Derry: The shared city of Northern Ireland

Derry: The shared city of Northern Ireland

by Stacy Roman
Stripes Europe

Northern Ireland is as beautiful as it is complicated. As its name implies, the country is perched on the northern edge of Ireland. With the Republic of Ireland to the south, the city of Derry (Londonderry) shares a tumultuous past with both nations. Once a hotbed for sectarian violence, civil rights protests, political and religious unrest following the Good Friday Agreement in 1997, Derry is a fascinating and fantastic city to discover.

Turbulent history

Although the city is officially known as Londonderry, most who reside in the city refer to its original name of Derry. The conflict dates back to when the British began arriving on the island centuries ago. Realizing the strategic importance of Derry, loyalists to the British crown moved in and were supported by wealthy financiers in London, thus giving it the name Londonderry. During the partition of Ireland in 1920, the country border ran along the River Foyle, which turned Derry into a reluctant border city. While it made geographical sense, the fiercely Catholic city fought to remain in the south rather than be overtaken by the Protestant north.

Political and religious unrest boiled over in 1972 when 26 Catholic protestors were shot (14 of which died) by British armed forces. The Bogside Massacre or Bloody Sunday became a flashpoint for decades of riots, violence and protests. After a lengthy peace process in the 1990s, a truce and agreement were enacted between Northern Ireland and Ireland, bringing relative calm to Derry.

What to do

Visit the Derry Walls. The last walled city to be built in Europe in the 17th century, Derry has a unique claim to fame as a “maiden city,” one whose towering fortifications have never been breached. To get a different perspective of the wall, visitors can traverse the Dry Moat Walk, which follows the ancient moat surrounding the wall and corresponding gates. Or you can trek on top of sections of the wall for breathtaking panoramas of the city below.

Take a tour of The Tower Museum. Located within the walls, the Tower Museum provides a fascinating look at Derry’s origin and lesser-known stories in a fun and interactive style. One of the more popular exhibits is La Trinidad Valencera, the fourth-largest ship in the Spanish Armada lost in nearby Kinnagoe Bay in 1588, only to be discovered 400 years later.

Learn Irish culture and more at Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin. If you’ve ever wanted to learn the traditional Irish language, this is a great place to start. Even if you can’t make the 30-week intensive course, they offer podcast courses to learn at your own pace. Musicians, dancers and artists grace their large stage showcasing the incredible talent of Derry and the surrounding area. The cultural center also hosts tattoo and fringe festivals throughout the year.

Walk the Peace Bridge. Opened in 2011, the Peace Bridge spans the River Foyle and represents the unity between the two nations and healing the divide within the city. As you walk across, you can get an enchanting perspective of the two sides of Derry. At dusk, soft lights illuminate the skyline, creating a magical picture. If you begin on the western bank, there are memorials and museums dedicated to the strife and struggles leading to today’s peace.

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