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October 2021 - Derry - Day 4

This morning Karen was feeling no better and if anything, slightly worse despite having a long, good night’s sleep. She said that she was so fed up feeling rough that she just wanted to go home now. I looked at changing our flights, but the cost was over £600 which even she said wasn’t worth it for 24 hours. Instead I cancelled our booking for tonight in Derry and make a new booking at a Premier Inn back at Dublin airport. We thought we would do the drive later today rather than very early tomorrow morning meaning that Karen could get more rest overnight. Our plan had also been to drive into Portrush for the morning but what we had seen the previous night decided to give that a miss so that we could still visit Derry.

As the only guests in the All Seasons B&B, unsurprisingly we were the only ones in breakfast. The food options were plentiful, and the hot food was cooked to order. We were packed up and in the car for 10am and made our way across country to Derry.

I have decided to refer to the place we visited as Derry. When I was younger, I did wonder if that Derry and Londonderry were separate places, which shows how much I knew. It was originally called Derry but renamed by King James in 1613 as Londonderry. Since the troubles this has been a source of discontent. When the nationalists won control of the council in the 1980’s they renamed the council as Derry City Council and have been trying to change the name of the City itself, something apparently only the Queen can do. Since then, it has been known and referred to by both names. In fact, it is sometimes called the Stroke City as people refer to it as Londonderry/Derry. It is also known as the Walled City (for obvious reasons) and the Maiden City (Its walls have never been breached). The BBC have swerved the issue entirely calling their local radio station as BBC Radio Foyle after the river that runs through the City. Personally, I think it should be whatever the people live here want, and as the vast majority are nationalists I support the name Derry with them.

As we arrived our first impressions of the City were favourable, especially as parking on a Sunday was free. We parked next to the City Hall and walked out onto the relatively newly constructed Peace Bridge. This was impressive and busy with people strolling across. It was deliberately built with a wave in it to show that the road to Peace is never straightforward. The bridge links the main city with the parts into which it has extended. It was pleasing to learn that that the people who live there are roughly split 50/50 Catholic/Protestant’s and live-in harmony together as they should do.

After walking over the bridge we wandered to the meeting point to the walking tour we planned to do. Although not free, but we thought the £4pp was reasonable. There were about a dozen other people waiting for the tour when we arrived, but I had time to grab a takeaway coffee to try and keep Karen going whilst we waited.

Our tour guide was Garvan. He seemed to know every local that passed by. He was a local who had lived here through all the troubles (as a postman). He spoke with pride and love for his City and was passionate about explaining all of the history. As a typical Irish he had plenty of chit chat and in-between told us of all the ‘stars’ who had been on his tour at various times. We learnt about the Derry Girls TV series that is obviously based and filmed here as well along with how covid had impacted the City.

The tour essentially just took us around the impressive and complete City Walls. The background to the wall itself was fascinating but sadly of course much of the tour talked about the troubles that took place here.

The first thing we saw was the enclave of the 3% loyalists that still live in the centre. The 2 rows of houses are still surrounded by 30-foot fences. They fly flags from every lamppost and have painted the kerbs red/white and blue. It didn’t look loyalist to me, instead I felt it looked sad and embarrassing. I almost felt ashamed for them.

My feelings were made worse when Garvan described how internment operated at that time (and applied to both sides). Again, this had gone over my head at the time, but people could be imprisoned with no charge or trial or recourse, simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This led to protest marches against the policy, and it was one such march which led to Bloody Sunday that took place on the Bogside, next to the walls. This area of housing was where the Catholics lived. It was sobering looking down on where it happened. Now it must have been terrifying for the young British Army lads to be confronted with an angry mob who had just had their marching route blocked but as the then Prime Minister David Cameron said in Parliament at the end of a 12 year independent enquiry of the whole day back in 1972 (held at Derry City Hall) – ‘We cannot justify the unjustifiable’. Things obviously got badly out of hand leading to many sad deaths and being a catalyst to all events that followed.

There were very few national flags flying now in this area and although there were still many murals but they depicted the history and were not provocative as such.

At the end of the tour, Karen & I walked down into Bogside itself to see the famous Free Derry sign and find the Bloody Sunday memorial. Karen was a bit weary to do so initially but there were other people doing the same and we were just paying our respects.

By now we were hungry and thirsty. We wandered and found a Caffe Nero for more free hot drinks before wandering into M&S to get some sandwiches which we ate on a bench outside.

There was time for a quick look round the City Hall itself and then the eternal Peace Flame before getting back into the car for the long drive back to Dublin. And it was a long drive, all 3 ½ hours of it. Karen slept most of it. When we crossed the border, there were ‘patriotic’ flags in each town either side of the border which just annoyed me again. The whole issue needs to be resolved politically but antagonising each other will not resolve anything.

We found the Premier Inn easily enough. Karen wanted something quick and easy to eat so we grabbed a MacDonald’s and took it back with us. After she had watched the Strictly results show she soon fell fast asleep in bed. Whatever virus she has is really knocking her for six at the moment. We are still convinced it is not Covid as her symptoms are different to those listed but she will do another test when we get home tomorrow.

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