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.
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:
A common name for the Northern Ireland Conflict which lasted roughly from 1968 until the late 1990’s.
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.
30 January, 1972. British soldiers shot 26 unarmed civilians during a civil rights march. 14 of those died.
July 1972 – British Army operation to retake ‘no-go’ areas of the North
This refers to a wing of the Maze Prison where paramilitary prisoners were housed during the Troubles.
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 McAliskey addressing the crowds in the Bogside. She was later elected to parliament at the age of 21.
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.
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.
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.
Early marches were inspired by the campaigns of Martin Luther King and were peaceful demonstrations ….
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….
The Bogside from the Walls of Derry