Sarah and I have decided to stay in Derry. My course, the MTh for ordinands, runs just half the weeks of the year, and we feel extremely settled in this town we have come to call home. I only moved here in my mid-twenties, yet this is the place I was confirmed and we were married, and where Sarah has found a fulfilling role working for the Bishop, and we have found our spiritual home at Christ Church, and made friends.
Derry feels like a world apart. It has its own identity. When Belfast-bound, coming over the Glenshane Pass, suddenly Mid-Ulster stretches out in front of you. Flat, green. Tame? You are now entering Norn Iron. Coming back the same way, this point feels like entering a transition zone, a sort of special administration nestled between 'Norn Iron Proper' and County Donegal.
In Belfast, Maghera, Newry, Omagh, the lingo is referred to as 'Norn Iron' - what's the craic wi' them waines? [what about those children]. Yer man's wil' [he's terrible]. In 'Stroke City' (L/Derry), this idiom is called 'Pure Derry'.
Yes, there are some Derryisms not readily understood far past Altnagelvin Hospital or the service station in Bridgend. Where else could you be 'up a tree in Rosemount, mucker'? But I'm often struck by the readiness to designate anything Hiberno-English, Scots-Irish, or regional, as 'Derry, hi'.
This sense of specialness works both ways. Bad grammar is found everywhere. But when 'Derry Wans' say 'I done it' or 'I didn't say nothing' (heard just as often in London, Manchester, Glasgow or downtown New York), poor grammar is labelled 'Derry' too.
There's an inferiority complex just scratch-deep underneath the surface of this proud and wonderful city.
I ought to be careful here, because I've learned that while Derry Wans can be their own fiercest critics, beware any blow-in who dares to weigh in!
I'll be brave and mention the few things that I don't like so much about Derry. I've already mentioned the fact that true Derryites can be very (too) down on themselves and their city. I really hope that City of Culture status can change that, but to do so, we have to remember why Derry was chosen in the first place - because of who she is, not because of the programme of big events and names brought in from elsewhere.
Another aspect of life in this city that I'd love to see change is the use of the name. Setting aside for one moment the whole Derry/Londonderry/Doire debate, it's sad to hear 'Derry' used as a synonym for 'Cityside' (i.e. west bank), as if the Waterside (east of the River Foyle) were another city altogether. Thankfully, the Peace Bridge is in place to help mend the psychological gash that runs through the town.
Would Derry fit any better into a United Ireland? I don't know that it would! Apart from political arguments based on history, economics or cultural ties, if Derry feels so far away from Belfast, I'm not sure how easily it would relate to Dublin.
Whatever happens with the constitutional status of 'The North', I think Derry will always happily (and post-modernly) accept its own uniqueness, hard to tie down, making the porous nature of the border work for it, with all but the most stubborn of ideologues revelling in the existential complexity of who and where Derry Wans are.
I think Derry will continue to operate as an unofficially 'special jurisdiction' for years to come. And I'm very glad that we'll continue to enjoy living here for a bit longer.