Derry was such a cute town, but it was also a place that held sadness and conflict for a lot of Northern Ireland's history.
Before learning about Northern Ireland for our class I didn't previously know why it was separated from Ireland and what that meant. After learning about it and visiting, I have a better understanding of what that means. Short History lesson.
Northern Ireland has been a place of conflict through much of history. It all stemmed from when the English took control of Ireland. As the English kings kept switching between being Catholic and Protestant, at one point Irish people came to identify themselves as Catholic and Loyalists to the English cause living in Ireland often identified themselves as protestant. Though it does not seem like these two religious affliliations would be different enough to create wars, they were. Often land was taken from Catholics and given to Protestants and vice versa. After the 1916 rebellion in Dublin, the deal was made that the lower part of Ireland would become a republic and the upper portion would remain a part of England.
As you can imagine, some people were happy about that and others were not. Even in recent years there has been a lot of bloodshed and terrorism because of the conflict between these two groups. Derry has been a site of a lot of this violence, though it is safe to visit now. One individual that my class was able to meet with was a part of that recent violence, and hearing his experience and visiting the sites was eye-opening. Being there really helped to solidify those emotions that were present in that day. The fear and the uncertainty that had plauged so many lives.
I wanted to set this up so that you have a better context to understand the different monuments that are in Derry and how they are symbolic of both the conflict that happened there and the peace that they were able to achieve.
Check out the Peace Bridge at Sunset
The Peace Bridge connects the two sides of Derry, which are separated by the river. On the two banks, and the two sides that were the source of the conflict. Throughout history this river was something that separated the Catholics from the Protestants, but now with efforts for peace, this bridge symbolically brings the two sides together. It was made to appear as if two hands are joined, and in my opinion that union is something that looks beautiful at sunset.
Take a walk along the Wall
Derry is known as the walled city, which was something that we learned about in the history of the city. At one point the Apprentice Boys were championed for keeping the the walls of the city closed during a siege. At any rate, the walls of the city provide a scenic walking view along the 17th century walls. The walls are one and a half in which is a nice walk, also along this wall there are several different stairs and areas to lookout along the way. This is a completely free activity and I highly recommend it as a great way to see the city.
The Bogside art Murals
This was one of my favorite things that we were able to do in Derry, as I love art and learning the history and context behind the works. Many of these murals depicted the struggle for autonomy for the Irish people throughout history. A good number of the murals also had to do with the events of Bloody Sunday, which took place in Derry. We were able to take a tour of these murals with one the the Bogside artists himself. It was really incredible to hear his story, and the fact that these artists created the works for the community, and without being paid. They simply made them because they wanted to share a part of their neighborhood's story.
One of the reasons that I loved their work so much is because of the dedication to telling one side of a story. It is so important to share with the world all of the perspectives available. Ireland is also where I learned that conversation between two groups is the best way to encourage peace, because if we can understand one another there is a better opportunity to find common ground.
The Protestant Murals
On the other side of the river are murals that were painted by protestant artists, and in the spirit of seeing both sides of the story I would highly recommend seeing these as well. The best way to grasp a wholistic view of the conflict and the piece is through seeing both sides of the story. Also I always believe that art is a language that is accessible to all languages and cultures, so if you happen to find yourself in Derry, take a walk across the river as well.
Check out the Tower Museum
This museum held a lot of historical information throughout Northern Irish history. Here we found more information about the Siege of Derry and there was an incredible view of the city from the top of the tower. Also it only costed one pound for entrance.
Try a Traditional Irish Breakfast
This breakfast is something that was so good! As far as budgeting, eating is a necessity so might as well try some traditional food. This usually comes with eggs, sausage, mushrooms, a tomato, soda bread, beans and ham. This breakfast is great, and a must try if you visit Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland is an incredible complex place, and the people are incredibly resilient. Derry is a city that I would recommend seeing for sure. Have you been? What was your experience like?
Let me know.