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A Beauty Impossible To Believe
An area of outstanding natural beauty is under grave threat, having been earmarked by rapacious planners as ripe for ‘development’. Who will shout stop?
Eamonn McCann, 28 Oct 2011
“There goes the landed gentry,” I murmured to myself as I wandered through the woods with the words of a murder balladeer in mind.
I’d taken time out for a trudge in Prehen on the principle that we should look our last on all things lovely every hour. Like Janis foretold us, it may not be there tomorrow.
Prehen Wood is a pristine patch of primitive beauty about ten minutes walk from the centre of town, a tangled web of secretive paths through clumps of birch and ash and beech and hazel, alive with badgers, foxes and long-eared owls, buzzards and native red squirrels, seasonally carpeted with orchids and anemones and bluebells nodding in the glades, a shadow-land of rare and sturdy wildlife which, naturally, the powers-that-be would concrete over.
I’d called to see George McLaughlin, main man in the Prehen Historical and Environment Society, who has been standing in the gap of the endangered woods for decades, firing off defensive salvoes of complaints, appeals, lobbying letters, freedom of information requests and reminders to the citizenry that the vandals and visigoths of commercial development are massing at the gates again. They have been hacking at Prehen for hundreds of years. The first governor of Derry following the Plantation, Sir Henry Docwra, complained in his diary in 1600 that every work-party sent to chop down trees faced attack and ambuscade. George ensures that the tradition endures.
There’s also the annual Big Oak Festival at Prehen House, where, with poetry in the parlour and stand-up in the barn, the likes of Here Comes The Landed Gentry and Peter O’Hanlon have provided music that’s far from incidental. Peter’s new album Simple Equation has a sound when he needs it as sumptuous as the Silver Strings, as rough-edged as Woody where appropriate, and the best rebel song of the last generation, ‘Move On Raytheon’, complete with a gospel choir of the Raytheon Women who’d chained themselves inside the death merchants’ Derry facility. His back catalogue features his erudite reading of ‘Half-Hanged McNaughton’, the song as social history. The Gentry has meanwhile germinated the Murder Balladeers, deep down and dirty as the Hole In The Wall gang at a particularly unwashed juncture. Their album Ain’t No Money In A Border Town includes a translation to now of ‘Half Hanged MacNaghten’, Rion McCartney growling of love and death and no redemption over dangerous snarling guitars.