‘Light up Free Derry beacon of Civil Rights’

A veteran rights activist has called for Derry’s global symbol of Civil Rights struggle to be lit up as the starting point for a wider ‘urban renaissance’ of the historic Bogside.

Vincent Coyle said Free Derry Wall, as a symbol of peaceful resistance and hope, had become a potent and iconic monument for local people and others across the world.

Speaking to the ‘Journal’ in the Bogside, he pointed out the steady flow of tourists from across the world making their way to the area while pointing out there have been no amenities and very little funding provided from statutory bodies.

“To me, the Bogside is a museum, every part of it has a significance and a story. Yet there are no amenities or facilities. I feel I need to speak out on behalf of the people of the Bogside, who have suffered so much over the decades, and call for this urban renaissance, this investment. It needs to happen.

VIncent Coyle said the iconic Free Derry Wall remains a beacon of justice and hope for civil rights causes around the world, and right in the Garden of Reflection he helped develop in memory of Bishop Edward Daly.

“As we can see the area is full of families from all over the world, and when you walk along you are looking at the Bogside murals, which are amazing, the City Walls and Free Derry Wall. But over all the years and all the buildings that have been lit up, we have no lights on Free Derry Wall, and what I am pushing for is that we get lights to Free Derry Wall plus an electricity supply to that area.

“We want the tourists to come. They are all very welcome. Even during the No Go era, Derry was a focal point for people to come to from all over the world. But Free Derry Wall, for me, is the focus. It is the pebble in the water and then it’s what’s around the wall whenever you shine a light on it.”

Born and raised in the Bogside, Mr Coyle’s father Vinny was the chief steward of the Civil Rights Movement. He points out that the area is unlike anywhere else, given the often traumatic and terrible events that played out there, the inspirational message of resistance and its association with people like John Hume, Ivan Cooper, Bishop Daly and his late father. Mr Coyle said Free Derry Wall is the centre piece in that and remains relevant today as a strong global symbol of civil rights.

“Free Derry Wall has over the last number of decades become a place of peaceful protest, nationally and internationally. It is a place where people feel they can come, gather and have their say; express their point of view.

A recent solidarity message for the families affected by the MICA crisis in Donegal writ large on Free Derry Corner.

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“We also need an electricity supply for the many events and groups who gather here,” he added, pointing out that the accommodating residents of the Bogside have been left to provide such amenities for visitors or groups. “It’s very important, even for health and safety reasons,” he said.

Pointing to the wider area, Mr Coyle added: “We have the Meenan’s Field development that needs to be developed. I remember the great excitement when they were knocking down the old development, the hope, the joy in people that something, new, fresh, vibrant would be built there. As yet we have nothing. It is just rubble and has become an eyesore. Is that what we want to show the world?

“By shining the light on Free Derry Wall it gives an opportunity to shine a light on the whole area and for the revitalisation of the whole area.”

A recent environmental message on Free Derry Croner.

Speaking a short distance from the Wall beneath the Bogside Artists’ Civil Rights mural at the Garden of Reflection dedicated to Bishop Daly, which Mr Coyle instigated and developed with others, he said that the Civil Rights movement was very important locally, nationally and internationally.

“If you look at Free Derry Wall you see a white wall with black writing. That was the same colours of the civil rights movement as you see on the civil rights badge. People say there was no alternative to violence but civil rights had an alternative, a non-violent alternative.”

Mr Coyle said he also hoped the Council would light up the stone memorial dedicated to Bishop Daly in the garden, along with installing a sign beside a dedicated wooden bench explaining the background of Bishop Daly and Civil Rights. ”

A spokesperson for Derry City and Strabane District Council confirmed that following contact received from Mr Coyle, officers have met to discuss his request for enhancing features within the local area including illuminating Free Derry Corner and improving signage at the garden dedicated to Bishop Daly.

“Whilst both sites are not owned by Council, they are important landmarks and significant features of the City’s historic tourism offering.

“Council is supportive of any proposals designed to improve and enhance the visitor offering and to working with relevant stakeholders in identifying any available funding opportunities,” the Council spokesperson added.