We started off the day with a fabulous tour of Derry, half in the bus and then half walking over the Derry wall. It was a short tour, lasting less than half an hour which was a shame, because I was really interested in what the guide, Rory, had to say.
He grew up in what was known as “Bogside” in The Troubles – a Catholic area that was heavily involved in the fighting. The Netflix show ‘Derry Girls’ is set there at around the same time.
Derry, or Londonderry, was just as dangerous a place to live as Belfast was, back in the day. Here, however, we had a guide who was more upfront about what he’d experienced.
Our first hint of what life was like back then was when we drove past this famous piece of street art, a kid in a gas mask to protect himself against the gas bombs that the police would throw.
“I’ve seen things that no child should ever experience,” he said, matter-of-factly. “There’s a photo of me when I was 5, covered in dirt, standing in front of a burning bus,”
“ When I was about 12, I was walking along the street and bam! A man was shot in the head right beside me.”
Derry is mainly catholic. Unionists, the people/protestants who are happy to remain part of theBritish Empire, call the city Londonderry. The other side call it Derry. They believe that Britain is an illegal occupier and should be thrown out and they want an Irish government for the whole of Ireland.
In Belfast they had the Peace Wall to keep the two sides apart. In Derry it was the River Foyle.
“When I was a child we wouldn’t dare to cross the river except to go to the hospital or you’d take the road to Dublin. I didn’t ever speak to a Protestant person until I was 19.”
He described how the police would come to their neighbourhood and burst in at 3 AM, breaking apart things and generally wrecking the place.
“ There might have been one house in the street where they were doing something for the IRA,” he said. “But they’d tear apart every house in the street. I can remember at 8 in the morning, police still throwing all that we owned on the floor, my mother kneeling down and putting my school tie on me and sending me off to school. Years later, I talked to her about it, saying, ‘ What were you doing, woman? Were you mad?’ She said, ‘ It was their job to disrupt our way of life;’ it was mine as a Mammy to maintain it.’”
He went on. “ We have a real problem here with the word ‘terrorist.’ Just who were the terrorists? The IRA or the police? It all depends on who you’re talking to and what side you’re on.”
But then he said something that was really heartening.
“Anyone born here after 1998 is blessed. They have never seen a thing. We older ones are traumatised by it all, but they are able to live in peace. It’s amazing how quickly we can clean up our own garden.”
This the Bloody Sunday monument for the civilians that were killed.
Bloody Sunday’ refers to the shooting dead by the British Army of 13 civilans (and the wounding of another 14 people, one of whom later died) during a Civil Rights march in Derry.
I remember reading an absolutely fantastic play called “ The Freedom of the City” back when I was a student. It was about a group of ordinary people attending a protest march in an Irish city who, blinded by tear gas, stumble into the guild hall to escape. The police outside think they’re terrorists making a political statement, but they weren’t. The audience knows their fate right from the start, and the play is heartbreaking.
Someone asked Rory if he’ll tell his 5 year old son what had happened to him when he was a boy. He thought about it, then said, “I don’t know. I don’t think so. I want him to have a childhood, as he should. If he asks me about it, maybe I will. But I don’t think I want him to know.”
The top of the wall was much wider than I thought it would be. I could imagine the Protestants having parades up here and dodging bullets from the people down below.
(Remember this image for later, everyone…)
We looked down from the old wall towards this section of the town, which was the Bogside. Rory grew up here. He said that when he was a kid, the streets were barricaded to keep the police out, with women banging trash can lids on the ground to warn the neighbours whenever they saw any hint of danger.
He said, “It’s funny. Twenty years ago this was one of the most violent places in Europe. Now it’s one of the safest. We had violence but hardly any crime. Crime doesn’t flourish here, because we have such a strong social network. Crime withers and dies when people look out for each other.”
Then, before I knew it, the tour was over. We went back to the bus but Ben wasn’t there with it. After a bit of discussion, we decided we’d go our separate ways and meet back at the bus in 30 minutes. That suited me just fine, (in fact, I’m fairly sure I suggested it) because there were some art shops nearby. I was still in search of my Ireland painting.
I ended up buying two. This one was a limited edition print of the view from the bridge that I’d seen half an hour before. The original painting was given to the writer or director (or someone) of The Derry Girls. Buying art where I feel I’ve been there is wonderful for my travel room.
Otherwise known as the Man Cave, where my plan is to gradually fill it with art from my travels. I wonder if Ryan28 has finished building the IKEA wall unit?
The other one has the green fields, stone walls and the fairy tree that James told me about when we were driving.
“If there’s a tree standing all alone in a field, no farmer will cut it down. You leave it be.”
A few years ago a motorway was scheduled to be built, but when the workmen realised that a fairy tree was needing to be cut down, everyone refused to do it. Eventually, the whole motorway was rerouted at a cost of millions of euros.
The fairy tree is still standing.
After this, we drove for a while until we came to an open-air park about the Irish migration to America. The Ulster American Folk Museum is very much like Sovereign Hill in Ballarat, but without the panning for gold and the rides in the stagecoaches.
It had interesting parts, but personally, I wouldn’t break my neck to be in a hurry to see it again. They had brought many buildings together, some fromIreland and then some from America, which they rebuilt. It’s all authentic as far as it goes… but meh.
On our way into Enniskillen, just before we reached our hotel, Gail from Texas called out, “Frogdancer! There’s an art gallery!”
I had some time to kill before dinner so I went over there and fell in love with this horse sculpture. Look at his long, foal-like but creepy legs!
Unfortunately he was already sold.
I left my email with the gallery owner and his manager to see if they could get the artist to make another one for me ( but to be honest, I’m not holding my breath. Her work is really expensive.)
We then kept talking for an hour or so about all sorts of things. I was telling them about how much I’ve learned about Irish history over the last few days. Before I left, they showed me a painting of a pivotal moment in Enniskillen, which happened here in 2012.
An historic moment for Queen Elizabeth II came in Enniskillen in 2012, when she made a famous walk from St Macartin’s Cathedral into St Michael’s church in the town. It was the first time a reigning monarch had entered a Catholic Church on Irish soil.
The people from the gallery gave me a print of the painting. I told Ben, the bus driver about it that night over dinner and he said, “The late queen was very much loved in this country. The only time she ever bent her head to a monument was to the one for all the people killed in the Troubles.”
Remember the two churches. Just saying… there might be something tomorrow.