Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The night the Pope bombed appropriate parts of Derry!

My mother grew up in Derry and was a young adult there during Word War II. She and her family were nationalists (and Catholic) and lived in a predominantly loyalist (and Protestant) part of Derry. A story she had told of one of her experiences still makes me smile....

One night a German bombing raid over Derry resulted in some devastation of houses. There was considerable talk about it the following day around Derry. The big subject for some of the loyalist people was that the houses destroyed were all in Protestant areas of the city. This caused a bitter debate and speculation that the bombing raid was a Popish plot. They always had a thing about the Pope. The theory spread like fire and imaginations flared. It culminated in one woman claiming that she actually saw the Pope himself in the German bomber and that he must have been pointing out to the pilot which areas of the city were Protestant so that they could just bomb those places. When challenged on her exceptional eyesight in the dark the women said she knew it was the Pope because she could just make out his tall distinctive hat at the window of the bomber! Coupled with popular talk of Pope Pious XII being at least Nazi neutral due to his non-condemnation of Nazi actions, there was a firm body of people who believed and spread the rumour of the Pope directing the bomber. The local nationalists where my mother lived kept publicly silent due to being badly outnumbered!

The image of the Pope with all his robes and tall hat in a German bomber pointing out Protestant parts of the city would make an excellent Monty Python or Father Ted type TV sketch! I feel awkward writing this blog in our modern all-inclusive Ireland, but it was funny at the time it was told.


Anonymous said...

I long for the day when normality visits the wee North and folk will be able to laugh at their ridiculous points of view.

I've no doubt similar Pythonesque thoughts were entertained by the Taigs.


John of Dublin said...

Hi Paige. Yes indeed. As I grew up I did hear stories of suspicions of Protestants from my Derry relatives. Some of it seemed justified from the authority side - it was definitely harder for Catholics to get jobs, voting was by household rather than by person (didn't suit big Catholic families of course!) and there was gerrymandering to return more Unionists.

I had never met a Protestant as a kid and I had a vague notion that they might be fearful alien type people. When I was 12 our family had a holiday in a guesthouse in Portstewart, NI. I shared a room with my cousin and a very nice lad of similar age from Belfast called Ian. We got on great and actually it was Ian who gave me an interest in Astronomy as he had a good collection of "How and Why" books. After a week there, something came up in conversation and Ian mentioned that he was a Protestant. I got quite a surprise and I remember saying to him something like..." seem so...normal!" We had a good laugh afterwards.

A great expression my Mum had was if someone looked well dressed.." You look great, very Protestant!"

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