Derry: The Walled City
To give you the low-down, we’re staying in an off campus residence area called Dungreegan Student Village, which is very nice and well kept. We each have our own rooms and bathrooms with showers that allow us much needed personal time (naptime). However, without computers or television it is also very boring. It’s about a 20-25 minute walk to get to the center of the city where all of the shopping and food venues are so we’ve all been getting quite the workout during our tours and cultural studies.
So far we’ve experienced a variety of activities. Walking and bus tours of the city where we learned about the formation of the city and its city wall in the early 1600’s and its struggles between Catholic and Protestant since the very beginning. The city is divided into two main parts, the “Waterside” where the Protestant population lives and the “Bogside” where the Catholic population resides. It seems very blunt to describe it in those terms, but that’s literally the culture of Derry. The people you meet on the street, in pubs, or even our taxi drivers will tell you that Derry is divided. Even 10+ years into the cease-fire and peace agreement, Derry has very clear divisions between the two sides. While the divide is slowly closing and people interact much more in daily life than they used to, we have learned that problems in Northern Ireland are far from over. We’ve encountered many people who are thankful for the peace and want to move on with their lives, but there are still many groups who are dissatisfied and continue to fight and perpetuate the violence.
The turmoil of the 1970’s is still very alive in the minds of some people who live here. It’s been nearly 40 years since Bloody Sunday took place, but we met a man last week whose brother was shot that day and he has yet to find closure. That concept was hard for me to comprehend as I’m sure it was for others in the group. That man has spent most of his adult life seeking justice for his brother, and never really lived a life of his own. It’s painful to listen to the stories of the people who live here and know that their troubles are not religious; they’re extremely political and the system is failing them on both sides. Politics in Northern Ireland is not a matter of choosing a candidate who will meet the needs of the people – it’s choosing the member of your political party so that the other side won’t gain control.
In addition to studying the Troubles, we’ve learned about Irish culture, heard traditional music, watched live bands, learned/attempted to dance traditional Irish dance and began a brief study of the Irish language. The food is good, and cheap which is an automatic plus.
Derry has been a great place to slow down unpack and relax, but Monday we leave for Belfast and I’m ready to roll.