Recap: Legend... (wait for it) ...Derry
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Program Semester and Year
LC students were back in action on Monday or at least those of us who weren’t coughing, sneezing, and blowing our noses. That’s right, the plague has come. Nonetheless, everyone has been optimistic about our travels.
On Thursday we took a mini trip to the James Joyce Tower where we enjoyed the once in a lifetime opportunity of reading Ulysses in the same tower that Joyce wrote it. The following morning we departed early for Belfast in the North. After struggling against the wind to get back on the bus, we met up with our first West Belfast tour guide, a Nationalist who was a prisoner for 18 years after he attempted to kill a loyalist soldier during the Troubles. The Troubles (which lasted from the late 1960s to the late 1990s) was a period of violence between Protestants who wanted to be loyal to the British empire and Catholics who wanted to be part of the Republic of Ireland. As you can imagine, there remain lasting effects even though a peace treaty was signed in 1994. Northern Ireland, as we discovered, is extremely divided. In West Belfast, you can see the physical manifestation of this because there is a literal partition dividing the Protestant Unionists and the Catholic Nationalists. The gates between the two sides are closed at 7pm every single night and do not open until 7am the next morning. After hearing a hardcore Nationalist share his story and show us memorials for the nationalist lives lost, we were surprised to find that our next tour guide was a fierce Unionist who showed us memorials for Unionists who lost their lives during this period of violence. Though the two guides had fundamentally different beliefs about Northern Ireland identity, they both shared the same important sentiment: that nothing will be accomplished unless the partition is broken down and communication between these conflicting sides is initiated.
After buying lunch (using the British sterling pounds instead of euros!) we ended the day by visiting the incredible City Hall of Belfast and taking pictures in the chair of the Lord Mayor. The next morning we were up bright and early to walk along the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge. Remember how I was saying it was super windy? Apparently this much wind is not normal, and the bridge ended up being closed for fear of being too dangerous! The good news was that the rope bridge was right next to a Game of Thrones filming location and there was still much to explore (the wind and the cold may have tricked me into feeling like I was King of the north for just a moment). Next we visited yet another Game of Thrones location called the dark hedges (also known as the road to King’s Landing if you’re a GOT fan like me). This may sound like a fully eventful day, but that all happened before lunchtime! After a delicious beef stew, we arrived at Giant’s Causeway, an incredible scene of nature that was unfortunately swarming with tourists. I decided to get myself a little treat and a tea at the cafe using the change I had from the day before. When the cashier told me the price, I quickly realized I had no idea how to use the sterling pence pieces. I would like to file a formal complaint to the United Kingdom: the coins do not have a clear number written on them! Instead, the tiniest of fonts says the number around the edge of the coin. Luckily, the cashier offered to help me count out the coins and I have come to accept the fact that she very easily could have scammed me out of a few coins, but she seemed like a decent person and I trust that she didn’t.
Finally, we arrived in a place that has many names: Derry/Londonderry/Doire/Oak Grove. Our tour guide, Garvin, explained that it was originally called Doire from Irish which translates to Derry. However, when the British claimed Northern Ireland, it was renamed Londonderry. Though not as divided as West Belfast, it seems that your belief of the country translates to what you call this city: Unionists call it Londonderry while Nationalists prefer the name Derry. Some people try to avoid this conflict by calling it “Derry Londonderry”. However, Garvin provided us with a name that he said nobody can dispute: Legend-Derry.
He then gave an emotional walking tour of his hometown, his first stop being the 1-week old mural portraying the cast of a new Irish tv show called Derry Girls (which, surprisingly, is available on the American Netflix, but not on the Irish one). We also saw murals that had been painted during the troubles which showed the city’s painful history. Our day ended with a visit to the Museum of Free Derry, a museum created by the families of the victims of the Bloody Sunday Massacre. The museum was an incredibly thoughtful representation of the terrible acts committed by British soldiers on unarmed civilians in 1972 during an anti-internment march.
Though very tearful, my time in Derry was also enjoyable. I would highly recommend that others visit this culturally important and beautiful city; I assure you the experience will be Legend… (wait for it) …Derry.