Drinking in the Bogside

Trip Start Aug 25, 2007
Trip End Dec 20, 2007

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Flag of United Kingdom  ,
Monday, October 29, 2007

Surprisingly, we weren't too delayed getting into Derry after the whole tour bus mishap.  We wouldn't have even noticed when we entered North Ireland if our guide didn't point out how the lines on the roads are suddenly painted a bit differently.  No border control, not even a sign.

Derry is a small rather quiet town but it's only been that way for the last couple of years.  It used to be one of the most violent and notorious towns for the Protestant Catholic conflict.  A local guide took us around the old city walls and around the major parts of the city, all within easy walking distance.  The town is divided by a river.  The protestants now live on one side while the Catholics live on the other (encompassing the downtown area).  While North Ireland tends to have a majority Protestant population, Derry is unique for being 80% Catholic.  300 stubborn Protestants still refuse to move to the other side of the river.  They live in a "gated community" surrounded by barbed wire, completely segregating themselves.  Inside the wall, you can see the Union Jack and royalist murals.  The divide is more than just religion.  Protestants see themselves as English and want the Catholics, who identify as Irish, to take on English customs and ways of life.  Most Protestants came over from England a couple of hundred years ago and still love the king and queen.  Inside the gates you can also see a small open field, where once a year, one member of the royal family drops down for tea, shakes their hands, and congratulates them on a job well done.

Right outside of the old city walls is the part of the city most people have heard of through the news as an extremely dangerous neighborhood, the Bogside.  During the conflict, most of these people owned firearms and actively engaged in warfare from day to day.  Now, murals on a lot of the buildings commemorate those who have died and there is also a sign announcing "You are now entering Free Derry."  I should mention that the actual political name for the town is "Londonderry" but that's obviously looked down upon by the Catholic population.

While taking the tour we were suddenly distracted by screaming children.  Could it be?  Another outbreak of violence?  Nah, just some kids climbing around in the belly of a giant inflatable whale outside of a church!  Obviously.

It was still two days before Halloween, but Derry has one of the biggest Halloween celebrations in the world.  Perhaps the whale was part of this.  And it also seems to explain all the kids walking around in costumes all day.  In Ireland, you get a WEEK off of school for Halloween.  How awesome is that???  And celebrations apparently continue all week.  We also saw some stilt-walking bats.

Later that night, our guide took us to the Bogside Inn.  Apparently the dodgiest of dodgy places and one that once hung a sign at the door which read "Please leave all guns behind the bar when you come in."  Now it's mainly full of older local people getting trashed and watching soccer.  I didn't see any guns.  Oh well, I can at least claim to be badass by having had a drink there.

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