Derry (or Londonderry as it’s officially called) had long been on my list of places I’d like to visit given its role in Irish history. From the story of the apprentice boys shutting the city gates and holding back the Jacobite armies to the events of Ireland’s 2nd bloody Sunday in 1972, the relatively small city has played a pivotal role. If you do any sort of reading about Irish history, it’s a name that crops up again and again. How could I not visit?
Plus you can walk the walls in Derry. Along with ruined religious buildings and old cemeteries, I have a thing for walled cities. In fact, it’s kind of the reason why I went to York and Lucerne on previous travels. I know; I’m an odd duck.
Travelling on the off season has a couple of disadvantages and one was that the holiday hours for the Bogside Artists Gallery and the Museum of Free Derry had been reduced to week-days only. Al and I were on our own for visiting the Bogside Murals. On our own and soaking wet; the rain was back in full force!
There are 12 murals in total which deal with specific events or themes.
I found this the hardest to look at and yet the most powerful.
Yes, that's a child holding a petrol bomb.
We wandered our way through the murals until we reached the Free Derry corner. The words "You are now entering Free Derry" were originally written on the side of a housing building in January 1969. It was part of the lead up to a two-day riot, now known as the Battle of the Bogside, later that year. It's also associated with the events of 1972 in which members of the British Army fired into what appeared to be a peaceful protest and killed 13 people*. This event is now referred to as Bloody Sunday. These two events were early sparks in the Troubles in Northern Ireland and the Bogside is very much a stronghold of Republican support.
I can't help but believe the location for that mural was very, very deliberate.
At this point, Al and I were drenched (and depressed from my random sprouting of tidbits about these events). We decided that breakfast and a hot cuppa were in order. While we tried (in vain) to dry out (and Al ate Black Pudding for the first time), the rain stopped and the sun appeared. We must have some of the worst timing ever! With a sky above us, we decided to chance a walk along the walls.
The walk is actually fairly short (you could easily do it in 30 minutes if you don’t keep stopping to take pictures) but incredibly enjoyable (in the sun). As Derry is built on a small hill, you have some incredible views from the wall.
Looking back at the Bogside
Also, there are a lot of cannons along the wall. Cannons are cool. Just like bow ties. Although if you suffer from a fear of spiders, keep back. Almost all of them contained webs on them somewhere. To be honest, unused cannons are the best kinds of cannons.
If it hadn't still been wet, I totally would have sat on it Dr. Strangeglove-style!
The walls are quite wide. In many areas, because of the hill, you are almost even with the city on one side while there is a sheer drop on the other. Along with the occasional building, there was even a church and graveyard on the wall. A wall walk with a graveyard?!? You just know I died and went to heaven, right? I even dragged Al into the church.
It remained dry for the rest of our walk. It even managed to get downright hot and sunny in a few parts. Once we had almost completed our loop, I made Al stop. I took a quick look around to make sure that we were by ourselves and then I danced a jig. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do on the walls of Derry for no other reason that I thought it would be funny.
And I did it in front of the Church of Ireland (Anglican)
Once we finished our walk, Al and I went our separate ways for a few hours. There was a museum she wanted to see. I also wanted to see it but I had just reached that ‘no mas’ line for educational matter (just another reason to go back, I say) so instead I found a coffee shop and wrote a bunch of postcards. We met up two hours later, grabbed our bags and bid farewell to Derry and Northern Ireland. On to Donegal!
A few words about Northern Ireland: If you drew a line from Dublin to Galway, my favourite parts of Ireland would be north of that line. When people ask me my opinion on where to go in Ireland, I always say ‘go north’ and Northern Ireland is a big chunk of that part of the island. I can not say enough good things about Northern Ireland.
Even with the ceasefire and the Good Friday agreement in effect, Northern Ireland can be a hard sell for people who have only ever heard of it in connection with the Troubles. Add to that the random sectarian violence which is occurring even now and I had friends who feared for my safety when I said I was going to Northern Ireland. My natural response was to laugh and tell them it's not the '80's anymore.
Or perhaps they were not too far off: a viable bomb was found in Belfast the Friday before we went up there and a bomb exploded in Derry a few nights after we left. Please, do not let isolated incidents like this deter you from going to the North. It is a beautiful place full of (mostly) friendly people. From the hostel man in Belfast who was gobsmacked that two tourists visited Blackwater Town to the driver of the Coleraine bus who didn’t charge us any fares, people were chatty, helpful, and kind.
From the previous paragraph, it’s obvious that the problems in Northern Ireland are not gone. They didn’t sign the Good Friday Agreement and *poof* the IRA**, INLA, UVF, UDA and all other paramilitary groups just disappeared into the annals of the history books. They’re still there and some of them are still angry. Four hundred years of oppression, retaliation, hatred and prejudice is a hard thing to remove from a people’s psyche.
Why then would I encourage you to visit Northern Ireland? Because even at the height of the Troubles, it was rare for tourists to be affected by the violence. Because the more tourist money that comes into Northern Ireland, the more the moderates will work to keep it peaceful. Because the fabulous people in Northern Ireland shouldn’t suffer because some people there are dicks. Because it’s not the well-oiled rip-off machine that the south is.
Most simply, because you can.
*An additional victim died a few months later from wounds received that day.
**Additional history lesson: There actually isn't a group called the IRA; it split in the early 70's to become the PIRA (Provisional) and the OIRA (Official) which both refer to themselves as 'the IRA'. Having said that, it's mostly the PIRA which you've been reading about in the news for the last 30 years.