Sunday, 22 February 2015

Feb. 19

Carla’s Underworld

Underworld is the factory in the fictional long running British series Coronation Street. It’s not just a place where mostly women (and Sean!) make label knockoff fancy undergarments. It’s a place of encounter, conflict, support, gossip, and sometimes even tragedy.

I thought of Underworld when we were in Derry on Thursday listening to two amazing women, Catherine Cooke and Maureen Hetherington speak about their work in the peace process. Catherine is the coordinator of the Foyle Women’s Information Network, an information network for community based women’s centres, group’s, individuals and organisations. FWIN, which was established in 1994, works closely with local women’s organisations and develops relationships with women’s organisations regionally, nationally and internationally. ( Maureen is Coordinator of The Junction, a Centre set up by community relations practitioners in March 2000 to consolidate and strengthen community relations work. The Centre provides a space for activities that feed into the development of relationships, better understanding and mutual respect locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.(


I had specifically asked Paul to see if he could set up some conversations with women working in the peace process, as most of the folks we had heard from so far had been men. Catherine and Maureen were a delight to my feminist heart. Catherine began with the powerful statement that “Women were being written out of the peace process.” She said that women are not encouraged to take up positions in public life, and at the present rate it will take 65 years to get to 40% representation in the political process. Maureen stated that the abuse of women is still prevalent in Northern Ireland, and talked of the challenges of trying to break down 4,000 years of patriarchy. It was then that they talked about the shirt factories, one of the main industries in Derry/Londonderry in a previous time. It was a place where people gathered to form community. They spoke of the lack of opportunities for that to happen now. That’s when I thought of Carla’s Underworld in Coronation Street.


Granted, perhaps we don’t want to go back to some of the deplorable working conditions in factories of previous eras, but the loss of a place where people from different backgrounds gather together to form community and find support despite their differences is certainly one that I have observed in Canada.


Owen Donnelly from the Peace and Reconciliation Group in Derry/Londonderry ( gave us a tour of the walls and took the group into the Bogside, site of the Bloody Sunday Massacre in 1972. He then took us to the Peace Bridge. He told us some facts about the bridge, a cycle and footbridge across the River Foyle. It opened in 2011, and was built to improve relations between the largely unionist 'Waterside' with the largely nationalist 'Cityside', and cost 14 million pounds to build. He said that while he and Paul might not usually support the spending of large sums of money on buildings instead of people, the fact that well over 90% of the city use the bridge is an example of infrastructure spending that can be a good thing, and can bring two communities together.


We then walked the bridge, which ends on the Waterside at an old British barracks used for interrogation and torture and is now a cultural centre. Paul asked us to reflect on the symbolism of the transformation of that building, and also asked us to think about what needed to be bridged in Canada, Nova Scotia, Halifax, and Dalhousie University.


Below … a picture of an old shirt factory (the big horizontal red building in the top right); the group with Owen in front of the Peace Bridge, the Peace Bridge from the other side, and part of our evening reflection as we “sculpted” images from our day in Derry/Londonderry/Stroke City.



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