Over the past ten months Laurie and I have traveled to seventeen countries on three continents. We have experienced the stories, the pain, and the aftermath of hate, bigotry, and war. Derry was another place that brought tears to my eyes. I could sense the new peace and yet so close to the surface I could feel the pain, and the anger. We all must be constantly vigilant, and oh so careful, not to let our passions and prejudices ignite into the flames of war.
I remember what the people of Ireland/Northern Ireland refer to as “The Troubles”. As a little boy I would watch the evening news and see the violence. As I grew older and the violence continued I had an over simplified view of the cause behind the hatred and the fighting. Catholics versus protestants, simple as that. I knew I that I could not be this close to Northern Ireland and not go.
The first thing that we did when our Áras Ghleann Cholm Cille host, Paul O’Hare, dropped us off in Derry was to head for the tourism office. Our timing was perfect as the afternoon walking city tour of Derry was just about to start. Our guide, Mr. John McNulty, did an excellent job of providing a balanced explanation of “The Troubles” and the situation in Northern Ireland today.
Our walking tour took us along the wall that circles Derry. Although we didn’t walk through the Bogside you could see several murals commemorating events or situations stemming from The Troubles. The most evocative mural, to me, is the one of a young girl wearing an emerald green pleated skirt, green tie, and a white long-sleeve blouse. The girl, Annette McGavigan was 14 and a student at St. Cecelia’s College. On September 7, 1971, she went with friends to collect the rubber bullets that littered the ground after riots. She was shot in the head while walking along the street.
“The Town I Loved So Well” is a song written by Phil Coulter about his childhood in Derry, Northern Ireland. The first three verses are about the simple lifestyle he grew up with in Derry, while the final two deal with the Troubles, and lament how his placid hometown had become a major military outpost, plagued with violence.
We walked through Peace Park and saw how contemporary issues continue to divide the city.
The ground is tiled with profound sayings from every school in the city!
We took several walks along the wall. Derry is the only remaining completely intact walled city in Ireland and one of the finest examples of Walled Cities in Europe. The Walls were built during the period 1613-1618 by the Irish Society as defenses for early seventeenth century settlers from England and Scotland.
After our first day exploring Derry/Londonderry we met up with our couch surfing host, Breda. The time we spent with Breda exemplifies why we love couch surfing. It really isn’t about sleeping for free on someone’s couch. Couch surfing, at its very core, provides the opportunity for cultural exchange and the creation of life long friendships. Breda, through the couchsurfing.com website had offered to host us for three nights. We stayed for seven! She showed us around her town and we took her to the Giant’s Causeway. She bought us drinks and I cooked her a curry. She gave us her bedroom, while she slept on a single futon, so we would be more comfortable. We talked for hours upon hours about every topic under the sun. Breda is one of our favorite people and we will be friends forever! All of this from simply offering to share a couch!!!
As we approached the end of our time with Breda we surprised her with tickets to travel up to visit the Giant’s Causeway. The Giant’s Causeway, renowned for its polygonal columns of layered basalt, is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland
The Giant’s Causeway is also steeped in myth and legend. Some say it was carved from the coast by the mighty giant, Finn McCool who left behind an ancient home full of folklore and clues of his existence – including The Giant’s Boot and Wishing Chair.