Day 11: Londondery Derry to Sligo
How to explain all we learned this morning on our walk of the city walls with Ronan McNamara. I have never had a thorough understanding of the Northern Ireland conflict until today and yet I don’t think I’m up to the task of imparting what I learned, I’m kind of still letting it simmer and grow in my mind. Yesterday instead of writing. About what I knew I said to google regarding the name because there was so much more to it than I could get my head around driving in late on a coach. Today’s city walls walk helped immeasurably.
Ronan used very simple anecdotes to explain such a complex conflict. He was the best kind of teacher. Does it help that he’s not Catholic or Protestant but Buddhist? I think so. He was very sympathetic to both sides and was very clearly unbiased.
Put it this way, until today I did not realize how very new it is for tourists to travel to Northern Ireland. That things we take for granted like tourism, having police on the street and even having rubbish bins in public places is bringing a sense of normality to the people of Northern Ireland who only 20 years ago saw police escorted by the army for fear of being killed (and they were) and for whom bombings were a daily occurrence.
An American recently asked Ronan why it was taking so long to resolve. He replied that the American Civil War was over 100 years ago and there are still places that the Confederate flag is flown. It’s only been 18 years since the peace agreement in Northern Ireland. The fire is out but the you can still feel the embers.
Today those embers are evident in the many murals created by artists around the area known as Bogside in Londonderry Derry. Instead of being provocative, the murals are part of the healing process of the city. Occasionally defaced but more often, thought provoking.
The whole conflict goes back to the Middle Ages and I found this website helpful:
But if we just start from the Jacobite period and the planting of people in ulster who would be loyal to the English King James, it makes it simple. Walls were built to protect the settlers and the King changed the name to Londonderry. So 400 years ago there were basically two tribes. One group loyal to Britain and who considered themselves part of England, and another group who wanted to separate and become a united Ireland. It didn’t help that those loyal to England were mostly Protestant and those who were already there were Catholic who had already copped a great deal from Henry the 8th and Oliver Cromwell.
Over the ensuing years generally, the conflict was between Unionists (or “loyalists”), who want the province to remain in the United Kingdom, and Nationalists (or “republicans”) who wish the province to become part of a united Ireland. To make things more complicated and more personal in a way, Generally speaking (but not in all cases) Unionists are part of the Protestant majority of Northern Ireland, while Nationalist are usually Catholic.
Ronan has friends from both groups. His loyalist friend will point to his family tree and show it stretching back to the 1700s and his Republican friend simply says, ‘We were here first’.
He believes with education and a generation, it will become history rather than a raw memory for some. Let the kids go to school together and work together. As in all area of conflict, education is the key. It’s always the poorer and disadvantaged areas where people’s dissatisfaction results in extremism. (“All empty souls tend towards extreme opinions” WB Yeats) There was 31% unemployment in 1968 when the troubles started.
The new craft market was a bombed out area that has been rebuilt by both sides working together so they are less likely to destroy it.
The walled city
The wall is a 1 mile long rectangular shape with many gates and canons.
Across the border to the Republic of Ireland. A lunch stop in this town, there’s a castle and it was on the itinerary but for some reason we by passed it. I tried Gunpowder Irish gin with my lunch of seafood chowder at Olde Castle Hotel. Delicious!
Crossed the border back to Northern Ireland to Belleek Pottery (example below).
Out next stop was the Drumcliffe Church where WB Yeats is buried. We listened to Easter, 1916 while we journeyed and today’s blog post title comes from that poem. The poem describes Yeat’s torn emotions regarding the events of the Easter Rising staged in Ireland against British rule on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916. The uprising was unsuccessful, and most of the Irish republican leaders involved were executed for treason (they appear on one of the murals in Londonderry Derry). The swans on the door were given by Western Australia.
This tomb is from 1704. So amazing to think this woman was buried here well before Australia was colonized by England.
There is also a Celtic Cross from the 11th Century monastery that St Colmcille founded on this site (and no doubt destroyed by Henry the 8th suppression of the monasteries). The cross shows Adam & Eve, Cain slaying Abel, Daniel in the Lion’s den and Christ in glory. There’s also Jesus’ presentation in the temple and the crucifixion.
It was a big day of learning and traveling so bed was early and very welcome. I woke at midnight after a nightmare where Harry and I were caught up in violence in Northern Ireland. I was assaulted and Harry had to stop me from falling to the ground. I woke up crying out and in a sweat. Imagine that being your real life and your everyday fear.
Ronan’s Walking Tour
And finally a quote from Yeats that sums up Ronan’s message: