Exploring Derry – The Incredible Bogside Murals

Everyone planning a travel itinerary for Ireland should include Derry. Northern Ireland’s second largest city has been very much overlooked by both domestic and international tourists but a visit here offers great insight into the region’s complex and turbulent history. Of course, there is much more than politics on offer here – the city has a name for culture and food as well as being a good base for exploring the northern coast.

Before we start…..

This is a travel blog. I write about places I visit and enjoy. In August, I walked around Derry and took my photos. It is only now, as I put the blog together, I find it a struggle to present the piece in language that is inclusive and avoids political debate.

FOR EXAMPLE

I’m sure I’ve already offended many with the title. So let’s get the name clarified ….

DERRY? LONDONDERRY? DERRY-LONDONDERRY?

The original name is DERRY. This comes from the Irish DOIRE meaning Oak Grove.

In 1613, King James 1 granted the city a royal charter and added LONDON to an anglicised Doire, creating LONDONDERRY

In simplistic terms, both names are in use today – nationalists use the name Derry and unionists call the city Londonderry. (so really, it comes down to whoever you are speaking to….)

DERRY – LONDONDERRY is considered by some as a compromise.

I’m sticking with Derry, if for no other reason that its the most convenient in its brevity!

A few definitions and explanations:

The Troubles

A common name for the Northern Ireland Conflict which lasted roughly from 1968 until the late 1990’s.

Bogside

A majority Catholic neighbourhood in Derry

Battle of the Bogside

12-14 August, 1969 – 3 days of rioting in the Bogside. British army were deployed on the 14th.

Bloody Sunday

30 January, 1972. British soldiers shot 26 unarmed civilians during a civil rights march. 14 of those died.

Operation Motorman

July 1972 – British Army operation to retake ‘no-go’ areas of the North

H-Block

This refers to a wing of the Maze Prison where paramilitary prisoners were housed during the Troubles.

Hunger Strike

In March 1981, Bobby Sands, the leader of the provisional IRA prisoners, began a hunger strike in the Maze. He died after 66 days. Another 9 hunger strikers died before the campaign was called off in October.

The Bogside Murals

Many of the buildings, and indeed the people, of the Troubles have moved on but the stories remain and are commemorated today in the street art of the neighbourhood.

The 12 Bogside murals, collectively called the ‘Peoples’ Gallery’, were created by brothers Tom and William Kelly and Kevin Hasson. The threesome has been working on the project since 1993, starting out with supplies donated by local residents.

THE PETROL BOMBER

Battle of the Bogside, August 1969. A young boy in a gas mask (to protect himself against CS gas) holding a petrol bomb made from a milk bottle. (This was painted in 1994, the year the peace talks began)

BERNADETTE

Bernadette McAliskey addressing the crowds in the Bogside. She was later elected to parliament at the age of 21.

BLOODY SUNDAY

A group of men, led by a local priest, carry the body of Jackie Duddy, the first fatality of the day

BLOODY SUNDAY COMMEMORATION

Portraits of the 14 people killed on Bloody Sunday.

The murals are accompanied by information plaques

DEATH OF INNOCENCE

14 year old Annette McGavigan killed in crossfire near her home in September 1971. She was the 100th victim and represents the 3000 people who died during the Troubles.

MOTHERS AND SISTERS

Peggy O Hara was the mother of hunger striker Patsy O Hara and Mickey Devine’s sister also features here. The little girl is pointing towards the Peace Mural on another building.

PEACE MURAL

The dove – a symbol of peace – emerges from an oak leaf ( a symbol of Derry). The squares are equal on all sides – representing the equality of all citizens. Overall, it represents a symbol of hope for the future.

OPERATION MOTORMAN

Summer 1972 – ‘Free Derry’ ended when the British army moved in to the area and removed the barricades.

THE SATURDAY MATINEE

There were many riots in the Bogside from 1969 through the early 70’s, often on Saturday afternoons.

CIVIL RIGHTS

Early marches were inspired by the campaigns of Martin Luther King and were peaceful demonstrations ….

THE RUNNER

A young boy running, after tear gas has been fired.

A TRIBUTE TO JOHN HUME

Hume cited Martin Luther King as the person who influenced him most. Mother Teresa was involved in the quest for peace in the North. Mandela’s campaigns ran parallel with the campaign in the North. All 4 won the Nobel Peace Prize.

A few things to note:

Several murals are painted in black and white – reminiscent of the newspaper photos of the day…

While these are works of art in themselves, the murals have layers of meaning. Have another look at DEATH OF INNOCENCE – notice how the roof beams on the destroyed building form the shape of a crucifix. The broken gun represents the failure of violence while the butterfly symbolises resurrection and hope in the Peace Process. This is one place on the planet where you should really, really consider taking a guided tour. You will be shown around the Bogside by a local – someone from the community who will share their personal history and stories with you. It is also possible at times to book tours with one of the artists.

The murals are mostly painted on the side walls of peoples homes. It is generally recognised that such paintings in Northern Ireland are to be found on properties not actually owned by the residents themselves but owned by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE). However, it is acknowledged that the murals are very closely tied with the community and central to the neighbourhood’s identity.

It is easy to come away full of righteous indignation or indeed rage. Remember that the Bogside murals are linked to their geographical location and reflect the ideology of that particular community. They therefore represent only one side of the Northern Ireland conflict. If you visit the Bogside then make sure you also examine the unionist context and leave Derry with an informed and balanced perspective.

Troubles Tourism / Dark Tourism

These murals are considered a major tourist attraction in the city. All coach tours to the city now stop in the neighbourhood. The artists have been accused at times of glorifying teen violence and keeping wounds open. They refute such suggestions – seeing their works as historical documents that tell a story. They do not include an party-political or sectarian elements such as emblems or slogans in the murals and they emphasize their main objective as being the promotion of peace.

Also in the Bogside

YOU ARE NOW ENTERING FREE DERRY

Powerful words! This gable end was first painted by teenager John Caker Casey in 1969. The name ‘Free Derry’ was given to those areas barricaded off from the security forces from 1969 -72. The barricades were removed during Operation Motorman in July, 1972. The terrace of houses has been demolished but the mural lives on and has been frequently repainted – often reflecting current issues (note the Covid tribute to the NHS)

Museum of Free Derry

The museum was established by the Bloody Sunday Trust in 2006. In 2018, it attracted 35,000 visitors. State of the art audio-visual displays offer insight into the civil rights movement, Free Derry, Operation Motorman, etc. but the fact that the museum is mostly run by relatives of Bloody Sunday victims, who are happy to tell you their personal stories, is what makes this place special.

There are several monuments in the vicinity…

This monument in the shape of a ‘H’ commemorates those who died in the 1981 hunger strike.

Bloody Sunday Memorial

Maps and information boards…

Placards, recruitment posters and protest hoardings abound….

Other murals

The Bogside from the Walls of Derry



26 thoughts on “Exploring Derry – The Incredible Bogside Murals

    1. I love street art anyway but this was particularly impressive. The stories are harsh but there is hope in the artwork also I think. XXXMarie

  1. This remains a difficult subject to address in Ireland. When I was travelling through Derry-Londonderry or Belfast, I found the murals intimidating, I thought reconciliation initiatives should be given priority. Thank you for your useful explanations.

    1. They are definitely intimidating which is why I think it very useful to actually embrace them on a tour with someone who can put them in context.
      Reconciliation is a tough one – it means changes within communities and between communities and takes a very long time. There are several organisations throughout the North who are doing just what you say – working on reconciliation themes and committed to the future rather than the past. XXXMarie

    1. There are many who definitely consider the murals as being at odds with the Peace Process but for many residents in these neighbourhoods – esp Derry and Belfast – the artworks are an integral part of their culture and community. That is a debate that will continue for generations…
      Meanwhile, tourist initiatives like the Titanic Quarter in Belfast and the Game of Throne tours are bringing new generations of visitors to the North for reasons other than the Troubles and that can only be a good thing. XXXMarie

  2. And now Derry is coping with a different sort of crisis – the Corona type. That aside, great post. My, you have been busy with your camera and most of these murals were unknown to me as it’s years since I’ve been to Derry, last time must have been way back in the early eighties. Glad you gave an explanation as well, it helps those who come to “the troubles” without a background in this particular part of Irish history.

    1. You’re right Mari – things are bad there at the moment. I’d a (relatively!) good summer all right – went on a few mini trips so have found something to keep writing about for the moment at least.
      Those murals are dated from the early 90’s so after your visit…… XXXMarie

  3. Thanks for the memories of our 2017 trip. We visited Derry for the first time with our Southern relatives. While you think it is safe, you can not get rid of this niggling feeling of impending danger. By the time we departed, we had fallen in love with Derry and its long suffering people. Stay well Marie. Allan

    1. There are still so many outstanding issues to be resolved but, as any place coming out of a conflict, they are trying very hard to move on…
      Glad you liked it – we didn’t stay over – its been a good few years since we spent a night in Derry so I’ve no idea what its like as a town at nighttime. XXXMarie

    1. I personally think Derry is a very interesting place in which to learn about the Northern Conflict. Of course the most important thing is to be vigilant of partial interpretations and propaganda but sure that applies globally doesn’t it… XXXMarie

  4. Very powerful images and tour Marie. My family went on a trip to NI (from Canada) in the mid 70s. I think if my young mind understood what was going on there I would have been terrified. We stayed with distant relatives who I think thought my parents were mad for bringing us kids. I need to go back to ee it as an adult.

    1. What an extraordinary trip to make in the 70’s!!! I grew up in Dublin but my parents were from Donegal. For all those years, they wouldn’t take the shorter and more convenient route through the North with its better roads but the longer way around by County Sligo. I think you’d find it a very interesting trip…. put it on the list….. XXXMarie

  5. My first visit to Northern Ireland was two decades ago, and I was very nervous about the whole trip. Valters used to live in Drogheda when he arrived in Ireland twenty years ago and still have a few fascinating stories to tell.

    While there have been many instances over the last fifty years that has given Northern Ireland a bit of reputation, I find it utterly fascinating place to explore and photograph.

    For anyone wanting to visit, it’s a good idea to learn more about it history, which in all honesty is very lengthy and complicated. Either way, I immensely enjoyed your post, murals and all the historical facts. Believe it or not, but we haven’t been to Derry yet. Hopefully next year. Thanks for sharing and have a good weekend 😊 Aiva

  6. Really good blog that captures some aspects of the city really well. I notice that it recommends checking out the Unionist perspective in the interest of balance but to the best of my knowledge this is not readily accessible

    1. Hence the difficulty and importance of actually getting a balance. There are some tours that include the Fountain Estate and I’m assuming that guided tours of the Walls offer a balanced history. But you’re right Kathy – one side of the story is more easily accessed than the other. XXMarie

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