Devon Councillor recalls a Derry Christmas in 1970

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A Devon Liberal Democrat Counillor who grew up in Derry penned the following column this week for his local newspaper - the Mid Devon Gazette.

Now living in Exeter with his wife helen and their two daughters RÓisín and Eilish, he has been aCouncillor in Tiverton for almost ten years.

Brother of famous musician Neil Hannon, he talks about how the armed groups called a ‘truce’ for Christmas.

“Most readers will have seen Sainsbury’s Christmas advert on the telly. The one about the First World War Christmas truce. A temporary cessation of hostilities in the midst of the carnage. This is now a very well known moment of historic humanity. I have a Christmas memory a lot less rose-tinted but nonetheless welcome from my own childhood.

“I was born and raised in Northern Ireland, living my formative years in 1970s Derry. Search ‘Derry 1970’ in Google images and you get a surprisingly accurate idea of what it was like. For those disinclined to the internet picture rubble strewn streets, riots, armoured vehicles, armed soldiers and armed terrorists.

“But at Christmas the guns would fall silent. The distant crump of bombs would be noticed by its absence.

“The process was simple. The IRA would publicly announce a Christmas ceasefire a couple of days in advance. All the various terrorist groups would then seemingly make a point of blowing something up just before it came into effect. They would then leave us all alone for 72 glorious hours before starting again on the 27th. It was never officially acknowledged but the army generally found reasons to return to barracks at the same time.

“I never felt grateful to the IRA – or any of the other armed groups – for their largesse in giving us a brief hint of normality. However we all took pleasure in watching our parents relax. With hindsight bringing up three boys between the Creggan and the Bogside 1969-1982 can’t have been easy.

“So my message is this. We can all take something wonderful from the festive period. Ignore commercialism, side step tawdriness, take time to relax and cherish those around you. If you’re alone, or if you know someone who will be – reach out.”