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Belfast and Northern Ireland

Historical Tour of Derry/Londonderry

Located only two hours from Belfast, Derry is well-known for its unique history and iconic murals. Join Conflict Transformation & Social Justice student Sami on a recent trip to the city.

View of Derry City through walled window
View looking out of the rocky walled window of the walled city

Derry…like milk products?

When I heard the town named Derry for the first time, I thought that we were talking about cheese, milk, ice cream, and other dairy products. I was very surprised to learn that Derry is not dairy and that there are tons of things to do within this location. Follow along with my friends and I as we explore this town!

Northern Ireland is home to just five cities: Armagh, Belfast, Derry, Lisburn and Newry. Out of these five cities, Derry/Londonderry is the second largest (after Belfast). Derry has a unique history including the fact that it is the only totally intact walled city in Ireland. My friends and I could not wait to explore what made this town so unique.

In addition to being the only walled city in Ireland, Derry is internationally known for the hit show Derry Girls, which showcases 4 girls and 1 lad as they navigate their way through an all-girl Catholic high school during the Troubles. Throughout my time in Derry, I saw a lot of homages to the show as well as some of the scenery that was showcased on Derry Girls.

How did we get there?

To get to Derry, the train departed the station at 9:30AM and arrived around 11AM. We decided to buy all day tickets which cost £8 as we were going on a Sunday* and this included all the trains of the day. The tickets can be bought in person at the station or on the Translink mLink app.

*If you visit on a Sunday there are certain museums that won’t be open, such as the Museum of Free Derry. I suggest looking into the schedules of museums and other attractions of interest to decide which day is best to plan your visit. As my friends and I explored everything outside, we didn’t mind that the museum wasn’t open, rather we decided this was a good reason to return to Derry!

Peace Bridge, Derry

Peace Bridge (opened in 2011)

The Walled City

We got off the train at the station on the Ebrington Square side, and it was a short walk over the Peace Bridge to get to the city. When we arrived in the city, we took a moment to glance around the walls, knowing that we were standing in one of the few walled cities and the only fully walled city in Ireland.

Wall in Derry

There are arches and gates for people to get in and out of Derry

The Bogside

We browsed the city and decided to walk down to the Bogside area, both home to the ‘You are Now Entering Free Derry’ sign as well as the work of the Bogside artists. This area has a unique history both in terms of the signs and what is represented. 

The first iconic piece of work we saw was the ‘You are Now Entering Free Derry’ sign. This sign was originally painted by Liam Hillen in 1969 on a gable wall of a house. It was later repainted by John Casey on a white backdrop because as houses within the original area were being demolished, the wall was preserved. This wall is one of the most iconic sites in Derry.

Entering Free Derry sign

Historical Murals

After admiring the wall, we decided to walk around and see the murals that were painted to showcase the decades of conflict in Derry. The murals were painted by the Bogside artists (Tom and William Kelly, and Kevin Hasson). The 12 pieces that they created are known as “The People’s Gallery”. 

Each mural depicts a different part of the conflict including: Battle of the Bogside, Bloody Sunday, the Death of Innocence, Hunger Strikes, Operation Motorman, The Saturday Matinee, Civil Rights, Peace Mural, Runner, as well as a tribute to John Hume.

Bloody Sunday Commemoration Mural

Bloody Sunday commemoration mural

It was a humbling experience to see the murals as it is a reminder that Northern Ireland is a post-conflict society and the division between groups has a long-rooted history of generational trauma. As someone viewing this from the outside, I cannot imagine what it was like to grow up in this time of constant violence. It helped me gain a sense of reality that part of studying conflict transformation is understanding the past conflicts and not solving, but rather embracing the pivotal moments within these conflicts.

Petrol Bomber mural in Derry

The Petrol Bomber (1994): Painted in honour of the 25th anniversary of the Battle of the Bogside

After paying our respects viewing the murals, we headed off to lunch. We decided to go to Badgers Bar and Restaurant. We went there because the restaurant had really good reviews and the Derry Girl Mural is on the side of the building.

Derry Girls mural

Derry Girls mural

Shortly after lunch, we walked around the walled city one last time and we made our way across the Peace Bridge and back to the station. We took a train at 2:30PM and arrived home shortly after 4PM. All in all, Derry was a humbling experience and a perfect city to showcase the multi-dimensional aspect of conflict. I will reflect on what l saw in Derry as I pursue my studies, remembering the complexity of conflict and how it can impact a community for extended periods.

 

Find out more

More student blogs about Belfast and Northern Ireland

Also from Sami: Exploring the Beauty of Ireland as an International Student

Study Conflict Transformation & Social Justice at Queen's

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Sami Koitz

Conflict Transformation & Social Justice | Postgraduate Student | Maryland USA

I've always been interested in the Middle East, specifically the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and non-profits that work towards building bridges between divided societies.

I am from Maryland, USA (about a nine-hour flight from Queens) and graduated in 2022 from Susquehanna University with a double major in Communication Studies & International Studies.

Outside of academics, I am a member of the equestrian team, Jewish Society, and wakeboarding club. I love meeting new people and I look forward to chatting with you.

Sami Koitz
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