Ireland/Britain 1998 day 16: Derry

On 5 February 1998, I fell in love with the city so nice they named it twice Derry / Londonderry. I visited the old walled city starting at the excellent Tower Museum, which summed up the city’s history and does not flinch at intelligently interpreting the sectarian divide. Then I walked along the walls of the city itself for a birds-eye view of the Bogside, the Catholic/Nationalist neighborhood where I was staying. Here and all around the city are murals painted for various political causes.

At the spot known as Free Derry Corner (named for a famous sign declaring the Bogside to be free of British rule), are several high-quality murals. Steve, the owner of the hostel, called this area an open-air art museum. I wandered around the Bogside studying murals and then visited a Protestant/Unionist neighborhood called the Fountain. You can see photos of this cultural/political tradition via this post at MetaFilter. Back at the hostel, I discuss the murals with Brett and Mickey, and look at Brett’s photo collection of the murals. When we get to a picture of the King William III mural I saw in The Fountain, Mickey makes the sound and gesture of spitting on King Billy. Wondering what reaction I’d get, I tell Mickey that I actually live in a town named after King William III. “What do they call it?” he exclaims, “Bastardsville?”

That evening, I went to Peadar O’Donnell’s pub for the trad. A Swedish man in his sixties asked me for directions to the toilet, and thinking nothing of it I pointed to the sign that read Fir Leithreas. The man returning from the loo introduced himself as Joren (I think), bought me a pint, and treated me like a hero for finding the toilet for him! I told him I was from Virginia, but for some reason he called my Wyoming for the rest of the night.

A couple of Irish women he knew came in the bar and joined us. I was immediately smitten with Olivia and Elaine, especially when Olivia sang Christy Moore’s “Ride On” to me. As a group we capered across the central pedestrian zone to The Strand. Alas, all good things came to an end as Joren took his leave, and Olivia and Elaine met up with some friends. It was a lovely evening though.


A map at Steve’s Hostel shows the sectarian divisions of the bathroom (and Steve’s sense of humor).

Free Derry

The famous Free Derry sign at the entrance to the Bogside neighborhood.

Bloody Sunday Mural

A mural at Free Derry corner depicts a famed image from the Bloody Sunday massacre.