The North of Ireland Troubles and Bloody Sunday

1 Dec

Recently we visited the north of Ireland, where we spent one night in Belfast, and one night in Derry. Although the peace process in the north gas been generally very successful, the remnants of their troubled past are tangible almost everywhere you go in either city. The North of Ireland was created as a separate legal entity from Ireland on May 3, 1921. After that time, there was a period of trouble, between those who believed that the North should be a part of the, at that time, newly sovereign Republic of Ireland, and those who believe that Ireland should not have ever separated from the UK.

Upon arrival in Belfast, we took a bus tour of the city, going first through the nationalist area, and then to the unionist. Although some members of the communities still feel and contribute to the polarization between the two groups, there has been a significant move, especially those within the middle and upper middle classes, towards neutrality. Historically, a majority of the nationalists have been catholic, while unionists are protestant. Although this divide is still seen today, it isn’t unheard of for a protestant to tend toward nationalist views, or for a catholic to tend towards the views of a unionist. 

The conflicts that occurred after the separation of the Republic of Ireland and the North have been multiple, however on our tour we focused in large part on the troubles and the results of them. It’s striking to learn about such recent history, and see it in person. I saw the bullet holes in the bricks of a former primary school in the nationalist neighborhood when it was opened fire upon. I saw murals painted by those committed to their cause, whether that was to remain loyal to the republic, to the queen, or to peacekeeping missions. The experience was eye-opening. 

The second day we went to Derry/Londonderry. It’s a city that has, like Belfast, encountered many issues as a result of the separation from the UK. The name itself signifies the conflict. In general, (although less so in recent times) if a person referred to the area as Derry, they were likely nationalist and probably catholic. If they referred to it as Londonderry, they were likely unionist and probably protestant. If they referred to it as Derry/Londonderry, then they are likely a neutral figure, trying to remain politically correct. The area of Derry/Londonderry known as “Free Derry” is the site of the Bloody Sunday Massacre, also known as the Bogside Massacre, on January 30, 1972. It was a protest in which 26 peaceful civil rights protestors were shot by the British Army. Thirteen men died on the scene, and one man died four months later, his death was attributed to wounds he received on January 30th. We visited the Museum of Free Derry, located right in the heart of where the Massacre occurred. The Museum is owned and operated by a man whose brother was a victim of the Bloody Sunday massacre. To say that listening to him tell stories of that day was heartbreaking and eye opening would be an understatement. 

The Museum put that fateful day into perspective, when he pointed out the window and stated that, that was where his brother was fatally shot, and then showed us the shirt with the bullet hole in it that another victim was wearing that day, it was am extremely immersive experience. I can’t imagine what that day would’ve been like for those who had to experience it first hand, but the museum gave me an extremely vivid approximation.

Although the peace process in Northern Ireland is ongoing, the measures that have been taken so far, and the growth than has been seen in the communities towards a much more peaceful future, gives one an extremely positive outlook for their future.




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