We have visited Ireland, North and South, five times and never once have we experienced bad weather. Kim refuses to believe the stories about how wet it can be.
It was a beautiful morning, the sky was blue and the sun was shining. As I mentioned before we were staying in the Nationalist Bogside area of the city which has a controversial and unhappy past. It was peaceful enough this fine morning but has had a recent bloody and violent contribution to the Troubles. Indeed some historians identify Londonderry/Derry/Stroke City as being the very crucible of the bloody civil war.
In the 1960s Catholic Derry considered itself to be suffering religious and political persecution (quite rightly as it turns out) and the city became the flashpoint of disputes about institutional discrimination. Despite having a nationalist majority the city was permanently controlled by unionists due to the partisan drawing of electoral boundaries. In addition the city had very high unemployment levels and very poor housing. Overcrowding in nationalist areas was widely blamed on the political agenda of the Unionist government, who wanted to confine Catholics to a small number of electoral wards to effectively restrict their influence.
In August 1969 following the annual Protestant Apprentice Boys Parade Nationalists clashed with police in an incident remembered now as ‘The Battle of the Bogside’ which directly led to widespread civil disorder in Northern Ireland and the intervention of the British Army.
Worse was to come on Sunday January 30th 1972 when during a Catholic civil rights march thirteen unarmed civilians were shot dead by British paratroopers, another thirteen were wounded and one further man later died of his wounds. This event came to be known as ‘Bloody Sunday’.
This incident remains an open wound between the two factions and the British Army but the current official verdict was delivered by the Saville Commission which was published in June 2010.
The report concluded, “The firing by soldiers on Bloody Sunday caused the deaths of 13 people and injury to a similar number, none of whom was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury.” Saville stated that British paratroopers “lost control” fatally shooting fleeing civilians. The report states, contrary to the previously established belief that no stones and no petrol bombs were thrown by civilians before British soldiers shot at them and that the civilians were not posing any threat.” Not the British Army’s finest hour!
Just outside the city walls and only a short walk from our guest house was the very place where the Bloody Sunday confrontation took place so walked down the hill from the fortress walls and saw three famous monuments, ‘You Are Entering Free Derry’, a message painted on the gable end of a row of terraced houses, long since demolished, the Bloody Sunday memorial itself and a third monument remembering the Maze prison notorious now for internment without trial, hunger strikes and the death place of the most famous hunger striker of all, Bobby Sands.
There are guided tours of the Bogside but we chose to do this by ourselves and although it felt quite safe on the busy main road I do admit to becoming uneasy whenever we strayed into the side streets where signs invited the British to ‘Get Out Now’ and others encouraged local people to join the IRA.
We weren’t put off by this however because we wanted to see the murals, works of urban art really. These were less political statements but a visual telling of the story of the Bogside troubles. The political statements were there too but these were smaller information boards which told a sectarian and I have ro say a very one sided story.
I am glad that I walked down to see this but after thirty minutes or so I was happy to leave and walk back now to our car, pack our bags and head east for a drive along the Causeway Coast.