TRAVEL

PAMELA WADE DIS­COV­ERS DERRY IS A CITY STEEPED IN HIS­TORY

New Zealand Woman’s Weekly - - CONTENTS -

It’s an odd thing, to ar­rive in a city and not know what to call it. Derry? Lon­don­derry? Derry/Lon­don­derry? Each op­tion is so steeped in po­lit­i­cal and re­li­gious res­o­nance that for many it feels eas­ier to use the neu­tral nick­name of Stroke City.

Sprawled across the mouth of the River Foyle in North­ern Ire­land, it’s a city with a long and event­ful his­tory, right up to the re­cent past of The Trou­bles, when Catholic na­tion­al­ists were in pitched bat­tle against union­ist Protes­tants.

One of the best ways to get a han­dle on it all is to take a guided walk around the city walls, which are unique in be­ing still com­plete af­ter more than 400 years and de­spite a siege in 1689 that lasted 105 days. From here it’s all vis­i­ble − the cathe­dral, can­nons, the im­pres­sive Guild­hall, the river, the el­e­gant mod­ern Peace Bridge, the city and sub­urbs, and all of it steeped in sto­ries.

To the west, rows of ter­raced houses look neat and tidy − but this is the Catholic sub­urb of Bog­side. It’s where some of the most vi­o­lent events dur­ing The Trou­bles took place, in­clud­ing the Bat­tle of Bog­side in 1969 and Bloody Sun­day in 1972.

On the end walls of the ter­races colour­ful mu­rals make strong and very vis­i­ble state­ments. On a bus tour through here, the guide points out the Peace Walls be­tween the Catholic and Protes­tant sub­urbs. They are cov­ered in slo­gans and tagged sym­bols as high as

peo­ple can reach, but that is scarcely a quar­ter of their to­tal height, a tow­er­ing eight me­tres. At night, the gates are still locked, our guide tells us.

We are shocked, be­cause com­ing into the city across the river the first thing we saw was the Hands Across the Di­vide statue, with two men reach­ing over a wall to­wards each other.

The city is peace­ful now, and no-one wants to re­turn to those days. Cer­tainly, ev­ery­one we meet is keen to put it all be­hind them, but the big new mu­ral be­side the city wall of the cur­rent, and bril­liant, Net­flix se­ries Derry Girls is proof that The Trou­bles are still a part of ev­ery­one’s per­sonal his­tory.

It’s an an­cient land, but not all of Ire­land’s his­tory is vi­o­lent. Driv­ing away from the city, we pass through green coun­try­side on the way to the coast. There, perched dra­mat­i­cally on the edge of a cliff, are the pretty ru­ins of me­dieval Dun­luce Cas­tle. There’s been a cas­tle here for 800 years, but even that is only yes­ter­day com­pared with what’s fur­ther along the coast.

Fifty to 60 mil­lion years ago, molten lava oozed up to the sur­face, cooled and then cracked, form­ing the re­mark­able con­struc­tion known as the Giant’s Cause­way. Here, around 40,000 mostly hexag­o­nal basalt col­umns sit snugly fit­ted to­gether, sweep­ing in a neat curve from high on a hill­side down to the wa­ter’s edge, where the waves break white over the shiny black rock.

This is Ire­land, so of course there’s a story about its ori­gin. It was built by the Ir­ish giant Finn McCool as a bridge for him to cross the sea to chal­lenge Scot­land’s giant, Be­nan­don­ner, but he turned out to be much big­ger than Finn. The Ir­ish giant was saved from a pain­ful de­feat only by the quick think­ing of his wife, Oon­agh, who dis­guised him so he could es­cape.

Re­turn­ing to Derry, we stop at one of the pos­si­ble sources for sto­ries such as this − Bush­mills whiskey dis­tillery. It’s the old­est in Ire­land, loos­en­ing tongues and lu­bri­cat­ing the imag­i­na­tion for more than 400 years. It’s a per­fect end to the tour. Sláinte!

The Peace Bridge is well worth a look, espe­cially at night. The Hands Across the Di­vide sculp­ture is a re­minder of the peace­ful times Derry now lives in. The Guild­hall suf­fered dur­ing The Trou­bles, but has since been re­stored.

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