Play tackles exile of Derry Protestants

Play tackles exile of Derry Protestants

A church in Londonderry has commissioned a new theatre production as part of a project to address the impact of the Protestant exodus from the city more than 30 years ago.

'The Exile' project was an idea developed by Christ Church, a Church of Ireland Parish in the city.

It commissioned playwright Jonathan Burgess to write a series of short dramas to bring the events of that time to life.

Over 90% of the Protestant people living on the west bank of the River Foyle moved away from the city side between 1969 and 1979.

During the height of the Troubles, many families felt they had to leave the area due to fear of republican violence and intimidation.

Jim Brownlee and his family left their home near the Foyle Road in 1975 after sectarian graffiti was daubed on their wall.

"We're victims of the Troubles as much as anyone else," he said.

"But I think because of the vast number of Protestants having to move from the Waterside, to have left their social fabric behind, that was a wrench, that still remains a wrench.

"It's difficult to explain to younger generations exactly what it was like to live here."

"I think the memories are still raw."

The purpose is not about point scoring - it's about building peace.

Jonathan Burgess, The Exile playwright

'Exile' tells the story of some of those affected and each production is followed by an informal discussion which allows people to share their experiences and perceptions of that time.

Organisers hope that people from all across the community will attend.

Archdeacon Robert Miller, from Christ Church, said he wanted to create a 'sharing forum' as part of the project.

He said that recent trouble across Northern Ireland related to loyalist flag protests demonstrated a frustration. He said people feel they are not being listened to.

"To be able to hear and also to speak and know that people are listening is a way of moving forward as a society," he explained.

Playwright Jonathan Burgess sees his drama as his attempt to address and resolve remaining hurts to build a shared future.

"Because (Protestants) were moved from the city, they fell as if they are removed from city life, and removed from society within the city," he said.

"It doesn't feel like a shared city for the Protestant community, and that's an issue."

"This is my attempt to address this one, because it's pertinent to me, but at the same time it's a big one for this part of the world."

Colm McFeely, from the nationalist Creggan area, said it is important that all sides of the community engage with the project.

"I think it's extremely important for people in this particular community to understand how Protestant people in this city see that history and how that history from that perspective is told," he said.

"This particular community, like all communities, over the last 40 years has suffered greatly and it is important that we actually hear these stories, they're human stories, important stories and the only way we'll ever create a shared city and understanding city is if we listen to each other."

The theatre workshops are taking place at venues across the city this week. Admission is free and no booking is necessary.


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