Derry is an amazing city. I’ve spent most of the day walking around the place, and now the sun’s going down on my last day here. I’ve circled the walls at least three times today, on top, within, and without, and quartered the old city. I’ve been to museums and cathedrals and murals, and talked to people1 all over the place, and I have to say that I love this city.
The city is scarred, though, by two things in its past: the Siege of Derry in 1689, and the Troubles which centre around Bloody Sunday in 19722. These two events have created a polarized culture that is only recently starting to come together and recognize that they share more similarities than differences.
I am not going to talk too much about the cause, meaning, and issues of the Troubles here; it’s absurd for someone from the Canadian prairies to pretend he’s got even an inkling of understanding about them. But I do need to talk about some of the events, so that my time here makes a little sense. If I get things wrong, I hope those of you with clearer understanding of things will go easy on me. I mean no offence.
The Saddler’s House offers the wonderful kind of breakfast I’m starting to take for granted here in Ireland. They are certainly second to none of the places I’ve stayed, and the smaller size of the operation meant I got to meet some of the other folks staying here, as well3, and Bertie came in to say hello to everyone, as well.
After breakfast, I headed off to the tour that Joan had recommended the previous day, with Martin McCrossan’s City Tours. Our guide was John McNulty, and he was fantastic – though that’s what I’ve come to expect from the tour guides in Ireland. He called the tour the “warts and all” tour, and painted a very vivid picture of Derry’s history, even the dark and terrible bits, while still showing what hope the city has for the future, and the way peace is transforming this troubled area.
After the tour, I spent several hours wandering around to take some looks at the things John had pointed out in passing. Here’s what I saw today.
Okay. I found out about the Apprentice Boys. Here’s the story.
In 1688, word reached the city that James II was coming to assert catholic rulership. A letter captured from the Jacobites talked about how the protestants of the city would be massacred. While the city leaders debated how to respond to this threat, thirteen apprentice boys ran and locked the gates in the face of the king’s envoys. This led to the Siege of Derry, which began the following April, and lasted 105 days, before ships sent by William of Orange managed to reach the city and relieve the siege.
So, the Apprentice Boys are seen as heroes of Derry. But they’re divisive heroes, because they are representative of a protestant victory, and a catholic defeat. The Apprentice Boys clubs still commemorate their deeds, marching to celebrate the closing of the gates and the relief of the city. In recent years, the celebration has become tied to the Maiden Festival4, and turned into a less-partisan kind of festival.
I also went to see one of the most impressive buildings in the city – the Guildhall.
Derry is a wonderful city. I should have booked more time here5, but I’m off to Belfast tomorrow. If you’re coming to Ireland, though, I recommend a visit here. Despite the war-torn history, the city is welcoming, friendly, and beautiful, and reaching towards a lasting and inclusive peace.
- And I have to just interject at this point that, even though I knew that the accent and dialect would be a little different in Northern Ireland, I am startled at how much different – and more Scottish to my ear – it is here. We just don’t get that kind of variation in Canada. [↩]
- Though the roots stretch farther back than that, and the effects reach forward to this day. [↩]
- Including someone wearing a Miskatonic University shirt, which warmed my betentacled heart. [↩]
- Among its other names, Derry/Londonderry is also called the Maiden City, because after three sieges, it’s walls were still unbreached. [↩]
- Of course, I could easily have spent more time in every place I’ve been on this trip. [↩]