Derry, Londonderry, Stroke City, or LegenDerry. No matter what you call it, the walled city of Derry has a history riddled with strife and a future ripe for peace.
Before our tour of the city of Derry today, I knew a little bit about it, but had yet to fully understand what had fueled the religious, social, and economic battles that have been going on for decades. And to be honest, even after a truly riveting four-hour walking tour, I’m still struggling a bit to grasp it all.
Dave booked us a tour with a reputable touring company called Marty McCrossan City Walking Tours and had hired a private guide for four hours. He wasn’t crazy about driving directly into the very busy, and very compressed city, so we caught a bus to Derry from Strabane this morning after breakfast at the hotel.
It worked out great. The bus trip was uneventful and quick and our meeting point with the tour guide was in the Peace Flame Park right next to the bus station in Derry.
Right at 10am, we met Sorcha Bonner, our guide. She’s a lovely woman with a charming Irish accent. We felt at ease with her and could understand her accent, so that helped. There are some accents we’re having a little bit of trouble fully catching.
Sorcha started out by asking us what WE wanted to know. We tried to narrow it down by time period and also explained to her about the family history research Dave has been doing. She indicated a few of our stops may be able to shed some light on questions we may have.
Rather than try to come up with my own description of Derry, I’ll take some copy from the tour’s website:
The city of Derry, or Londonderry is Irelands only remaining walled city and offers 1500 years of social, cultural and religious history. Derry was initially a monastic settlement, which became a plantation town and in later years it was a center port for emigration to America, Australia, England and Scotland. Derry is still making history as the opposing communities continue to work together towards a lasting settlement of disagreements.
In common with many areas of Northern Ireland and indeed the world this city has witnessed a recent turbulent past. The Bogside in 1972 became the focus of world news with the worst ever atrocity to hit a European city since WWII on what has been named “Bloody Sunday”.
Our guide will recount in detail the events of that day and the subsequent result of the initial inquiry. The second Bloody Sunday Inquiry finished in 2006, and is awaiting its conclusions.
Sorcha took us onto the city walls and described how they were completed in 1618 and mainly planned as a defense of the city against Irish raiders from Donegal. They are up to 26 feet high, and up to 30 feet wide, enclosing the old merchant city (where the money was). When the defiant Derry Protestants (apprentice boys) slammed and locked the four main gates to the walls, blocking the approaching Catholic army, the walls became an iconic symbol of Loyalism and Unionism. The original 17th century locks and keys (which are huge) are on display.
We were also able to visit several of the churches and neighborhoods were the “Troubles”, as they are known, began and still continue to this day in some neighborhoods. Although the peace process has begun and has been marginally successful, to an outsider, still seeing security gates/walls and clearly divided neighborhoods for Protestant and Catholics can be disturbing,
Dave and I could not help but compare Derry to another walled city, York, England where we visited in 2013. Derry is not that blessed when it comes to beauty spots. The city’s history and the buildings related to it make it a worthwhile visit from a tourist’s point of view, not her sheer opulence.
The newer efforts for peace had created several lovely monuments and symbols including pedestrian Peace Bridge that crosses the River Foyle. We walked halfway across. It’s a beautiful bridge.
Sorcha was a wonderful tour guide and we both enjoyed this whirlwind tour, Her personal story of living here and her wealth of historical knowledge was incredible. She also introduced Dave to Ronnie at a church who shared with Dave how a family member emigrating to America in the 1600-1700’s would have been thrown a “wake” right before they left because the odds of their family members ever seeing them again were so slim. IF the family had any money to give, they would give them what they could, and potentially any wills written would NOT have included the family member/s who had left for America.
After our tours Dave and I had lunch in a wonderful area called Craft Market. It’s a hidden gem with refurbished buildings turned into small shops, cafes and apartments.
The struggles still faced by the residents of Derry quite simply makes me sad. Sad that people have died for decades because of the way they choose to worship their God. Sad that our tour guide Sorcha grew up with armed guards around her otherwise civilized city. And sad that Derry’s children of today are still forced to deal with the crimes of yesterday.
As an American, I shouldn’t throw stones regarding another country’s peace because we’ve struggled with bigotry and racism in our country for decades. It IS better, but we’ve only entered the driveway. We have yet to open the garage doors and park the car.
Good luck Derry. May you find common ground and move forward but never forget those who innocently lost their lives in the past. Love & Peace