May 24, 2017 / 5:30 PM / 2 months ago

Under attack, Manchester finds some solace in culture of grit and wit

5 Min Read

Poet Poet Tony Walsh a.k.a Longfella performs a poem on the stage during a vigil for the victims of an attack on concert goers at Manchester Arena, in central Manchester, Britain May 23, 2017. Picture taken May 23, 2017Jon Super

MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - Searching for comfort after Britain's deadliest attack in nearly 12 years, residents of Manchester have found some solace in its pioneering culture which one local poet summed up as "Northern grit, Northern wit".

While Mancunians joke that their city is best known for grey skies and rain, the horror of a suicide bombing that left 22 people dead and 64 injured has been countered by a resolve not to be cowed by militants.

Thousands turned up for a vigil in the city centre where poet Tony Walsh read "This is the Place", a celebration of a city that "set the whole planet shaking" when it helped spawn the industrial revolution.

"They’ve covered the cobbles, but they’ll never defeat / all the dreamers and schemers who still teem through these streets," Walsh read to the vigil.

"This is a place that has been through some hard times: / oppressions, recessions, depressions, and dark times. / But we keep fighting back with Greater Manchester spirit. / Northern grit, Northern wit, and Greater Manchester's lyrics."

The bombing, which ripped through a crowd leaving a show by U.S. singer Ariana Grande, affected all strata of Manchester's 2.5 million-strong population - from homeless men who rushed to help the injured to celebrity footballers and pop musicians whose children had gone to see the show.

"Together. Unified," Daniel Liptrott, a 45 year-old businessman said when asked how the vigil made him feel. "A single act of terrorism isn't going to break that."

After a moment of silence, when many wept, the crowd broke into repeated chants of "Manchester, Manchester."

A placard read: "Hate will never tear us apart", alluding to the song "Love will tear us apart" by Joy Division, one of Manchester's best-known music groups.

Manchester prides itself on a vibrant music scene, which over the years has produced bands such as the Hollies, Oasis and the Stone Roses.

The Manchester Arena, the site of Monday's attack, was one of the buildings constructed in the mid-1990s that helped the city shed its reputation as a "grim up north" town in decline.

The success of soccer club Manchester United in the 1990s and 2000s, and more recently of arch rivals Man City, added to a sense of rejuvenation.

Free Trade, Cotton and Music

Messages and floral tributes left for the victims of the attack on Manchester Arena lie around the statue in St Ann's Square in central Manchester, May 24, 2017.Jon Super

Today, converted warehouse apartments and now-quiet canals are the main reminders that Manchester was one of the world's first industrial cities and also central to the emergence of modern British democracy.

In the mid-19th century Manchester factory owner Richard Cobden laid the foundations for modern free trade. He campaigned successfully against tariffs on grain imports, which made bread expensive for ordinary Britons, and then helped to draft the first modern trade agreement, between Britain and France.

On Wednesday, people flocked to Cobden's statue in a public square to lay flowers.

Another eminent Mancunian was Emmeline Pankhurst, born in the suburb of Moss Side, who led Britain's suffragette movement and achieved her aim of equal voting rights for women in 1928.

Manchester was bombed heavily in World War Two and much of the city centre was rebuilt after Irish republican militants set off a huge explosion in 1996.

But Monday's attack, which left children with bolts and nails lodged in their bodies, was met with incomprehension.

"It does break your heart when you can't guarantee people's safety," said Peter Hook, a member of iconic Manchester bands Joy Division and New Order, whose own daughter had been at Monday's concert but was unharmed.

"The people are very resilient and they go for it, and the thing is that nothing will keep us down," he told BBC radio.

The singer Morrissey, from the 1980s band the Smiths, struck a different note and harangued Prime Minister Theresa May for living in a "bubble" when she said the attacks "will not break us".

British police on Tuesday identified the bomber as 22-year old Salman Abedi, who was born in Manchester to Libyan refugee parents.

Members of the city's Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Sikh communities said they wanted to show that Manchester, while shocked, would not be divided.

In a symbolic display of unity, a Muslim man, Sadiq Patel, comforted an elderly Jewish woman, Renee Rachel Black, who was visibly upset, and they prayed together at a floral tribute to the victims during Tuesday's vigil.

Patel then helped her away, linking arms with her and carrying her chair in his other hand.

Additional reporting by Kate Holton in LONDON; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Gareth Jones

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