SWMBO writes about a walk in Derry/Londonderry. At the end, there is a timeline of the history of Derry leading to the Toubles.
Loyalists call the city, Londonderry. Republicans call it, Derry. It sounds like Macedonia/FYROM all over. I will call it Derry simply because it’s shorter.
Derry is the only completely walled city in Ireland. It is located on the coast in Northern Ireland. It was the epicentre of the recent Troubles and is today a vibrant city with a remarkably compact core. A new pedestrian peace bridge built three years ago, spans the estuary waters and links the protestant and catholic sides of the tidal waters.
We are not couchsurfing in Ireland but our car is ;-) Once again the couchsurfing community opens its arms and we find a home for our rental vehicle so we won’t have to pay $20/day to park. We like our vehicle’s host, Rockclimber, right away and arrange to meet up the following day for a city tour.
The next day, we leave behind Paris (too sick), Onlyboy (too teenagery), and Lastborn (too fed up of tours). Fahbio, Venice and I walk 1 mile from our apartment over the peace bridge to Rockclimber’s place. As we get to the other side, we are engulfed in an outdoor celebration. We’re told it is Disability Action Week and the event is part of an effort to increase pride in people with disabilities.
We enjoy a cup of tea and set off back over the peace bridge to visit the city walls. Rockclimber tells us that his family is unusual because it is a blend of Protestant and Catholic going way back.
We walk the entire city walls, a journey of about a mile. Catholics were forced to settle outside the city walls. Walking along the walls, above the Catholic Bogside, with cannons pointing out every few feet, you can see that they would have felt that the snooty walled city was glowering over them.
We notice a garden box and meet Frenchforager, a transplant from France who has recently discovered the joys of foraging. We have a lovely chat with her. She wishes us a great rest of our journey and tells Rockclimber she’ll see him around Derry. We know it is true because people keep bumping into acquaintances all over this place. Another local comes by and jokes (we think) that we are poaching from his garden but that it’s alright. Fahbio and I later see that man in a movie about Derry in the excellent Tower Museum (museum about the history of the city).
We enter St. Columb’s Cathedral amidst a clanging of bells that is beautiful and just doesn’t let up. We wonder if it is a wedding but are told by the church volunteers that there is a group of bell ringers from across Northern Ireland here ringing the bells. I learn that a peal is the name for a group of bells and in this peal there are 13 bells. It will take 3 hours to play the whole thing! We had come into the cathedral to see the cannonball, containing the terms of surrender, that was shot into the city during the Great Siege.
It is Saturday and everywhere we see young people hanging out. Rockclimber says that when he was a teenager, kids weren’t allowed to get together in town like this because it was too dangerous. He tells us how happy he is to see them able to do this. The kids are friendly, polite and curious about us taking pictures.
We see a guy playing an interesting instrument. Rockclimber asks him if he made it and he says, “Jaesuz, the Africans have been playing these for tousands of years.” Venice really wants to give him money. I convince her not to give him 2 pence. We don’t have any local coins on us. We settle on 1 euro after conferring with the musician. He tells us he’ll use it for petrol when he goes south;-)
We decide to end with a pint. Rockclimber takes us to a Derry institution which SWMBO promptly declares to be Hipster Central. We enjoy a pint (or maybe two) with our new old friend. Then we give Rockclimber a big hug, thank him for hosting our car/printing our boarding passes/showing us around Derry, and say good-bye.
We walk back home and arrive just in time to watch Nanny McFee with the gang.
The post ends now but step into the Learning Office if you dare. Warning: history lesson written by layperson begins here.
1619: Derry city walls (and Derry city) are built. Derry was completely destroyed shortly before so Derry is now Ireland’s earliest planned community.
1689: Thirteen apprentice boy supporters of William of Orange (Protestant) sneak off with keys and lock the massive city gates. Invading Catholics are thereby prevented from entering the city. King James (Catholic) arrives at the Derry walls and demands to be let in. The king’s demand is refused and the Great Siege begins. It lasts 105 days at which point, Protestant reinforcements come and liberate the city. Many have died of starvation or injury.
1600s-1900s: Protestant English own almost all the land in Ireland. The Catholic Irish are the farm and factory workers. Catholics aren’t allowed to live inside the city walls so they settle in a marshy area outside (Bogside).
1800-1900s: Crowding and unemployment in the Bogside gets worse and worse.
1920s: Derry elects a Catholic mayor and Derry opposes probable inclusion in Northern Ireland. Violence ensues and 40 people are killed. In 1921, Ireland becomes divided. The Republic of Ireland is mostly Catholic, Northern Ireland is mostly Protestant. Derry, with its huge Catholic population, feels stranded within Northern Ireland. Derry is a border town only a few miles from the Republic of Ireland. People are cut off from friends and family. For many years, people require special papers to cross the border and the border closes at 6 pm.
1930s-1960s: The Unionists change the voting laws to maintain power. The voting rules make it in the interest of those in power to crowd Catholics in certain areas. Votes are by household so the Unionists prefer to build new houses in areas of support. Giving someone a house means giving them a vote. Catholics don’t protest too strongly because despite horrendous conditions, they want to be near their schools, churches and people.
1960s: Catholics in Bogside start to hear about civil rights and women’s rights movements in other parts of the world. Peaceful marches are organized to protest the appalling housing conditions. In the late 1960s, tensions mount with marches in Bogside and frequent Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) oversight. The RUC and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) both start to use force.
1969: Residents barricade themselves into Bogside and refuse to let the RUC enter. They erect a sign that says: You Are Now Entering Free Derry. The Battle of the Bogside sees three days of fighting. The British Army is sent to maintain order. At first they are welcomed by Bogsiders as being impartial but the relationship quickly sours.
1971: Internment Without Trial is introduced. Political dissidents find themselves imprisoned without trial.
1972: In January, a march in protest of Internment Without Trial, that includes many families ends in violence with 13 people, including children, killed by the British Army. It is known as Bloody Sunday. In retaliation, the IRA begin a campaign of terrorism. Bombings become a regular occurrence in Derry.
1976-1981: Britain withdraws Special Category Status from paramilitary Republican prisoners. Five years of protest begins. In 1981, a group of prisoners goes on a hunger strike. One prisoners, Bobby Sands is elected as an MP during the hunger strike. The hunger strike is a battle of wills between the strikers and Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher refused to back down and the strike was only called off after 10 prisoners had starved to death. One of them was Bobby Sands. His funeral was attended by 100 000 people.
1999: Lord Saville enquiry into Bloody Sunday events open in Guildhall. It marks the start of Britain’s longest enquiry in history.
2010: Saville Report fully exonerates victims of Bloody Sunday and puts the blame squarely on the British Army.
MARCHING: In Derry, there are 2 marches a year that commemorate the Apprentice Boys. Across Northern Ireland there are marches in July by Orangement related to the victory in the Battle of the Boyne (1690). These marches still occur and they get people riled up. In December 1997 (so recent!), there was £5 million of property damage as a result of riots during an Apprentice Boys March. Today, violence is rare in Derry but I have heard that this not the case in some other parts of Northern Ireland, notably Belfast.