by Hillary Peters and Anh Pham
On the morning of January 17th, 2013, our class drove into the city of Derry where we were greeted by the monument titled “The Hands Across the Divide.” This monument symbolizes the spirit of reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants in the hope for the future of Derry.
Before we met with our tour guide Martin McCrossan, we had a quick lunch at the local cafe Java. Martin began our tour with a brief history of the town’s name. Derry means “land of the oaks” and had been named such for over one thousand years. The city has accumulated many nicknames over the years such as, The Walled City and Martin’s own “Legend-Derry.”
The nickname The Walled City comes literally from the wall that surrounded the city. The wall was begun in 1613, commissioned by King James I and took five years to complete. The wall divided the community in two; Catholics, who lived on the Bogside and Protestants who lived in the city within. Under Protestant rule, the city was renamed Londonderry. One event in history directly tied to the wall was when King James arrived with the intent to reclaim the throne. He was confronted at the gate by a group called The Apprentice Boys who closed the gates on him saying (here is where we were graced by the presence of a group of young men who eager to share the answer yelled), “No Surrender!”.
No less than five minutes later, we received a pleasant surprise visit from the President of the Derry Chamber of Commerce, Phillip Gilliland. When asked what he thought about the current conflict in Belfast, he replied “[it’s] like the days of desegregation in the United States…we need to desegregate and move forward…but it’s not in Derry so we should look at the energy, because here we buried the hatchet…we moved beyond ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’”. He finished his time with us hoping “we could find that energy”.
While gazing at a peace wall similar in purpose to those we saw in Belfast, we noticed a photographer intently photographing the wall. This was Allan Healy with the Daily Derry News and he had been told that a Parachute Regiment flag had been posted on the wall. Allan explained to us that the act of posting this flag was with the intent of stirring up trouble.
The Parachute Regiment is directly related to the tragic event of Bloody Sunday, which has an upcoming anniversary, therefore making the act very insensitive. January 30th, 1972, a group of 30,000 marched on the bogside of the wall for the equality of Catholics of Derry. The group was diverted toward the waiting Parachute Regiment. There is much speculation about the following events, but regardless, 14 marchers were shot dead and 27 more were injured. It took many years for the deaths to be investigated or even owned up to. In 2010 the British Prime Minister David Cameron apologized for the deaths and poorly handled investigations.
On a lighter note, remember those apprentice boys who so graciously kept King James out of the city? Well, we passed their organization’s headquarters on 13 Society Street as well as 13 Magazine Street. They acquire this dual address by placing their door on the corner of the two streets. The Apprentice Boys take pride in celebrating two important dates in Derry history, December 18th the Closing of the Gates and August 12 when the city was relieved after the siege, by parading though the city. Following the Apprentice Boys Headquarters, we came across the First Derry Presbyterian Church built in 1690. For eleven years the church was closed because of dry rot in the roof. The congregation had been dying off and slowing down to begin with, until masses dwindled to one a week. In 2012 a $1.7 million grant was given to the church by Martin McGuinness to reboot the community.
We made our way back to the city center where we bumped into Mark Durkan the Local Member of Parliament who represents Derry in the House of Commons. When he was questioned about the flag situation he said that he hoped they would be taken down without too much publicity. He also commented on how it is unfortunate that anyone can buy one of the flags off the internet solely for the purpose of starting a fight.
After he was on his way, our tour was coming to a close. Martin led us back to the cafe in good spirits. He was adamant about spreading his name to the world. He gave us his Twitter and Facebook so we could carry out our social duty! Next time you find yourself in Derry, make sure to find Martin; it won’t be too hard.