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8 October 2009 Edition

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The Mary Nelis Column

The town we love so well

MY FRIEND had occasion to visit the Vehicle Testing Centre in Derry. When asked his name and address he naturally used Derry, the vernacular of Doire, the name first given by the Celts to the oak grove that was the origins of the City, and the name that has survived to the present day.
You can imagine his surprise when the young female clerk returned the form on which she had written his name, the name of the street where he lived and beneath it in place of Derry, she had written “Unknown”.
Most nationalists living in Derry know the experience.
The process to have the original name of Derry restored from that imposed by the English, is reaching its conclusion.
The DUP, who are determined that it’s Londonderry or nothing, and a plethora of groups and consultants – with one eye on their jobs and the other on bosses who kick with the ‘right’ foot – habitually refer to Derry as the Maiden City, Stroke City, Derry/Londonderry and even the Walled City. The Equality Commission, the body charged with promoting that noble aspiration, has entered the process and, like St Augustine, have recommended equality ‘but not yet, Lord’, urging Derry City Council to suspend its plans for the change.

THE line peddled by the Londonderry lobby group is that naming the city officially as Derry would strip it of its ‘Britishness’. Mind you, the lobby group have yet to explain what it means to be British in a Britain currently populated by ethnic minorities and enjoying a multicultural system of government.
It’s this notion of an attack on ‘Britishness’ that persuaded the principal of an integrated college to defend his decision to ask students to sign a letter opposing the name change and containing a reference to “Protestant identity”. Parents of Catholic children at the school were outraged.
The issue of the name of this most beautiful city should not be about religion or politics. It should not be about threats to culture or history.
But as the nationalist community has learned, like my friend in the Vehicle Testing Centre, using the name Derry on application forms can still impact on the quality of life for those who make up the majority population in this city.
That majority has clearly stated time after time that they wish the name of the city to be Derry.
It’s the name commonly used by all traditions, sporting, historical, educational, religious:  Derry City Football Club, the City of Derry Rugby Club, Derry Walls, the Apprentice Boys of Derry, and First Derry Presbyterian Church, to name but a few.

THE prefix ‘London’, added during the Plantation, was never accepted by the indigenous Irish population, because of its association with colonialism and exploitation. Records show that the only people who benefited from the name change were the London guilds who appropriated most of Derry’s natural resources and exported them to England.
The nationalist community, on the receiving end of discrimination by England’s unionist caretakers, understand the sensitivities of those loyal to the Protestant tradition and history of the city.
But there is no future for all who live in Derry unless we resolve the issue of this proliferation of names, so confusing to visitors and investors alike.
We are blessed to live in such a beautiful place recognised by the Celts as the place of the great and mystical oak.
We really don’t need London to show us what a great place Derry is and what great people inhabit its ancient space.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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