Where to start. Well, after a brilliant day at the Slieve League Cliffs in Donegal, we loaded up our campervan and left the Republic of Ireland and crossed the border into the UK, to Northern Ireland. The border between the 6 counties of Northern Ireland and the 26 counties of Southern Ireland is a ‘soft border’, meaning that there is no actual border. No check, no immigration, nothing. You just drive and one second you’re in Rep.Ireland and the next the road signs have changed colour and you’re in the UK. Derry/Londonderry then is Northern Ireland’s 2nd city (to Belfast), and it’s just over the border, meaning that it’s a political hotspot, so let’s take a quick look.
History of Derry/Londonderry
Ok, let me try to break this down. Ireland was its own ‘country’ for centuries, then the English came around the 12th century, from then until 1922 it was under British rule, then in 1922 Ireland became independent, except for 6 counties in the North of Ireland, which remained British, and therefore part of the UK, it became known as Northern Ireland.
Since then, there has been a frosty civil war in Northern Ireland known as ‘the troubles’ where, generally speaking, Catholics in the north want Ireland to be one country, free of the UK. Protestants in the north (most from a Scottish/British blood line when the English invaded Ireland centuries previously) want to remain part of the UK. It’s complicated, I know, try growing up in it!
Check out these 2 pics for a little bit of help. But yes, the island of Ireland is split between Republic of Ireland (independent) and Northern Ireland (part of the UK). Whether I agree with that or not is a different story, but these are the facts as of now:
Derry/Londonderry then is a real flashpoint. It’s right on the border between ROI (Republic of Ireland) and NI (Northern Ireland). Historically, in Ireland, it was known as Derry but when the English invaded and built up the city it was renamed ‘LONDON’ + Derry = Londonderry. The political connotations of having the word ‘London’ in a name of a city, where 75% of the population is Catholic and wants the UK out of Ireland and the island to be united as one country, are huge! So now we have a situation where essentially Catholics call the city ‘Derry’, Protestants call the city ‘Londonderry’, and media sources trying to be impartial refer to it as Derry/Londonderry in print media, on the news etc. Ridiculous actually, but the truth nonetheless. It now has the nickname ‘Stroke city’. Madness. Anyway, as someone who believes colonialism is from a bygone era, I will from now on refer to it as Derry.
Derry/Londonderry as a tourist
First of all, know that Derry is 100% safe! After all that scary history, Derry is a modern city, and a nice one at that. The people are super friendly and any frostiness between the communities remains between them and them alone, it doesn’t apply to anyone from outside the city. It’s a warm, fun, open-minded place and I’d encourage everyone to go and see, not only to hear about the fascinating history of Northern Ireland but also to experience the North’s 2nd city and all its bars, sights, restaurants etc.
The best way to experience Derry is by a walking tour. The walking tours last around 1 hour or so, and they take you over the historic city walls, overlooking Bog Side (a place with more crazy history) and your quide will give you a laid back open account of the history of the city.
The tours run 4 times a day (10.00am, 12.00 noon, 2.00pm + 4.00pm) and only cost £4 (I know, right?!). Check out the walking tour here, you don’t need to book, you can just show up, regardless the weather!
EVENING IN DERRY/LONDONDERRY
This one is pretty simple. Just head straight for Waterloo Street in the city centre and you’ll have your fill of restaurants, pubs and bars. Busy most nights but the weekend is banging around here. Peadar O’Donnell’s is your best bet for an Irish style pub but you can’t go wrong with any of them really. Enjoy!
After the politics of being back in the country I grew up in, I was happy to be moving on to the happier side of the things Northern Ireland has to offer. So the next day we were off to the Giant’s Causeway, one of Irelands’ three UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the only one in the North. Let’s do it!