Mad Scientess Jane Expat (nanila) wrote,
Mad Scientess Jane Expat

Day 11: Derry and Letterkenny

Bogside murals: The Petrol Bomber and Bernadette
We eat a grumpy, silent breakfast and walk to the Bloody Sunday Center which is in a dingy, rather run-down building. We watch the extremely disturbing forty minute video about the illegal but peaceful civil rights march that turned into tragedy when dozens of unarmed Bogside residents were fired upon by heavily armed British paratroopers on Sunday, 30 January, 1972.

One scene in particular captures my attention. A British Sergeant Major, speaking under condition of anonymity, describes the streets of the Bogside during Bloody Sunday as "chaos, total chaos." It's not what he says, but the fact that it's over thirty years since that day and he's still scared to make a public statement contradicting the official British pronouncement on the incident, known as the Widgery Report.* If it hadn't been for the gross, and rather obvious, miscarriage of justice that led to the issue of Widgery, he might not have to continue to hide his identity. The wounds from Bloody Sunday have never been allowed to heal – by either side. Hopefully the Saville Inquiry, which is re-examining Widgery's findings, will be able to reconcile them.

I write in the Comments section of the guestbook: "distressing. informative. necessary." I purchase Don Mullan's Eyewitness Bloody Sunday, which presents over a hundred of the seven hundred eyewitness statements given after the incident. The publication of the book helped to open the Saville Inquiry. (Only fifteen statements were used in the Widgery tribunal that exonerated the troops and their commanders.)

We stand outside and smoke. Becca remarks on feeling better. I do, too, and I think it's because some of what I've been sensing on the tense, oddly quiet streets has been externalized.

*The neutrality of this Wikipedia entry is in dispute. HAHAHA.
On the recommendation of the BSC staff, we go to The Metro, which looks like an annoyingly trendy bar from the outside but turns out to be cozy on the inside and offers very filling lunches for just over £3. We eat our burgers and fries and drink our Guinness with great gusto, our earlier funk dispelled.

We try to find the Peace and Reconciliation Center to see what time they close. Unfortunately, we find that they close at 3 PM. The walking tour we want to do starts at 2 PM. We decide to split up. Kegan stays at the center and Becca and I go on the walk.

As it turns out, neither endeavor is particularly successful. Kegan finds that the PRC has had to move, that their office is in disarray and that the only staff member he can find is inexperienced and stressed out of his mind because the center has run out of money. (How depressing is that?) Becca and I walk cautiously into the Bogside, promptly get lost and are redirected by friendly locals to the community center. We arrive just in time for the very small Free Derry tour. The five of us, including our guide, start off on the city walls.

It's immediately obvious to all but the oblivious Canadian girl that the tour guide has a republican bias. Perhaps I should say that it's also obvious to her, but she has no common sense. She began asking questions such as, "Since that the IRA has disarmed, what will all the members do now?" Jesus Christ, lady. The same things they were doing before? What did you think they did before, stomp up and down with guns all day? I have an idea, maybe they should get jobs leading organized walks so they can keep idiot tourists from getting shot while exploring the Bogside.

Her questions discomfited the guide to the extent that he wrapped up the tour quickly after reading us the Irish side of the monument to Sean Keenan, who died in prison while on a hunger strike. Interestingly, the Irish side of the memorial, which faces the Bogside, mentions his wife's membership in the Cumann na mBan (League of Women), a women's republican organization. The English side, which faces the Derry walls, doesn't. The English side vaguely describes his son's death as occurring during "active service." I don't know what the Irish side said because we don't get to ask. He whisks us rapidly past the famous Bogside murals and almost lets us go without collecting payment.
Bogside murals: The Rioter
Bloody Sunday memorial
The guide gives us one precious piece of information before he practically runs off down the street. He points us to the Bogside Artists' Studio.

We are incredibly fortunate to find that all three artists are at the center and about to begin an informal discussion with the two or three people who are there besides us. We learn that the first mural (the Petrol Bomber in the first image) was painted in 1994. Originally the map on the badge the boy is wearing showed the divide between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, but it has since been altered to solid green. The Bogside residents in the buildings have funded all of the murals. The most recent, the rainbow with the combined oak leaf and dove outline, is only a few months old. The artists are careful to stay clear of political and paramilitary affiliations. They direct their efforts towards reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants through student workshops. For instance, they brought teenagers from the Fountain Estate to their studio to paint bottles, since bottles are often used to make paint as well as petrol bombs. The artists hope to inspire young people to stop joining, or hankering to join, paramilitary organizations that spray-paint violence-glorifying graffiti and turn to creative outlets for their frustrations. I imagine this endeavor will last them the rest of their lives.

Unlike every other wall in Derry, none of the Bogside murals have ever been defaced.

We buy their book and they all sign it for us. We watch them being interviewed by local university students, who also ask us to make statements on camera about our initial impressions of the murals. We do. We go inside to chat with the artists more. They thank us profusely for our interest and we express our gratitude for their openness and hospitality.
I come away from the Bogside studio with a hopeful spring in my step. It's thrilling to have that experience on the heels of the unpleasant air of oppression and fear I feel I've been breathing since our arrival. We bounce back to the hostel for tea and coffee, according to preference, and drive to Letterkenny for the traditional music festival.

On arrival, we find a bar rather far from the music sessions we're ostensibly there to see. But we all need a little time and a little Guinness to process the day's experience before we head out to explore the festival. Kegan's writing furiously in his notebook, as am I, and Becca's reading the Bogside Artists' book. Eventually we unwind enough to look for some performances.

I find that the festival is much larger than I was expecting. While there is indeed traditional music being played in informal sessions in the corners of bars, by evening the focus seems to be on flirting and consuming as much alcohol as possible. We stop in at several pavilions and bars to listen and drink. The last session we see, which isn't as informal as the others as it's on a stage, barely seems able to provoke a reaction from the crowd. It's a pity, since the all-girl band is quite good.
Becca & Kegan at the Letterkenny music festival
Tags: ireland, photo, travel
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