Jude Collins

Monday, 6 February 2012

A lovely book and why west of the Bann is different

I recently got my hands on a super book by a man who, like myself, survived five or more years in St Columb’s College, Derry. It’s called Sporting Greats of the North West, and it’s by Richie Kelly. It does what it says – remembers great sportsmen and women from that part of Ireland (and in his case the North-West is the North-West – Coleraine, Derry, Donegal). There are some superb photographs in it – Billy ‘Spider’ Kelly, Charlie Nash, Jimmy Delaney, Jobby Crossan – faces and names that, like pop songs of the time, take you right back to that time, that place when we were all a lot younger.

When the pleasure of the book had subsided, it started me thinking: the different mentalities that exist east and west of the Bann. Take someone like Richie Kelly himself: in the north-west every sporting enthusiast would know him, from his Radio Foyle work and from his own sporting days; in the north-east even sporting enthusiasts may know little or nothing about him. Let me put it bluntly: there’s an ignorance about and a prejudice against the North-West from those who live east of the Bann. It has historical roots: some of the most bare-faced discrimination and gerry-mander occurred in the north-west.  There’s also the lousy infrastructure between the North-West and the rest of the state, whether that be Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland. Hence the ‘greening of the west’ that’s occurred in recent years, with Sinn Féin and/or the SDLP effectively repartitioning Northern Ireland with a semi-circle of green. 

But it’s not just a physical distance or even political opinion that divides the north-west from the north-east: it’s a psychological barrier. The journey to Belfast, for many nationalists, is to uncomfortable unionist territory. They won’t admit it to you, of course – in many instances they won’t even admit it to themselves. But when I hear people talk about how different people in the northern state are from people in the south,  I’m surprised they never mention how different people  in the North-West are from those in the North-East. And although I’ve lived in the North-East for over thirty years and it saddens me to say it, the people of the north-west have a vigour, a charm, a lightness of being that makes those east of the Bann, by and large, look leaden-footed and dreary. 


  1. More shallow bigotry. Yawn.

  2. Quit yer whinging. You are more and more sounding like a Derryman. If you like it so much, google the directions. They have pc's, laptops and email there too, so you can continue to shed your dreary outlook on the world from the west banks of the Bann. And don't let the Titanic Quarter hit you on the ass on the way out.

  3. I dunno, Jude: I used to travel up to Stroke City and Coleraine for schoolboy cricket matches (read: losses) and I'd probably have to add "vicious" to the list of attributes! Although there you have a sport with a very strong heritage in the North West to add to your list.

    On a sensible note, as someone who grew up as a Derryman (just about) but then later decamped to the Big Smoke, I do note a difference of attitude and way of life. I wonder though, how much of this is simply the average difference between any very rural and very urban environments? Most of the issues I take are typical and could be applied in many countries: having to lock up the house when leaving, having the wheelie bin nicked, losing a wing mirror to a bored hoodie...

    From my time at Queen's, where the quota of those who would claim a nationalist identity - never mind be from Tyrone or Fermanagh - is anything but slim, I don't think it's true to say that there's a psychological barrier in moving west of the Bann. (Though I wonder how many stay there after graduating? No idea.) I hate to be patronising in the worst possible terms - but I fear this might be a generational thing! *ducks*

    However, a further aside - I have almost always found Derry/Londonderry to be much more of a psychological barrier to pass when visiting, compared to my early memories of first travelling up the M2. Despite Belfast being the centre of so much ire, Derry has seemed much more aware - on every corner - of its troubles. Perhaps it's the long shadow of 1969 or 1972. Or perhaps it's because I did much of my cross community training there, and am much more conscious of what to look for in that part of the world!

  4. Jude
    So the people of the Northwest, largely nationalist, are charming and vigorous, while the people of the Northeast, largely unionist are leaden footed and dreary?
    I expected better of you.