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2003-04-22 The towns left with scars of war

Dunblane, Lockerbie, Warrington, Omagh, Oklahoma, Waco, Auschwitz, Sarajevo, Baghdad - sadly, it may take some time for these towns to rid themselves of `the label' they have found themselves inheriting.

 

It is unfortunate that in the examples I use above, an act of terrorism, a massacre or a war has left these towns indelibly marked on the world map. And no matter how picturesque these places may be, or what they may have to offer, they will for some time, possibly forever, be sporting that label.

On a recent trip to South America, I was very excited to learn that we would be visiting Tierra del Fuego, staying for one night in Ushuaia which boasts the label of being the world's southermost city. The early explorers of this remote region named it `Tierra del Fuego' - Land of the Fires - after they noticed constant fires on the peninsula keeping the naked chilly (no pun intended) natives warm.

 

Our 1400 mile flight from Buenos Aires took us across a landscape like I have never witnessed before, a sort of cross between the Tundra, the desert, the bog and the moon! Tiny lakes were dotted about below us like iridescent bunkers on a vast lunar landscape. Ushuaia is a city of around 40,000 inhabitants and ever growing. It has however a very high cost of living as almost everything is imported.

 

Excursions to the Antarctic set off from this duty-free port, but it is beyond me how the Fuegian Indians survived in this inhospitable and strangely claustrophobic environment.

 

Other cities wear positive and inviting labels. Paris is `the city of romance', LA is `the city of angels', Philadelphia is `the city of brotherly love' and Chicago is `the windy city'. New York is `the city that never sleeps', and despite the horror on a epic scale on `9/11', this wonderful city will always draw people to its heart. Amsterdam is `the city of tulips and redlight districts', Blackpool is `the city of illuminations', Venice is `the city of canals and gondolas', Stockholm is `the Venice of the North', Oxford is `the city of spires', Aberdeen is `the granite city', Barcelona is `the city of Gaudi' and Ibiza is `party-island'. The list is endless.

Then of course there are the towns that have witnessed an apparition of some kind which now sport a religious and pilgrimage label - Lourdes, Fatima, Medjugorje, our own Knock, and of course not forgetting Ballinspittal where those statues simply refused to stay still. The quaint town of Dunblane in Stirlingshire will be forever tarnished and engulfed in a heavy cloud of sadness by the action of one psychotic gunman and the ensuing slaughter of tiny innocents. In the same part of the world, the little town of Lockerbie was put on the map by a despicable act of airline terrorism.

 

Our own Omagh, Enniskillen and the English town of Warrington were changed in a similar way forever. On an even bigger scale, Beirut, Sarajevo and Baghdad may sadly always be associated with war and destruction.

 

The city of Limerick continues to try to shake off its negative label of "Stab City". In the last year several items on the news have not helped its cause. Several of my friends in Limerick deeply and understandably resent this undeserved label, and partially blame the media for its arrival.

 

When I am abroad, many of the people I meet assume that Belfast is a city of bombings and shootings. Of course, we know this is not so, and yet, clearly this must be the image the media are managing to portray abroad.

 

It goes without saying that it is not only cities and towns that end up being labelled, many people find themselves with a reputation, good or bad, which they never manage to shed. Most serial killers are given a title or label - "the Boston Strangler" or "Jack the Ripper" for example, and on a more positive note, Princess Diana will always be known as "the Queen of peoples' hearts".

 

So does Sligo have a label? The county of Sligo of course is "Yeats' County", and this must be one of the prettiest labels possible, to be forever associated with the beautiful poetry of one of our lands' finest wordsmiths.

 

Let's hope we can all work towards rewarding our town with an equally wearable label. More information: http://www.ushuaia.com/anglais_version/index.htm