Friday, 1 April 2016

A Visit to Londonderry

I’m not going to go into much detail regarding the history of Londonderry.  If you are interested then this link will take you to Wikipedia.  The English had made a number of thwarted attempts to establish a permanent presence.  However at the beginning of the 17th century King James I came up with a plan to settle Ulster by colonizing it with English and Scottish settlers.  In Derry’s case the guilds and and trade associations of London were granted the area and set about establishing themselves, naming the town Londonderry.  The town was laid out using the most modern design.  It was surrounded by a thick stone wall which subsequently proved to be the last city in Ireland to be enclosed by a city wall.  It’s also the last city in Northern Ireland to retain its walls.  The city went on to became very prosperous.

In the late 17th century Londonderry became caught up in the struggle between the catholic James II and the protestant William of Orange.  James demanded the city surrender to him.   Apparently on their own initiative, some of the local apprentice boys closed and barred to city gates.  The city was then placed under a 105 day siege where both the defenders and besiegers suffering severe privation before relieving forces arrived to lift the siege.

During the early part of 20th century Irish independence became an issue and when this eventually occurred Londonderry became a city on the border of Ulster with much of the area from which it drew its wealth now over the border in Ireland.  This led to a serious decline in the city’s economy.

By the 1960’s political unrest was occurring as a result of gerrymandering the electorates.  The nationalists where the majority, but the unionists continued to hold power.  There was a high level of unemployment and very poor housing.  The unionists were accused of forcing the nationalists into small areas to reduce their influence in electorates.  All this spilt over into civil unrest and eventually The Troubles.   On Sunday January 30, 1972, 13 unarmed civilians were shot dead by British paratroopers during a civil rights march in the Bogside area. Another 13 were wounded and one further man later died of his wounds. This event came to be known as Bloody Sunday.

I entered the city through Bishops Street Gate with the intention of walking the circumference of the city walls.

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Bishops Street Gate

From here I made my way up onto the walls and was immediate struck by their thickness.  In some places they are sufficiently wide enough to allow two cars to pass.

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Looking west towards the general direction of the Bogside

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Western wall

I had assumed from the tower and high security fencing in the next photo that this was a prison complex.

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I was partially right.  The tower is all that remains of the old prison.  The area was then redeveloped in residential housing becoming a protestant enclave close to The Bogside.  I assume this is the reason for the high fence?

The Bogside or Free Derry, is situated below the western city walls.  This was apparent from the numerous large murals on the buildings.

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The city walls still contain many of their original cannons.

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The northern wall faces the Guildhall and Peace Bridge

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The Peace Bridge was constructed in 2011 with the intention of improve relations between the largely unionist 'Waterside' with the largely nationalist 'Cityside', by improving access between these areas, as part of wider regeneration plans.  It’s an unusual shape being a pedestrian suspension footbridge in the shape of a lazy ‘S’.

IMG_9362 The eastern side of the city walls is mostly unionists.  There appeared to be fewer murals here than on the western side.

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What has surprised me is the large number of Irish Republic flags being flown.  The Irish Republic has recently celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Easter Uprising and perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised by the number of flags.  But then I haven’t seen many union flags during my visit.

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