Day 12: Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Those who have followed along with our adventures know how gobsmacked we’ve been at the sites we’ve seen that are hundreds and thousands of years old. Well, today we had a unique look at more recent history as we toured around Derry.

A brief history lesson first; grossly oversimplified, but important. Back in the 1600s, a wall was built around Derry to protect settlers from England and Scotland (under England’s “plantation” plan — “plant” people in Ireland to upend the Catholics there).

Today, you can walk the top of the wall and read informative placards about the various places of import and changes that were made to the wall over the years. Derry was one of the last walled cities built in Europe.

As a side trip while walking the wall, we dodged into the Guildhall to check out their famous stained glass windows, and while we only intended to take a quick peek, we ended up joining a guided tour that explained the whole history of “The Troubles.” It was fascinating. 

The Guildhall in Dery

The tour guide also showed us the room where the current Derry government meets to try to unite this divided city; unfortunately, there remains divisiveness between the folks who wish for a united Ireland and those who are still loyal to England. Thankfully, great strides have been made to “bridge” this gap. One of the must successful recent efforts was the building of the Peace Bridge, which joins the two sides (previously separated by the River Foyle) of Derry.

The Peace Bridge in Derry

Our last part of the Derry day was a look at the murals that have been created to reflect the political unrest in the city. The area where the murals are is still very politically active, and we were amazed that the last British troops to patrol the area as “peacekeepers” were only withdrawn in 2007.

Bloody Sunday monument and murals

In this neighborhood, we also saw the Bloody Sunday monument, which was raised in honor of 15 peaceful civil rights protestors (some as young as 17, all of whom were inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement in the U.S.) who were killed by British paratroopers on Jan. 30, 1972. The paratroopers claimed they came under fire, but a 12-year inquiry into the massacre concluded that the protestors had been killed in cold blood. Prime Minister David Cameron issued an official apology to the families of the murder victims in 2010.
Wow. It’s a whole new level of amazement to learn about such a recent historical period. It’s easier to relate to things that have happened only in the past three decades and very somber to stand on the spot where things we heard about in the U.S. actually took place.

Having digested a whole day’s worth of fascinating modern-day history, we headed to Belfast, where we’ll stay for two nights at the Europa, a hotel that holds the distinction of being the most-bombed hotel in all of Europe. (Katey was disappointed that they don’t sell “I Got Bombed at the Europa” tshirts 😜). 

In a “snug” at The Crown Liquor Saloon

Our friend Brendan “Mick” Benson suggested we grab a “snug” (a booth with a door) at the Crown Liquor Saloon (info and 360° view here: http://www.virtualvisittours.com/the-crown-bar-belfast/

Mick shared that his father was the head bartender at the Europa Hotel across the street in the early 1970s during “The Troubles.”

Tomorrow, we’re off to the Giant’s Causeway. We (more specifically, Katey) will be on the lookout for Jon Snow, because “Game of Thrones” shoots a lot in this location. Thanks to Steve’s coworker, Paul Kim, for the tip to check it out. 

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