This weekend, I found myself in Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland. This town is known for the sharp divide of Nationalists and Unionists that led to the tragedy of Bloody Sunday, or the Bogside Massacre, of 1972. The day began with a civil rights march protesting Catholic internment, however things turned dark when British soldiers opened fire on civilians. The shootings killed 14 and wounded 14 more.
Throughout Derry/Londonderry’s history, there has been a struggle between English and Irish rule. It has always been a city divided, or as our tour guide described, “a stroke city.” Walking around the wall and then onto the streets, there are constant reminders of strife and struggle. We saw this through the murals, the statues, the memorials, the peace wall, and walled city centre. The memories of the troubles are still fresh to the townspeople, but this has not discouraged them.
While I sensed the distress this city has been through, I could not help but notice the positivity of the people who lived there. The Stroke City has seen it all – the longest British siege (105 days in the spring of 1689), mass exportation of Irish peoples, their largest industry (shirt manufacturing) outsourced and outcompeted, Bloody Sunday, and the Widgery tribunal. These tough events define this city and its people, and could easily swallow them up in misery. However, there was a strong notion of hometown pride in the people. They want to explain its history to not only continue their own peace process, but help other nations, states, and peoples avoid civil unrest and instead find peace.
I found this notion of helping others an extremely provoking quality of Derry/Londonderry. While Belfast has experienced a similar history of conflict between Nationalists and Unionists, the people did not seem proud and the town did not feel loved. Instead of digging themselves out of the divide, it felt like the people were stuck in the conflict and had no interest of forward progress. Our Belfast tour guides did not seem to want peace, rather they seemed comfortable in the distress. They were complacent as victims of history.
The people of Derry/Londonderry had the power to stand for change. I think this has to do with the strength of the Saville Inquiry. Sometimes all it takes it someone to admit the past was wrong. David Cameron apologized to his people, saying “What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong.” It does not take a hero to say these words, but it empowered Derry/Londonderry’s people to be their own heroes. The Stroke City will continue to be a force in the peace process, for the town and the rest of the world.