On Saturday I went on a bus trip to Derry for the day. It was an early start, and I was disappointed when it started drizzling. We waited in the cold at 8:45am for the bus to arrive to Elms Village and when it did at 9am, there was a mad scramble to get on the bus. I was with three of my friends and we found ourselves surrounded by a group of Spanish students who felt the need to speak loudly in Spanish and apparently make jokes the entire journey because they were laughing quite often! I ended up falling asleep halfway through the bus ride and woke up with about thirty minutes left of the two hours ride to Derry. Looking out the window, on one side of the bus there was blue skies and the other side there was dark clouds, threatening more rain. I saw two rainbows (but no leprechauns…) and a beautiful landscape of all different shades of green fields. The pastures were full of sheep and cows, a typical site in Ireland. People were trying to take pictures of the scene with their cameras and iPhones, but the bus was going too fast and the bus full of tourists ended up with action shots of the trees rather than scenic photos.
Derry is a small town that has been the center of religious/political strife for most of its history. The majority of the population is Catholic. The biggest controversy begins with the name of the town. It is known as both Derry, and Londonderry. Depending on whether a person is Unionist or Republican, they will refer to the town accordingly. During the Troubles, which were from the 1960’s – 1998. Derry experienced paramilitaries bombing the city court house and jail on a regular basis, and in December 1972 a terrible bombing took place and the day is known as “Bloody Sunday”.
When we arrived at the bus center, we had passed through areas with the British flag flying from every lamp post and even the curbs had been painted red, white and blue! We also had driven through areas with the Irish tricolor flying. It was as if the city was sectioned into areas of Unionists and Republicans.
Looking past all of the troublesome times, the people of Derry are making steps forward to put it all behind them. Posters in the tourist office proclaimed Derry to be “Legend-Derry” as a play on the name. The solution to the name of the town was resolved to name the town Derry and the county Londonderry. There are still murals and memorials to remember the conflict and the lives that were lost. It is quite shocking that daily life goes on in Derry as normal and the locals walk past the murals and flags on a regular basis. The gorgeous shopping malls were decked out in Christmas decorations, yet outside the murals and flags still hang as a constant reminder of Derry’s history, and tourists come in bus loads to check out the town.
It was interesting to see the town because it is a completely walled in city. Built in the medieval ages when most cities were built with walls surrounding them for defense, the thick stone walls around Derry still have lookout towers and small holes, presumably for guns. Along one of the bridges, there was a row of cannons that were used to protect from intruders during the more turbulent times of Derry’s history.
The Battle of the Bogside was a very large riot that happened in August 1969 and is an important piece of Derry’s history. It was part of the Troubles and the fighting that took place between the residents of the Bogside area in Derry. On one side was the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the other side was Irish Nationalists. The British army had to be called in to restore control and stop the violence.
We spent the entire day in Derry, wandering around and doing a bit of shopping. We had a nice bite to eat in a restaurant on Derry’s main street in the mid-afternoon. My friends and I enjoyed eavesdropping on the locals while we waited for our food to come. The bus ride home was a quiet one because everyone was exhausted. I slept most of the journey back to Belfast, and it was a great sight to see Queen’s University all lit up when we arrived back in the city.
Derry is an important part of Northern Ireland’s history and although it is just a small town, I realized that it was a good thing that I had gone to see it, to broaden my perspective and always remember to be open-minded of other people’s beliefs and ideas.