


  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
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