Ireland & Northern Ireland
April 3, 2007
Derry to Belfast
President: Glenn "Wally" Faunce
2923-E Olney-Sandy Spring
Olney, MD 20832
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Derry City Walls
The Derry City Walls
In The Evening
Of Free Derry - Bloody Sunday Museum
I woke up about 8:00 AM and got ready for the day. I can tell I’m not going to get much sleep on this trip. We had a tour set up with Michael Cooper who is one of the few tour operators Blue Badge Certified by Ireland. We left the hotel looking for someplace to eat and found the Grianan Caifé that served us a full Irish Breakfast for less than 5 Pounds. Matt is wondering why you only get one egg with your Irish breakfasts. He’s sure it has some sort of deep meaning.
After breakfast we went back to Travelodge to check out of the hotel and wait for Michael whom we were supposed to meet at 10:00 in the lobby. The Travelodge doesn’t have its own parking but is connected to a pay parking garage. For the 24 hours or so we were parked there it cost us 16.50 Pounds. Michael showed up on time and asked us what we wanted to hear about. He is fully versed on the area and you can set up a trip about any subject. Having seen all about “The Troubles” growing up that was our choice. He’s very well versed on this time period and gave us a fantastic tour. He tries to present both sides and explained it really wasn’t a religious problem. It was more of a land/voting/civil rights problem. Derry was one of the few cities in the north where Catholics outnumbered the Protestants but voting rights were based on home ownership. Catholics were forced to live in one area, the Bogside Area, and only had 4 representatives in the local government. They could not build any more housing in the Bogside and there would be four or more families living in one home. All of those people living in that home only got one home. The Protestants though lived in a few areas that could expand and add housing. Each area had four representatives so the Protestants always outnumbered the Catholics in city voting 8-4.
The IRA thought they could force the British/Protestants out by economic means. That’s how all the bombing occurred in Derry. The IRA thought they could make it economically not feasible by blowing places up and then the British would have to rebuild. This had a reverse effect though because they were blowing up places and blowing up jobs. The Catholics didn’t support the IRA at that time. The results were that 75% of buildings in the walled section of Derry were bombed and 25% completely destroyed.
We walked from our hotel to the area of where the infamous “Bloody Sunday” Massacre happened. The area is full of murals that depict the victims and scenes of the past. They are quite moving. We also saw the monument to Bloody Sunday and the famous “You Are Now Entering Free Derry” sign. The Catholic area basically ran itself for quite awhile as a separate country almost from the rest of Northern Ireland. They even had there own postal system which we saw letters that were addressed to Free Derry. The city goes by Derry and Londonderry even today. Signs in the Republic of Ireland read Derry but the signs in Northern Ireland read Londonderry. Michael pointed out areas where people had been killed, British observation posts of the area (which are now being torn down) and many other interesting spots.
Bloody Sunday was just a horrific culmination of many factors that ended in fourteen dead. We got to meet the brother of one of the dead at the Museum Of Free Derry/Bloody Sunday Museum that was just opened in February. It is one of the most touching small museums I have ever visited. The tour was supposed to last about 1.5 hours but Michael saw we were really into what he was saying and talked to us for about 2 hours. The cost for Matt and I for the tour was 20 Pound total and well worth it. We really had few questions for him because he covered the subject so well.
We enjoyed the tour so much that it got to be a theme for the rest of the trip. Michael gave us the name of a tour company in Belfast called Coiste Political Tours which runs tours with the help of people who were once political prisoners or related to political prisoners and we ended up going on a tour in Dublin describing the 1916 Rebellion.
After we said our goodbyes to Michael we decided that we were parched. We made our way to the Bogside Inn about 50 yards from the “You Are Now Entering Free Derry” sign. All the pubs here are almost like museums themselves. They almost all have photos of “The Troubles”. The Bogside Inn was about as close as you could be to being right in the middle of everything when it came to marches, demonstrations and violence in Derry.
The town was just a confusing terrifying place up until the last 10 years. I truly liked Derry and wish we had more time to spend there. I will definitely suggest Derry as a place to visit. Beside the history of “The Troubles” it still has many other sites including the still completely walled city center. These walls are hundreds of years old and in very good condition.
After our pint at the Bogside Inn we went back to the Museum Of Free Derry/Bloody Sunday Museum. It is located on the spot where the man running the museum brother was killed during Bloody Sunday. Mr. Kelly told us that he was 23 at the time and his brother was 17 years old on January 30, 1972 when he lost his life. Mr. Kelly was 30 feet away from his brother that day when he was shot but never knew until later that he had been killed.
The museum does a good job of giving you a lead up to that day and has a recording that was made that day playing in the background. There is a video tape that plays also, towards the end of the museum. They have a couple of computers you can access that has files of photos, flyers, recordings and video of the times.
Mr. Kelly is running throughout the museum making sure that everyone in the museum is getting any questions they may have answered. You can tell this is very personal with him. It must be very hard for him to have to relive that day everyday now including seeing the photo of his brother lying dead in the street that is right outside the museum. He came up to Matt and I a few times and explained a few exhibits like the one of one of the victims jackets that had bullet holes that entered under on arm pit and exited out the back. The theory is this person had his hands up in the air when he was shot which is why the entry wound is under the armpit. The most frightening thing of all was when he came up to us to show us the two types of rubber bullets used. They are huge. They were a little smaller than a can of Red Bull. They were designed to be shot in the ground so they would break apart and disable people. But the British would shoot them straight into the crowds.
This is a fine museum and should not be missed. When we left the museum we made our way towards the city center so that we could cash some traveler’s checks. We stopped to have a pint of Guinness at Peadar O’Donnell’s. Michael suggested this pub if we wanted to get into a political discussion. Unfortunately it was a little early and there were not that many people in the pub so we had our pint and left. We entered the walled part of the city through the Castle Gate. Once we cashed some traveler’s checks at the bank we made our way to the Diamond which is in the middle of the walled section of the city. There is a monument there for the war dead of Derry from World War I.
In the Diamond is a restaurant/pub the Wetherford where we had lunch. The had a special of two entrees for 6.95 pound as opposed to about 4.25 pounds each. I had fish and chips and Matt had lamb. After lunch we started towards the Derry Tourist Information Center but stopped near the Ferryquay Gate for a pint at the Anchor Inn. It looked like a traditional pub from the outside but had been painted inside with all kinds of sea scenes that covered the entirety of the walls and ceiling. Matt looked around for awhile and thought it was ironic that even thought it was called the Anchor Inn we didn’t see one anchor. We finally did spot one later well above the entrance hidden behind some other seafaring items. We finally made it to the Derry Tourist Information Center and found our friend Michael Cooper again. He works in the Center. Luckily for us he had a map of Belfast and had just stayed at the same hotel we were tonight, The Days Hotel. He gave us some information on some road construction in Belfast and showed us where the hotel was on the map.
We made our way back towards the hotel to get the car and had one more pint at Beckett’s. We struck up a conversation with the bartender. Everyone is friendly as can be and it seems they are all very thankful to have a normalcy to their lives again and even getting tourists to visit the city. From Beckett’s we made our way towards the Guildhall near the Shipquay and Magazine Gate of the walled section of the city. There are a bunch of plaques and monuments in this area including one called “The Immigrants”. Derry was famous as a shipping off point for immigration to the United States. The monument has a family of four walking away from their grandparents as if they were walking to their ship to leave for America. Two more blocks and we got to the hotel and paid for our parking. We were off to Belfast at last.
The roads are nicer in the north as we were told and it took us about 1.5 hours to get to Belfast. Getting to Belfast was the easy part, getting to the hotel was another thing. Michael had given us directions and warned us about the construction. The construction though kind of comes up at you real quick and I went by our stop as I just couldn’t figure out how to get off the highway. We drove down to the next stop and turned around and made it into the city this time. Our next problem was the one way streets in Belfast and the lack of signage in the city. We finally narrowed down where we were when I spotted City Hall. Doing some backtracking, then some looping around one way streets, we finally arrived at the Days Hotel. It is a Days Inn run hotel but it is probably the nicest Days Inn Hotel I’ve ever seen. We made it to our room but only stayed awhile since it was getting late and we would have liked to get something to eat. It ended up being too late for that as most of the pub kitchens closed at about 9:00 PM. We wandered around aimlessly for a while through a bunch of Chinese restaurants and finally found a pub, Lavery’s. They were closed for food but we had a pint then made our way back towards our hotel up Queen Victoria Street.
We stopped at two beautiful old pubs on the other side of our hotel, Robinson’s and the famous Crown Liquor Pub. Robinson’s basically has a museum of Titanic pictures and memorabilia. The Titanic was built in Belfast. The Crown Liquor Pub and Saloon is where my friend Jerry proposed to his wife Kathy. I promised to take some photos of the pub for him. We had one more pint for the evening at a more modern pub, The Beaten Docket, before heading home……hungry. Tomorrow we will head north of Belfast to explore the Giants Causeway area.
Continue to Giant's Causeway - Antrim Coast - April 4, 2007
Return To Galway To Derry - April 2, 2007