As we ate our proper Irish breakfast in the small dining room of our B&B, I struck up a conversation with the woman who had come and cooked for us. While I am always happy to share my story, I love talking to people , learning their life as well. She started telling us rather tenuously about her family’s life during “The Troubles.” She recalled the Sunday morning of “Bloody Sunday” when she was a wee girl. Her older brother had set out for the center of town and he never came home again. Tears filled her eyes as she remember that adored older brother. She was careful not to say negative things about the English and always to call the history of Derry using “The Troubles” She remembered the pain and tears of her mum at losing her oldest son. This was our introduction to the life of the Irish Catholics in Derry.
As we prepared to go back into town , she strongly suggested that we take the bus tour to hear more history and visit a special place outside the wall. David, who shuns those tours usually , was curious and agreed.
We learned about the Tower Museum and the beautiful Guild Hall, but it was when we headed to the Bogside that the powerful story of Derry began for us. Here was the ghetto where the poor and disenfranchised Catholics had live at the time “The Trouble” began.
The guide, who was recounting Derry’s history, was a proper Irish storyteller. His words and stories quickly brought tears to my eyes. We were sitting on the top of the double decker bus and he could see my emotion. He told of the beginning of “The Troubles” in August 1969 when there was a multi-day riot in the Bogside , the cramped Catholic housing project, that lead to 3 years of autonomous rule called “Free Derry” which is shown in the opening sketch.
Then on January 30,1972 the Bogside Massacre or Bloody Sunday took place. Twenty-six bystanders were shot and killed by the soldiers of the British Army who by now had to called to get the situation in Derry under control. The guide told us we were on our way to see the murals that had been painted on the side of the projects to “always remember” that tragic day. One is the picture is of a 14 year old girl who had stepped into her back garden and was gunned down with a shot to her forehead. You will see her in the video below. By now, I was very emotional and asked my husband why we didn’t know about all this in America? He said, “Well Anne, there was lots we were dealing with in the US during the 60s and early 70s.”
Arriving in Free Derry. the bus slowly drove through so the passengers could see the history in the murals.
Today, the Bogside, low income housing project has been redeveloped, the original murals have been cleaned and restored, and some new murals with the “peace” theme rather than the struggles through fighting and death are pictured. But this is still a place for Civil Rights pilgrims to visit, remember,and be inspired.
What did those long ago Catholic residents want that forced them to lay down their lives? Sadly, the list is familiar: they wanted one vote for one man and not the forced groups the English had formed. England was afraid of losing Derry because there were many more Irish Catholics in Derry than Irish Protestants. The majority wanted better housing and better jobs. Sound familiar? England didn’t want to lose power. That too sounds familiar today !
That night as we were walking back to our B&B, one of the friendly Irishmen stopped us. He thanked us for visiting and wanted to know if we had enjoyed his city! We enthusiastically answered in the affirmative. He asked one favor. He wanted us to encourage other travelers to visit and learn in Derry about her history and thus the history of us all . . . . the desire and need by people everywhere for self-determination.
I have told people who have planned a trip to Ireland but today I feel I am truly fulfilling this promise .
A visit to Derry will change your life!
Here is the song and video where U2 has commemorated “Bloody Sunday” . This Irish band known for its deep faith and love of Ireland has many political songs, but this is at the top of their list as most political.
I would love to hear your reaction to the history of the Bogside in Derry !