The city of Derry is a wonderful old castle town. Our guesthouse is right outside the walled city center. You can easily hop up along the walls and look out across the beautiful city. I hope I can go on a run along the castle walls sometime while we are up here. In fact the first thing we did was go on a tour of the castle walls. We were able to learn the history of the city of Derrys as well as the Siege of Derry which took place in 1688 and 89. I’ll cover a little bit of this now, but like all our days we learn far too much to put into a few short paragraphs so I’ll try to be brief.
There was turmoil and strife in the land of Ireland, seems to the rule rather than the exception in this country. The conflict between the Catholic King James and his Son in Law King Billie has been spreading across Ireland. A Catholic army of Scottish Redshanks was approaching Derry and the town debated on weather to allow the army into the city or to keep them out. While in this debate 13 apprentice boys took matters into their own hands and ran around the city shutting and locking the gates. While the siege continued war fell across the rest of the country. James fled from the throne and William and his wife were declared King and Queen. With all the turmoil no relief or reinforcements could be sent to the besieged or the attackers. Finally on the 21st of March 1989 a fleet of protestant ships were able to arrive and break the siege of Derry. The apprentice boys are celebrated every year since then by marching around the castle walls and into the city. This use to cause a large amount of conflict as the order of the apprentice boys would proceed to get very hammered and then wander through the catholic neighborhoods beating Catholics and destroying property in the name of a grand ol time. In recent years there has been a peace and agreement between the two sides over this march. They are still allowed to march as long as they remain respectful to the people and property of Derry.
From here we headed down to the Bogside area to meet with our second guide Paul Doherty. Gleann Doherty is his younger brother who had guided us around the walls of Derry that morning. Both of them have a very personal history with the troubles and specifically Bloody Sunday. Their father Patrick Doherty was one of the fourteen men and boys who were shot and killed by the British Armed Forces on Bloody Sunday. If this was any indication of the rest of the day it would be a very personal and emotionally tolling day. The tour took us around the streets of Bogside stopping at each point where someone was murdered, pictures shown and descriptions on how it happened. Standing there on the quiet streets, just a five-minute walk from our guesthouse, it seemed impossible that all this had happened.
These murals dot the streets around Bogside, powerful testament to images captured during this time. Throughout the walk I was still most drawn to the strength of Paul. We stood at the exact spot where Solider F knelt and shot Paul’s father in the back. It was then that Paul told us that he had no hatred for solider F. His hatred was directed towards the government that condemned and awarded the actions of these soldiers. He would rather see solider F behind bars then buried in the ground. This really moved me as it showed how much has changed in the past 30 years. Paul and Gleann could have given into the hatred and the anger and joined with the IRA like many youth of the era had. They could have locked up and boiled a deep-rooted hatred inside of them till the end of their lives. Instead they have found a way to cope by educating and teaching the likes of us. That’s what this country needs to heal. To end the cycle of hatred and revenge and instead teach the history, to avoid a repetition of the past.
As we traveled around it became more and more evident how personal this conflict truly was. This is a theme I keep coming back to throughout all of my posts. When learning of these events it never really clicks that this wasn’t just Catholics vs Protestants, those oppressed vs the government. These were a people with a strong strength of community who came together to protect the people they loved and their way of life. Every few minutes we walked around with Paul someone walking by would say a quick hello to him, someone would honk and wave from a car. Everyone seemed connected, because this was all of their history. The Free Derry wall has been a symbol for this city since it was first graffitied on by a group of bored teenagers back in 1969. As I am typing this, one of those original teenagers is sitting across the window from me smoking a cigarette outside Peadar O’donnals Bar. He was the one who told us that it wasn’t some grand message, they had been drinking and figured it would be a fun thing to do. They had no clue what an important part of history it would become.
Read this letter. Seriously right now, before you read another sentence of this blog read it.
Alright you done reading it? You in shock, horrified, saddened, in a sense of disbelief? As I read this yesterday I couldn’t believe it, part of me is still in disbelief. It seemed fake, unreal that this much raw hatred exists. We all have heard of hate crimes, of racism, of acts of murder in the name of hatred. Yet it seems all distant to me. Something I never have truly experience. Reading this was the closest I have ever been to this hatred. It was shocking. I sat by that letter for thirty minutes watching the reactions of the people who read it. Gasping, whispered “Oh my God” tears building up in the wells of their eyes. This was the final push for me to truly connect with the Irish troubles. Monsters exist in this world, and Ireland still has plenty of their share. Despite this hatred though they have begun to rise from the ashes and come together and that is truly powerful.
It was here at this monument erected in memory of those that we heard the biggest message for hope. Paul Doherty told a story of a concert that took place last year. This show had a bunch of big name bands and drew a huge crowd of youth and adults into the Derry area. It took place at what was once the main British Barracks of the area, the same Barracks where the events for Bloody Sunday were planned. The last performance of the three-day festival was Bruno Mars singing “Just the Way You Are”. While he watched the videos and pictures of his daughters laughing and dancing to the song he realized how much had changed. Despite all the history and the struggle, here they were having the time of their life, where such tragedy happened all that time ago. Derry and Ireland has seen so much pain, but there is hope. Things are getting better, people are working together for peace. No it’s not over, there still needs to be healing, but Ireland is well on the way. After all it’s why we are here, why we came to this beautiful land. Its amazing, just the way it is.