Hopped a train from Dublin to Derry — aka Londonderry, though not really to the locals.
Fascinating place — I simply loved it. My [work] goal for this trip has been to scout out some of the locations in the series I am working on right now, especially those places that I have never seen. I’m also re-visiting a number of locales to confirm details and so on, but I’ve never been to Northern Ireland, so Derry was completely new to me.
So, SO glad I came.
I’d thought to locate one significant element of the larger storyline in the North, but wasn’t sure if Belfast might be best. One look at this walled city, though, and I knew I’d found the right place.
I was really only in Derry for a single full day, so I spent the morning walking the walls of this ancient city. Originally founded by a monk [St. Columba — famous around these parts] in an oak grove, which in Gaelic is called a ‘daire‘. In its dynastic history, the city has been held to siege at least twice, burned to the ground and re-built, and the site of many of the 20th century Troubles. After one of the burnings, [which will be, a week from today, exactly 400 years ago], the crown came in to rebuild, and re-christened the place Londonderry. Judging by the lack of celebration of this auspicious event, it’s safe to say the name never really caught on with many of the locals…
After walking the walls, I did a bridge walk, crossing the three main bridges that span the Foyle river and circling the outer part of the city. It was my longest walk of the trip so far, and took more than three hours on top of the wall-traipsing in the early part of the day.
I took pictures of the bogside of the city, walked through the waterside, circled local parks — the works. Pretty sure I’d seen it all. Back to my guest house, where I discovered that the two things open in Derry on a Sunday are the churches and the bars — the one below my window stayed open, alive with karaoke versions of Flashdance and hot Tom Jones tunes until well into Monday. Unforgettable!
My last morning, as I was gathering my notes and receipts together, I remembered that I’d seen a tour of the Bogside being offered. I dug through my stuff and found the information. To go meant I’d have to take a much later train to Belfast. Hemmed and hawed a bit, not sure if it was a good decision… and went, of course. Meeting place was in front of the newly refurbished Guildhall. This is what I found inside:
When I hunted down the fellow that gives the tour, though, it turned out I was the only one who had showed up for the day. Even so, he didn’t turn me away. Off we went, together.
As we walked, I learned a little more. My guide, Gleann, was no ordinary Derryman. In fact, I had ended up on a private tour of the Bogside of Derry, given by a man with a binder full of photos from Bloody Sunday, 1972.
A man whose own father, Paddy Doherty, had been shot in the back that day, when he himself was just 8 months old. Who carried the pictures of his father being gunned down, unarmed, on arguably the worst day of the Troubles. Who took me to the very spots where thirteen men, seven of them teenagers, all of them unarmed, died that day. The most recent inquiry into events, conducted by Lord Saville took 12 years to complete, and found the actions of that day completely ‘unjustified and unjustifiable’.
An incredible day, one I will never forget. Thank you, Gleann Doherty, for sharing the history of your family and your city with me. Days like this one bring invaluable insights that strengthen my research immeasurably, and my story — I hope — will be the better for it.