– it began with the water –
Marking the fiftieth anniversary of Abridged, its golden jubilee, poses, even to the most objective historian, a strange conundrum.
So much of the magazine’s history has become intrinsically meshed with the time period now commonly referred to as The Abridging, a strange set of events that to this day remain unexplained.
Academics cannot come to much consensus as to the precise origins of these events.
Some believe it began with the water.
In 2037, lights were reported on Inishtrahull, clearly visible from the Inishowen Peninsula and along the north coast. Rumours of teenage trespassers, an illegal music festival, and furtive activities relating to the drug trade were speculated on. Deputations from the Irish Coast Guard and An Garda Síochána,
were despatched to investigate further when sightings of the strange lights continued, night after night, long into the desolate winter cold. Nothing was uncovered.
The lights persisted.
Abridged put out a call for submissions in early 2038 for submissions to a new joint issue and group show responding to the theme of spectral illuminations.
The salt plains previously known as Lough Foyle were once a disputed territory between the Republic of Ireland and the UK; after the Partition of Ireland in 1922, each side claimed that it was in their own territory. The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office underlined its view in 2009 that all of Lough Foyle was in the United Kingdom, stating: ‘The UK position is that the whole of Lough Foyle is within the UK. We recognise that the Irish Government does not accept this position…There are no negotiations currently in progress on this issue.’ In 2016, the UK’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland reiterated the UK’s view that all of Lough Foyle is in the UK, whilst Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs stated that Ireland did not recognise Britain’s claim. This territorial agreement was soon to become moot, as the Lough itself was to shrink and then disappear entirely between 2041 – 2045.
Meanwhile newspapers and websites began to report on a topic that had sparked first laughter and derision on social media, followed by increasing confusion: time itself had begun to inexplicably run at different speeds in Belfast, Newry, Dungannon and Derry. The issue affected both digital clocks and analogue, impacting computers, smart phones, wearable tech and creating havoc for employers and the operation of public sector administration.
Internal government documents later revealed this issue to have been noted by civil servants as early as 2034, but with the devolved government of Northern Ireland on permanent hiatus there was little impetus or appetite to explore the issue further: the prevailing inertia of the socio-political climate appeared to have become manifest as a physical phenomenon, time itself became notional and abridged.
These concerns were general to the north but most tangible within the Maiden City.
Streets were no sooner repaired than overnight they would calcify and crumble like sand underfoot or become viscous with brine and stick to the shoes of pedestrians and the tyres of vehicles. Ulsterbus could no longer operate services to or within the city.
Derry’s divided enclaves, once so distinct in their identities,
mapped by borders,
policed by memory,
territories delineated by walls, murals and flags,
of the land
s h. I. f. t.
The city’s bridges themselves became abridged, with the changing shape of the land and water rendering them several feet too short to fulfil their purpose and permanently closed in need of urgent structural amendments.
Local churches, once thronged, then silent became thronged once more with congregations seeking reassurance, certainty and repentance, only to find the priests had fled, the cloisters silent.
In their absence, the pages of Abridged screamed prophesy, howled of end times and the life of the world to come. Copies of the magazine itself became mutable, words dissolving from pages, imagery distorted, water pouring from its bindings as the Foyle boiled and dried beneath our feet.