"" Writer's Wanderings: Derry or Londonderry?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Derry or Londonderry?

If you are driving into Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland the signs will read "Derry." When you are in Northern Ireland driving to the city, the signs will read "Londonderry." That is, if one faction or the other of the political divide hasn't painted in or blocked out the names on the signs. And that's only the tip of "The Troubles."

We arrived in the city close to noon which is when a tour of the wall that surrounds the old city was to begin. While we waited at the appointed spot just outside an indoor mall, we quickly downed some McD burgers. They don't quite taste the same as back home but we needed some sustenance before our hour long tour.

Our tour guide was excellent and began by reassuring us that Londonderry or Derry (he explained the name problem) was quite a safe city. "The Troubles" as the conflict between Protestant and Catholic political factions is called is said to have begun in 1963. As history was revealed to us though, it seems Ireland's troubles began way before that with the conflict between William of Orange (a Protestant king of England) and James II (Catholic heir to the English throne). They both fought for control of Ireland and Derry was the site of one of the battles with the town being besieged by James and defended by those loyal to William. The black and white sign pictured refers to the Protestant young men who closed the gates to the city and refused to surrender.

Did it have anything to do with religion? Maybe. But to my thinking, it was just how the line was drawn in the sand to defend the politics. In the sixties, our guide said, the Catholics who had been oppressed by the Protestants who were in power rose up and formed opposition which at times got very ugly when the two sides clashed. And so The Troubles began in earnest. I would suggest you search for information on the history of it all. I still am a bit confused by it. There is a lot to absorb.

The Good Friday Peace Agreement was the beginning of an easing of tension between the two sides. While some are still keeping to the efforts to kindle the disagreements, most are trying to live in peace. At some point, our guide said something to the effect that all had been peaceful for the last three years. Then in the next breath he applauded the local officials in capturing three IRA fellows who had a bomb in their car.

During The Troubles, there was one huge incident that happened in Derry--Bloody Sunday, January 30, 1972. A demonstration by Roman Catholic civil rights supporters turned violent and British paratroopers opened fire on the group killing 13 and wounding 14. For years it was a point of contention over who fired the first shot. (The story reminds me of the Kent State shootings.) Finally in 2010, resolution was made and Prime Minister David Cameron went before British parliament and apologized to the Irish people. The picture of a dove painted on a building is where the shooting took place.

Several other murals in the area mark the time of The Troubles including one called "The Death of Innocence." It shows a young girl of 14, Annette McGavigan, who died in 1971 when she was caught in crossfire. The butterfly over her shoulder was only recently painted in (2006). The artist left it in silhouette until he was sure peace had come.

On a lighter note, our guide also told us that the treed area of the wall was a spot where high society used to come and walk with their ladies on their arm as a way of showing off the high fashion of the era. The less fortunate would point fingers and say, "Look at those cats!" That's what gives us the term catwalk. Irish tale? I'm so suspicious.

When we finished our tour which took us about 3/4 of the way around the wall, we walked to the center of the walled city to admire the large department store that was celebrating its 150th anniversary. The outside was a lot more impressive than the inside. We didn't stop to shop.

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