The story of the Troubles gains traction in the stormy history of County Londonderry and in the city of Londonderry in particular. The name is itself a source of contention, which from old Irish (Daire) into English (Derry) was renamed Londonderry in 1613, in acknowledgement of donations from the city of London. The Bogside area of the city has been called Free Derry by nationalists since 1969, and in the Republic of Ireland the county is still signposted as Derry.
By almost all accounts, the civil rights march through the Bogside area of the city on January 30, 1972, in which thirteen unarmed protesters were shot dead by the British Army, is seen as the catalyst. The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA), which was based on the example of peaceful means set by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in America, consisted essentially of disadvantaged Catholics, even though it was fronted by a fair-minded, working-class Protestant man, named Ivan Cooper.
Its aims included first and foremost the ending of voter suppression and widespread discrimination in housing and jobs; undone by the events of Bloody Sunday, however, a new set of aims were established. As passion was transformed into untempered rage, the ideology of non-violence was reconstituted into a declaration of war. Hundreds of young Catholic men and women were re-filtered into the IRA; by the mid-70s, the IRA was 1,500 strong, around 21,000 British Troops were in operation in Northern Ireland and 1,981 people (1,874 of them Catholic) interned without trial. Although the signing of the declarative Good Friday Agreementtheoretically ended the conflict, it by no means quashed sectarian violence, which proved uncompromising and raged sporadically for several years.
The People’s Gallery Murals, a set of 12 commemorative murals to the Troubles, are painted to the ends of the houses of Rossville St. near Free Derry Corner. The winner of the City of Culture Award has yet to dramatically turn the page on its fractured past, and this is reflected in the structure of the city itself, which feels strangely decentered. The walls of Derry, dating back to 1613, were the last to be erected around a European city and are therefore at an almost unique state of preservation. For a mile they loop around the inner city, forming a walkway with which to attend various attractions and historical points.
Londonderry City Unmissable Attractions
1. St Columb’s Cathedral (1633), which was destroyed on two separate occasions, holds in its possession important historical documents from the Great Siege in 1689
2. The Tower Museum includes two exhibits permanently on display, The Story of Derry and An Armada Shipwreck – La Trinidad Valencera (Opening Times: Tuesday – Saturday from 10.00 a.m. – 5.00 p.m.) The Tower Museum requires that you contact them for admission prices. You can get in touch with them at this number: 028 7137 2411
3. The Verbal Arts Centre, publisher of the largest free literary magazine in Ireland, Verbal Magazine, is also the annual meeting place for the 2D Festival, the largest comic book convention in Ireland. The Nerve Centre, which began modestly in the early 90s, features a popular creative entertainment centre for music, movies and media
4. Just outside the city walls, the Museum of Free Derry indulges the history of the Troubles, with focus on Bloody Sunday and the civil rights movement in Derry during the 1970s (Opening Times: Monday to Friday from 9.30 a.m. – 4.30 p.m. all year / Saturday from 1.00 p.m. – 4.00 p.m. Sunday from 1.00 p.m. – 4.00 p.m. in summer) Prices: Adults £3.00 / Concession and Group charge (10+) £2.00 per person
5. The People’s Gallery and Studio is an extension of the Rossville St. murals, and provides the story of the artists behind them (Opening Times: Monday – Friday from 9.00 a.m. – 6.00 p.m.)
6. Foyle Valley Railway Museum beside the River Foyle provides the history of Derry’s railways (Opening Times: Monday – Friday from 10.00 a.m. – 4.30 p.m.)
7. Across the River Foyle, the allegedly haunted Workhouse Museum features an exhibit on the Battle of the Atlantic and is littered with various 19th Century artefacts relating to the Famine (Opening Times: Monday to Thursday and Saturday from 10.00 a.m. – 5.00 p.m.)
8. The Harbour Museum (Opening Times: Monday – Friday 10.00 a.m. – 4.30 p.m.)
9. Heritage Tower (Opening Times: Viewing by appointment only) Prices: £1.00 per person
10. Context Gallery (Opening Times: Wednesday – Saturday from 12.00 p.m. – 6.00 p.m. and Sunday from 1.00 p.m. – 3.00 p.m.)
11. Void Art Gallery (Opening Times: Tuesday – Saturday from 11.00 a.m. – 5.00 p.m.