I can’t believe I only have a week left in this beautiful city. After just a few days here, I wrote that Derry reminded me of home, but I have to amend that statement now: Derry has become home. I’m not quite sure how to pinpoint when this transition occurred. Was it when I finally mastered looking the correct way to cross the street? When a tourist mistook me for a local? By the Irish standard, maybe when the barman at my favorite pub knew my order without me asking? I can’t say. I’m not sure that my sense of home here can be whittled down to just one moment, and even less so to this specific place on the map. It is a mosaic of all my experiences here, built piece by piece, day by day.
One of my favorite things to do here is to run along the impeccably preserved, 400-year-old walls that encircle the city center. On average they stand at about two stories high, so they offer the ideal vantage point to view the historic streets below. It doesn’t get dark here until after 10pm, and nothing beats golden hour on top of the walls–the colorful doors of the Georgian architecture against the grey stone, vibrant murals and graffiti on every wall, bustling restaurants with every type of cuisine you could want, live music bursting out of every pub door. The goings-on of the city are perfectly juxtaposed against the backdrop of the River Foyle, just peeking through the buildings, and the green hills of Donegal, dotted with windmills. It’s my favorite view.
A place is only as good as the people in it, however, and to me this is where Derry is extraordinary. I am convinced that the unadulterated warmth of the people in Derry is unlike anywhere else in the world. I will forever be grateful for the friends I have made here–their hospitality has transformed my experience from that of a tourist to that of a local, which has been absolutely invaluable to me.
It’s impossible to talk about Derry without touching on its difficult history. For anyone who knows anything about the Troubles, it is the People’s Democracy March at Burntollet, the Battle of the Bogside, and the Bloody Sunday massacre that are etched into the public consciousness as far as Derry is concerned. Even the very name of the city remains a source of friction–ask any unionist and it’s Londonderry, any nationalist and it’s Derry. But I would argue that Derry’s contentious past has only contributed to its rich cultural landscape–as many locals would say now, it’s LegenDerry. It is a city of revolution and social activism, but, above all, hope. In this place where terrible things happened, where conflict dominated people’s lives for so long, there is still an overriding sense of optimism, a pride from both communities, Catholic and Protestant, in the peace they have achieved. It’s a beautiful thing to witness.
There’s a great scene at the end of season two of Netflix’s Derry Girls. James, an English cousin of Michelle, one of the “Derry girls”, is leaving to go back to London, insisting he doesn’t belong in Derry. Michelle confronts him, reminding him that despite his “stupid accent,” “being a Derry girl is a state of mind.” After almost a month here, I think I’ve finally achieved that state of mind. I can’t imagine that anything could feel more right to me.