After delving into The Troubles with a Black Cab Tour in Belfast, we continued our travels in Northern Ireland with a stop in the small, charming town of Derry. Or is it Londonderry? From the moment we left Belfast, we began seeing roadsigns pointing to “Londonderry”, but nearly every one had been spray-painted over to simply read “derry” instead. Even to this day, the name of the city, Northern Ireland’s second largest, remains a topic of intense debate and contention.
It may seem silly to us to fight about a name of a city, but in this case the name of the city represents far more to the people that call Londonderry/Derry home. During the Troubles the name was a shibboleth that acted to associate a speaker with the side of the religious/political divide they fell into.
During this period, the city was the location of some of the most violent clashes anywhere in the British Isles. Undoubtedly the most famous of these was “Bloody Sunday”. On January 20, 1972 in the Bogside neighbourhood of the city, 26 civil rights protesters and bystanders were shot by British Army soldiers – 13 of whom died immediately (one protester also died four months later). Derry was one of the hardest hit cities in terms of violence, and it is a testament to the character and effort of the people that it has recovered so dramatically.
Thankfully, since the end of The Troubles, Londonderry has transformed itself into a city known for its famous city walls, gorgeous riverside location, and colourful old town complete with hundreds of peace murals.
On our first day in the city, we decided to take the highly recommended walking tour of the city walls, and braved the rain to find the meeting point. Apparently we were the only ones stupid enough to take the tour in the absolute pouring rain, but we quickly realized we had made the right choice. Our guide, a native of Derry who had lived through The Troubles, regaled us with both hilarious and horrifying tales of what the city and her people went through for nearly 30 years.
We spent the majority of the tour circling the city on the top of the city’s 17th century walls – the only still intact example on the entire island. These city walls were never breached, and are easily the most prominent feature in the city. They also provide amazing views over the various neighbourhoods of London/derry, the countless murals commemorating the events of the Troubles, and the River Foyle.
Although our time in Londonderry/Derry was short, just one full day before moving on to Dublin, and the weather prevented us from spending more than a few hours exploring the city by foot, we really enjoyed what we were able to see and agree that Derry has enough to keep visitors busy for a couple days, more if you enjoy people watching with a hot cuppa and freshly prepared scone. The city also appears to have plenty of charming little shops that we would have loved to explore had our visit not fallen on a Sunday (poor planning on our part).
Logistics: The tour we went on was the Martin McCrossan City Tour. This is perhaps the best value tour we have ever been on, costing just 4 GBP per person – and includes a free tea or coffee at the end of the tour! Tours run 4 times a day every day of the week. Our guide was amazingly knowledgeable about the city, and you could see the pride he had in his city when the tears welled up in his eyes while speaking about how far the city had come. Definitely a must-do if you are there!