Catching up with the past in Derry

Derry, or Londonderry as it is also called depending on your political persuasion, is one of the oldest towns in Northern Ireland. Perhaps no city better exemplifies Ireland’s harsh past than this small town on the banks of the River Foyle, near the northern tip of the Emerald Isle.

Derry still has an unfortunate reputation for being a flashpoint during the recent Troubles, where ongoing tensions between Republicans and the Loyalist government often boiled over into full-scale violence.  During that time, particularly during the 1960s and 1970sd, Derry was the centre where the civil rights struggles, as epitomised by the Battle of the Bogside and the tragic Bloody Sunday being the most famous, made headlines around the world and brought attention to the plight of Northern Ireland’s Catholic population. There can be no doubt that these events may have shaped modern Derry, but the city represents more than just tragic consequences.

Derry is home to a thriving arts scene that has produced writers, philosophers, musicians and one of UK’s most famous (or infamous depending on who you ask) politicians. Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland represented half of a power sharing government, McGuiness personifies the violence and struggle of the city’s past along with the peace now being enjoyed all over Northern Ireland.    

Reminders of Derry’s past are dotted throughout the city in the form of memorials, museums and murals, seemingly always around the next corner. The shrill sound of tin whistles and the beating of the bodhrans can be heard coming out of the city’s traditional Irish pubs; and the Orange Men’s marching season whence supporters still march in their bowler hats  is a regular occurrence. While tensions still exist, the darkest days of “The Troubles” seem to be firmly buried. From an architectural point of view the city’s famous walls provide one Europe’s finest examples of a fortified city along with a fitting metaphor for the city and its inhabitants.

You can’t but help to get a feel for Derry when you seek to investigate its past. It should come as no surprise then that some of Derry’s best museums deal with its troubled history and there are no shortages of poignant memorials. One of the best is the Museum of Free Derry . The museum focuses on the civil rights struggles of the 1960’s and 70’s and will guide you, step by step, through the Battle of the Bogside and Bloody Sunday. The museum lets you view these events through the eyes of the people that lived through them. The Bloody Sunday Memorial, the Hunger Striker’s Memorial, and Free Derry Corner are other must-sees if you are interested in Derry’s role in Northern Ireland’s darker days.

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