‘We are all in this together’

Victor Wray, City of Londonderry Grand Master, The Orange Order 2007-2012. (0102BM02)
Victor Wray, City of Londonderry Grand Master, The Orange Order 2007-2012. (0102BM02)

Victor Wray was born in 1946 at 33 Argyle Terrace directly opposite the Argyle Arms which was better known as Doherty’s Bar.

Victor Wray, past City Grand Master of the Orange Order and their current press officer, grew up on the west bank of Derry. Born in Argyle Street and, the son of an RUC officer, he has happy memories of life in Rosemount before the Troubles and his family’s move to the Waterside.

Victor and Carol Wray together in the Embassy Ballroom, in the mid-1960s. (0102BM01)

Victor and Carol Wray together in the Embassy Ballroom, in the mid-1960s. (0102BM01)

A member of the central committee of the Grand Lodge of Ireland, he took part in talks with mediators which paved the way for peaceful Orange parades in the city in 2005 and 2009. He believes that growing up in Rosemount helped him understand “how the world looked through the eyes of the other community”. He spoke to Eamonn Baker as part of the Diverse City project at the Holywell Trust.

Victor Wray was born in 1946 at 33 Argyle Terrace directly opposite the Argyle Arms which was better known as Doherty’s Bar.

As Victor recalls, at that time the area was a very mixed one - “much more integrated than now,” as he puts it.

“Though the Unionist party held power in the Londonderry Corporation, growing up, we weren’t really that interested in the political arrangements in our city. Those were for someone else to worry about.”

A young married Victor Wray outside his door  in Henry Street. (0102BM03)

A young married Victor Wray outside his door in Henry Street. (0102BM03)

The Wray family had a very close relationship with their next door neighbours, the Hillen’s, especially his mother who was born in 33 Argyle Terrace and lived there for 58 years.

“My mother was part of a big family of eight sisters and two brothers. She herself had six children: Derek, my older brother, myself, Jackie, William, David and the only girl, Jennifer, who, sadly, died from cancer just last year aged 53. When I was only a wean, tragically, my brother Derek was knocked down outside the front door and killed. He had been hit by a UTA (Ulster Transport Authority) bus. Most of us grew up to live in and around Rosemount, Park Avenue, Eden Terrace, the Village, Lewis Street though some moved across town to Ferguson Street and Ivy Terrace.

“I used to attend Great James Street Presbyterian Church. I walked down in that direction along the Northland Road with some of our neighbours like Gerry Merrigan, Tony Mount, brother of Berni Mount, who were themselves heading for St Eugene’s Cathedral for mass. I went to school in the Model PS and started in Templemore Secondary School, out the Northland Road in 1958.”

Victor attended the Marlborough Hall in Creggan Hill for “the Rosemount Sunday School” and where the Rosemount Flute Band rehearsed.

“The Richmond Hall down the back of the former Claremont Presbyterian Church served as an Orange Hall for the area. It was in the Richmond Hall that I joined the Orange Order when I was 17. I became a member of Ulster Pride LOL 846.

“Twenty of us might take the 7.30 bus from Argyle Terrace up to the Memorial Hall for a meeting of the Lodge. When the Territorial Army was based down at Duncreggan Camp, people would happily walk down there in their uniforms. My father was in the Hamilton Band and, after a band practice or an outing, he might head into Doherty’s/Argyle Arms in his bandsman’s uniform, have a few drinks, play some darts, without anyone blinking an eye. I don’t think you could do that now.”

Victor recollects Brooke Park being kept in immaculate condition, thanks to Bob Mc Clintock, the groundsman and gardener who lived at the Gate Lodge at the top of Great James Street.

Another standout memory was the Queen’s Coronation visit in 1953. “The city and district was out in force along the route to catch a glimpse of the young recently crowned Queen Elizabeth I as she made her post-coronation visit to the city in July 1953.”

And Victor says he was a regular supporter of Derry City at the Brandywell.

“I loved those halcyon days of the early and mid-60s; the Derry team of Jimmy Mc Geogh, Roy Seddon (who sadly passed away recently in England), Matt Doherty, Fay Coyle, Johnny McKenzie and the rest. We used to travel all over in support of our team. At that time everybody in town supported Derry City. There was none of this supporting Linfield or other Irish League teams like you get now. I remember going up to Windsor Park to see the 17-year-old Georgie Best virtually beat Scotland on his own in a very memorable match. The Fifth Beatle had arrived on the Northern Ireland scene in a big big way!”

Victor had served his time as an apprentice baker in Eaton’s on Strand Road when he met my wife-to-be, Carol, at the Memorial Hall.

“At that time before the outbreak of the Troubles, I would have thought nothing of going to the Stardust or to the Embassy. The city was a much safer place. I would have thought nothing either of walking from the Waterside to Argyle Terrace at any time of day.

“I got married to Carol in her home church out at Dunnalong Church of Ireland in 1968 and left Eatons in 1969 to start with Colhoun’s Home Bakery up in Bishop Street. We rented a flat in Bishop Street too but as the Troubles unfolded, it became a whole battle match living there. In 1969, we used to have to find our way into the back of our flat through Sonni Fiorentini’s next door to avoid the rioting raging, where Bishop Street met wee Albert Street which led into the Fountain.

“We had to get out because it just wasn’t safe. We moved to De Burgh Terrace then to Henry Street off Wapping Lane and then, finally, we bought a house in Woodburn Park in the Waterside in 1982 which is where we are still, 30 years on. We weren’t the only ones to move. As the Troubles got worse, more and more people moved. Many from the Northland Estate moved out to Nelson Drive and Newbuildings.

“Though I had grown up attending Great James Street, and though my first daughter Wendy was christened there, because of the rioting and the dangers to life and limb in the ‘70s, we began to attend Carlisle Road Presbyterian Church. My second daughter, Joanne, was christened there. “

Victor opened a bakery in Newbuildings with his brother John and from there moved to Tesco where he worked as a manager in their bakery department. At one point he was regional manager for the Tesco’s in-store bakery outlets.

Victor’s father Sam served as a police officer in the RUC, quitting the force in 1979.

“Our house In Argyle Terrace was shot into and my parents felt they too had no alternative but to move. In 1976 they moved into the Fountain, where my father came from originally.”

Victor believes the move troubled his mother as she was uprooted from all her old neighbours, and she died on June 3, 1985 aged 63. His father died just a few months later in September 1985.

“Old Catholic neighbours like Mary McBay made their way to the Fountain when they heard of my mother’s passing. Some connections and relationships were maintained in spite of the divisions caused by the conflict. With the Troubles in the early 70s, Protestants began moving from the West bank, away from Rosemount and other areas like Belmont and the Dark Lane.

“Some were intimidated. Some had become uncomfortable. Some left because others had gone and there was nothing for them on the city side of the bridge. In my view it is not likely that those who left will ever come back in any numbers. There is not sufficient respect nor a sufficient degree of safety for us from the Protestant Unionist community to re-locate back to the city side. That means of course that the demographic of the city will remain as it is with the vast majority of those living on the cityside being Catholic, nationalist and republican. Younger people will grow up not knowing what is like to live in a more mixed community.

“I believe that growing up a mixed community around Argyle Terrace served me well when as City Grand Master with the Orange Order, I was involved in different meetings to try and ensure peaceful arrangements for the Orange to march locally in 2005 and 2009. I was involved in meetings with clergy, traders, members of the Chamber of Commerce and the City Centre Initiative.

“There was some risk for me being involved in such meetings as some members of my own community questioned my wisdom. I firmly believe that growing up in Rosemount helped me understand how the world looked through the eyes of the other community. In those meetings, we realised that we were all in this together and had a shared responsibility to make things work for the better. It’s clear to me that if you don’t share your story and the story of your own community, how can others understand what you are about?”

(See also our ‘2013’ magazine - free with the Derry Journal today - for more on Victor Wray and plans for the Orange Order’s 12th of July parade during UK City of Culture)