Did you know that even the toilet flusher is on the opposite side in Ireland? We flush on the left, they flush on the right. And given the voltage TO THE X-TREME, the light switches in washrooms are not exactly light switches as much they are pull strings from the ceiling. How cute!, says I upon seeing this on several occasions (it was pointed out many times how often we say ‘how cute!’ in regular conversation about this that aren’t actually cute.) But you’d hate to feel the zap of 230 volts if you had neglected to fully dry your hands. Well, you wouldn’t so much feel the zap as you would be dead. But it is with that voltage that you get a boiled electric kettle in approximately 30 seconds. Pros and cons, right? With the frequency at which tea is consumed, the speed from craving to consumption is crucial.
From Dublin, we took a Bus Éireann through the Irish countryside, en route to where we would be spending the bulk of our vacation. It’s called Derry in the Republic of Ireland, or the south, and Londonderry in Northern Ireland. In general, but not exclusively, nationalists will call it Derry and unionists will call it Londonderry, which means what you call it can indicate to whomever you’re speaking what side of the political arena you stand, however the reason behind this dispute of name is really, quite complicated. The signs in the South read ‘Derry’. The signs in the North read “Londonderry’, although they’ve all been painted over in protest. If you’re interested, read about it here: Derry/Londonderry Name Dispute. Otherwise, on with the show.
Anonymous Husband’s family are Derry people. Born and raised, generations upon generations back. Derry is their city and they love it. Having been with AH for 11 years now, I’d heard many tidbits and factoids about their home over the years, so actually visiting the place from which these came was overwhelmingly surreal. To stand on the streets that stretch through stories of their childhood and The Troubles, put everything into halting perspective. Everything was real.
The Troubles. I wouldn’t dare attempt to give you a full historical lesson because I don’t claim to know even an inkling of what would be required to do so, but I encourage you wholeheartedly to read about it here: The Troubles in Derry. Admittedly, Wiki isn’t the greatest resource for anything, but it is easy to read and is succinct. I also recommend watching Bloody Sunday. Or any of these films, really.
But not right now. You’re reading about my trip, ‘member?
Anyway, our vacation was really all about spending time with the extended family that still lives in Derry. Actually the real reason we were even in Ireland in the first place was as a Level 2 surprise for AH’s father. His parents live here in Canada, having moved when AH was very young, but the vast majority of their families still live in Derry. They were going over for a semi-regular visit, when my mother-in-law decided to organize a surprise birthday party for my father-in-law while they were over there. A surprise party with the whole Irish family! And what would be even more shocking? Walking into a pub on the other side of the world, filled to capacity with your brothers and sisters whom you see very, very rarely, old school mates and work friends from when you lived there, only to turn a corner and see your own children and their significant others! Just when you thought you were getting a vacation away from them! There. They. Are.
The party was a roaring success. There was drinking and dancing and laughing and eating. Side note: curry and chips. My new favourite thing. I’d had curry many, many times before (it’s one of AH’s specialties), but we always have it on rice. NEVER AGAIN. On chips, it is like eating pure sin. So good. You don’t even know. Unless you do, and in that case, right? Ridiculous.
Derry is a fairly big city, divided geographically by the River Foyle, with a wall dating back to the 1600s circling its center and original Derry village. The wall is tall and majestic, with all the original cannons used (to varying degrees of success) to defend the city. The walk around the walls gives you a perspective on the city that you can’t get walking through the streets. You get a bird’s eye view of The Bogside, which you learned about when you read about The Troubles. ::Sideeyes:: The view stretches all the way to The Waterside, over to the border between The North and The Republic. Just walking the wall, an hour’s leisure walk, you absorb so much of the city’s history you cannot otherwise see.
We had the priceless advantage of having our own, personal tour guides. AH’s parents, and his father in particular, lived and breathed The Troubles. We were shown not “this is where this happened”, but “this is where I was when this happened”. We walked The Bogside and were witness, through our surroundings and his stories, to terrible, frightening times. Battles and wars, anger and pain, fear and frustration. We saw Free Derry corner and the murals commemorating life in the late 60s and early 70s. We saw the streets through which the young men and women ran from tanks and armed soldiers, running for their lives, in the case of those 13 men and boys lost on Bloody Sunday, unsuccessfully. We saw, with a sweeping gesture of his hand, how the landscape has changed after bombings and gunfire destroyed buildings and street corners. We ate lunch in a cafe that was once gutted by a bomb set off in protest. It was a sullen, morose day. A day filled with lessons you only need to learn once.
In 2013, Derry will be the first ever UK City of Culture. This award and recognition is absolutely incredible and such a boost to the city, given it’s sordid and troubled past. The money from this award has been going to rejuvenating Derry; cleaning the hundreds of years of soot from coal fires off the downtown buildings, creating new, spectacular landmarks and tourist attractions, and organizing events that celebrate Derry.
One of the most impressive additions is the Peace Bridge that crosses the Foyle. A winding, walking bridge from which you get a view of the city not previously seen. It is a symbol of Derry’s future. Peaceful, beautiful and full of hope.
Next up: Donegal