Eurotrip: Northern Ireland

Posted at October 03, 2015

Alright, now for travel updates. The trip began with a journey from Dublin to Belfast by bus. It was a bit of a weird start to the trip, honestly; I think that was my fourth or fifth time visiting. I stayed at the Travelodge near Hotel Europa, wandered up to the botanical gardens, visited the Ulster Museum, and took a tour of city hall.

The next day I took the bus to Derry. It’s officially Londonderry, ever since London corporations invested in plantation and established the city in the early 1600s, but the settlement that was there before was known as “Derry”, or rather “Doire”. People there call it “Derry”; all signage referring to it in the Republic calls it “Derry”; in the North the signs all say “Londonderry”, with the “London” part frequently crossed out. Like a lot of things in the North, it’s complicated.

The big selling point of Derry as tourist destination, in my mind, is the city walls. As I said before, Londonderry was established in the 1600s as part of plantation, and they immediately went to work building strong city walls to protect it against invaders (or, to be more honest, the native Irish). The city was famously besieged by King James II in 1689, only to be rescued by the navy. It’s the only city in Ireland whose walls remain (almost entirely) intact. By virtue of never being successfully invaded, it’s called the Maiden City.

The other big draw is… The Troubles. Derry was the second most affected place, after Belfast. The Catholic Irish weren’t allowed to live in the city walls, and mostly settled on Bogside. (Originally the city was built on an island in the River Foyle. One side was marshy, and eventually they filled it in to become Bogside, whereas the old city is Cityside, and the other bank of the Foyle is Waterside.) Your usual stuff continued from there — gerrymandering to prevent the Catholic majority from gaining political power, preferential housing for Protestants, etc. In the 60s, inspired by the civil rights movement in the States, activist groups sprung in the Bogside campaigning for equal rights. Add in the IRA, the British Army, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and boom. I took a Bogside walking tour with a guy whose father was killed during Bloody Sunday. There are your murals, monuments, all that fun stuff. I hit my limit in the Museum of Free Derry, which was fascinating and depressing and had this horrible audio loop from Bloody Sunday that started with marching chants and progressed to screams and it just kept going.

Anyway, Derry! Interesting place, well worth seeing.

Other stuff I did there (in brief):

  • The Tower Museum. It’s mostly the history of Derry, plus a wing about the Spanish Armada.
  • Went through the plantation exhibit at the Guildhall.
  • Had a cheap pint at Wetherspoons.
  • Explored St. Columb’s Cathedral.
  • Walked across the Peace Bridge, only to discover that the brewery on the other side was closed for a private event.
  • Was given a tour of the Freemasons’ Hall. I’m pretty sure one of the guys there was a Knight Templar.
  • Tried out a Oculus Rift headset at the BBC Culturefest tent.