Our last stop in Northern Ireland was Derry. I had been there a couple of times before when I lived in Coleraine, but this was Brian’s first time.
I thought he would enjoy learning more about the city’s history, especially given all of the political unrest, so our first order of business was signing up for a walking tour.
Best. Idea. Ever.
The weather was perfect–warm with blue skies–and we hung out in front of the Guildhall waiting for our guide, Paul, to arrive. He was a little late but we learned he was taking a break from his day job as a taxi driver to lead us around!
Paul clarified up front that he’s not an official tour guide–he’s a regular fellow personally impacted by the Troubles who wants to set the record straight about what happened and how things are today.
He was very clear that he was expressing his side of the story and that if we were looking for something historically balanced and unbiased, this was not that tour. I really liked that approach and appreciated that we were getting a unique perspective.
There were just a handful of us, which was perfect because we had to run to keep up with him and we had to stand close to follow along with all of the information he shared. His father was killed on Bloody Sunday so his reflections were very personal, and I hope on some level cathartic. There is still a lot of healing that needs to happen in Northern Ireland.
We began by walking around the walls to the Bogside and along the way Paul explained the timeline of events that occurred on Bloody Sunday. We walked by the murals and he led us to different places where people were killed, including his father. We stopped at several informational signs and memorials and ended near the Bogside Inn where they are building a new and permanent home for the Museum of Free Derry.
I won’t pretend to understand all of the details of that day and I won’t attempt to recount everything he shared with us, but I will tell you that I was very moved and sympathetic to the cause after hearing him speak. I also realized how much I don’t know about those years, or even the recent attempts at reconciliation between the people of Derry and the UK government.
We ended at the peace mural, which seemed appropriate. Despite the wrong doings on both sides and the possibility that things won’t ever be fully resolved, I truly believe that Paul and many others who have carried these events with them their whole lives are seeking peace.
After our tour Paul headed back to his cab for his afternoon runs, and we climbed back up to the city walls to continue exploring the Derry of old.
I had a little guide from the tourism shop so I read the background of key points along the walls as we passed them. We only detoured a couple of times– once to go in Saint Columb’s Cathedral and once to grab a quick lunch.
Once we had made it all the way around we descended and finished at the current and temporary location of the Museum of Free Derry. It was very educational and provided even greater detail of the events Paul had described. They also had memorabilia and a slideshow of pictures from Bloody Sunday. I think the new building will allow for an even more professional and compelling display of this information–based on what I saw I would recommend people go see it when it opens next year.
We headed back to our car and walked along the river Foyle, taking some pictures of the Peace Bridge, which wasn’t there when I lived in Coleraine. It was a perfect end to our day in Derry.