Walls...

Here is a written version of this morning's Thought for the Day on Radio Ulster, prompted by a number of recent stories including the furore over a lighting scheme that actually cut into the ancient walls of Derry,  a discussion with a friend who suggested writing a "fantasia" on the Orange Song "Derry's Walls" as part of the City of Culture (I still think he should have applied for a grant for it), and this slideshow on the BBC News website... As usual you can hear the audio version (complete with blooper in the earlier recording) on BBC iplayer at 25 & 85 minutes in...

“Something there is that doesn't love a wall,”
So claimed the poet Robert Frost… But he clearly didn’t live in Northern Ireland… Here we have an enduring love affair with walls, believing, in the words that Frost attributes to his neighbour that 'Good fences make good neighbors (sic).'
A wall could the symbol for this wee province, be it the picturesque drystane dykes that criss-cross the countryside here, or the ill-named peace-walls that delineate the divided communities of our towns and cities.
2013 marks our second city’s year as UK City of Culture. But it also marks the 400th anniversary of the Honourable, the Irish Society being granted a Royal charter for the foundation of the current city of Londonderry, and the commissioning of its famous walls. Nine years earlier another city called Derrie (there seems to be some debate as to whether it was on the same site or on the other side of the Foyle) had been granted a royal charter, but it was soon destroyed by the Inishowen chieftain Cahir O'Doherty. Having neighbours like that is probably why they decided to build a wall around the new city
Despite enduring several sieges including the most famous one in 1689, Derry's walls were never breached. And because of their impregnability the city's not only called Derry and Londonderry but also, the Maiden City
Although I was born and grew up in Belfast my mother’s family had it’s roots in the North West and one of my earliest photos has me as a baby astride a bronze cannon on Derry’s walls… and on the wall of our living room was an old map (similar to the one at the head of this article) of the Maiden city with the walls, gates and St Columb’s cathedral all clearly labelled.
Yesterday morning in St Columb's they had a special service to mark the 400 years since the signing of the Royal charter and the commissioning of the walls. It was the wife of a former Bishop of that Cathedral, Cecil Frances Alexander who famously wrote the hymn (not "film" as I said in the 6.55am broadcast this morning - I plead lack of caffeine) “There is a green hill far away, without a city wall”… As a child I thought it was referring to a green hill that didn't have a wall around it, but of course everyone else knows that it is referring to Jesus’ death on a cross “without” or “outside” the walls of Jerusalem… 
But that death was about breaking down walls, not building them up… breaking down the walls that separate us from God and each other… (See Ephesians 2: 11-22)
Derry was probably the last walled city to be built in Europe, but was apparently also the first planned city in Ireland… And as we plan for the future we must ask ourselves whether it will be one marked by building walls or building good relationships with our neighbours… because contrary to what Robert Frost’s neighbour thought… the two things are not necessarily synonymous…
Shalom

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