Day 5 saw us waving goodbye to Galway as we headed on our longest drive of the trip, a four hour ride to Londonderry/Derry.
To break up the drive a bit, our trip leader added in a couple of surprise stops along the way. First we got to stop at the cemetery where the famous Irish poet W. B. Yeats was buried. His grave is right by the mountain, Ben Bulben, which Yeats wrote a poem about. A line from that poem, “Under Ben Bulben,” is even quoted on his grave, tying it all neatly together.
Ben Bulben mountain:
From there, we made a stop for lunch in Donegal, where we had more fish and chips, and then continued on to cross the border from the Republic of Ireland into Northern Ireland, where we would spend the next couple days.
Our first stop in Northern Ireland was Londonderry/Derry (it has a different name depending on who you’re talking with… and people will correct you). Our time in Londonderry/Derry started out with a walking tour of the city, during which we learned a lot about the fascinating, horrifying, and very recent history of the city and its divisions. In particular, we learned about a period of time in the city’s recent history known as “the Troubles”. Essentially, and this is a very oversimplified version of the conflict, the disputes have been between Irish nationalists (those who want the city to be a part of the Republic of Ireland) and unionists (those who want the city to maintain its ties to the United Kingdom). All too often, the conflict spread from between the two sides and civilians were harmed or killed.The city has been at peace in recent years, but evidence of the conflicts is still evident everywhere. The debate around the name of the city itself is still ongoing (unionists want Londonderry, to signify its connection with London, and nationalists want Derry, for the opposite purpose). The consequences of the the Troubles, and the effect that they continue to have on people’s lives, is especially prevalent in the murals all around the city.
Some of the murals and remaining signage around the city – a unionist’s sign, declaring No Surrender from Londonderry side Loyalists:
An Irish nationalist sign, declaring a free Derry:
“The Runner” mural, depicting youths running from a can of tear gas. The two small pictures at the bottom of the mural are young boys who died during the Troubles.
The Irish nationalists also tended to be Catholic, whereas the unionists tended to be Protestant, and the so the two were often pitted against one another. Our tour guide, however, was a Buddhist – as he joked, the city is about 70% Catholic, 30% Protestant, and one Buddhist. This background seemed to give him a really interesting viewpoint on the issues, and throughout the walking tour, he covered both side’s arguments, validity, and his thoughts on how best to maintain the recent peace between the warring sides (his thoughts: the key to peace is education). This walking tour was definitely one of my favourite parts of the entire Ireland trip.
View of the city:
We finished off the day in Londonderry/Derry with dinner and, randomly enough, bowling, before heading back to the hotel for the night.