When I told my parents that I would be going to Londonderry, they seemed to shutter over the phone with surprise. From their perspective, nothing but agenizing bad news came out of Londonderry for decades. My dad told me that it seemed like a day to day occurrence that he would hear a car bomb would go off and kill a few innocent people would be killed, or an intense shoot out would take between the IRA and the UVF or the IRA and the British military, much like conflicts in Bagdad and Kabul in recent years. Thankfully, the intensity of the troubles has greatly subsided since the peace agreement of 1998, and the terrorist attacks are rare and usually conducted by extremist nationalist republicans and loyalists.
That being said, the city of Londonderry, or Derry depending on who you talk to, has rich cultural and historical aspects that make it different from any other city in Ireland. The city is essentially the “ground zero” of the troubles, and also the site of many civil rights marches throughout the 20th century. While on the walking tour of Derry-Londonderry, the murals portraying the nation’s past, had a profound impact on me. I remember vividly, a mural of a girl in a green dress, white shirt, with an AK-47 snapped in half, a butterfly behind her, and with a grey and black canvas behind her. The tour guide, a very nice and talkative fellow if I may add, told us that she simply bent over to pick up a rubber bullet, used to disburse a crowd, and was shot in the face for it. Another mural that is stained in my mind was an all black and white painting, on the same street, and portrayed a young boy with a gas mask on. This picture reminded me of the pictures of children huddled up in the London-Underground with gas masks on during the London blitzes of the early 1940’s. I had never previously grasped the whole scale of the troubles and its importance before I came to see the battlegrounds for myself.
One of the most interesting experiences in Derry-Londonderry was the Free Derry Museum. One of the many aspects of the museum that I found interesting was information regarding the Battle of the Bogside in August 1969 which lasted for nearly three days. The district of Derry known as the Bogside was catapulted onto the world stage as local people resisted attempts by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) to breach barricades that had been erected in defense of the area. In the previous 11 months the RUC had clashed with local residents on numerous occasions as the Nationalist residents of the Bogside aligned themselves behind the Civil Rights Movement and in opposition to the Northern Ireland Government and its agents. Walking around to the other side of the museum, I found one of the most disturbing pieces of written language I have ever come across, this was the UVF letter to the IRA. I do not want to go into detail, but I was astounded by the lack of morality and humanity in the words of the UVF, talking to the IRA (but also Catholics) as if they were rodents in a restaurant kitchen.
I am very grateful for my experiences in Derry-Londonderry, and I certainly know a great more about the troubles and Irish history as whole.
Discovernorthernireland.com. 2014. Museum of Free Derry. [online] Available at: http://www.discovernorthernireland.com/Museum-of-Free-Derry-Londonderry-Derry-P9718 [Accessed: 15 Apr 2014].
Mcallister, J. 2014. History – Battle of the Bogside. [online] Available at: http://www.museumoffreederry.org/history-battle01.html [Accessed: 15 Apr 2014].