Derry, in Northen Ireland, was recently named the UK’s first City of Culture for 2013. Derry is forward-looking and vibrant but the city’s promising future belies a bloody past, reflected in the harrowing paintings which adorn the walls in Derry’s Bogside.
TNT’s Janine Kelso visited Derry for a tour of its historic murals.
Clutching a Molotov cocktail and wearing a gas mask, the chilling figure of a boy brought to life in a mural on an end-terrace wall is a creepy reminder of Derry’s turbulent history.
Painted by talented local artists, this fresco is just one of many in the Bogside area, each one bearing testament to the role Derry played during the ‘Troubles’: the conflict between Catholic nationalists living on the city side and the Protestant pro-British loyalists residing by the waterside.
Take a tour of Derry
While on a walking tour with guide Martin McCrossan, from Derry City Tours, my eyes are drawn to a huge painted image of a schoolgirl, who stands alongside a broken rifle. This is Annette McGavigan, who was killed by crossfire in 1971, at the age of 14.
When the fresco was first painted, the rifle next to her was intact, but it was repainted with the broken rifle in 2006 to reflect the fact that peace has reigned in the city since the early 1990s.
A wall emblazoned with the slogan: “You are now entering free Derry” marks the spot where Catholic residents put up barricades to stop the Royal Ulster Constabulary from entering in 1969.
Another mural records an event that is regarded by the people of Bogside as the most tragic day in Derry’s history. The image shows a group of terrified men carrying an injured comrade through the streets while an armed soldier gazes on.
This was the scene of January 30, 1972 when Derry hit the headlines all over the world in an event branded Bloody Sunday, when British paratroopers opened fire on a group of peaceful unarmed protesters, shooting dead 14 people, six of whom were only 17 years old.
Although tensions have eased and peace has reigned for several years, there are still reminders of the sectarian divide. While the Catholic Bogside area is plastered in political murals, Union Jack flags are ubiquitous in the Protestant region, where kerbstones are painted red, white and blue.
That said, enjoying a Guinness and traditional live music later that night at lively pub Peadar O’Donnell’s with its Guinness posters and stuffed animals, no one seems to care which side of the tracks you come from, as long as you’re up for a mighty craic.
» Janine Kelso travelled with Shamrocker Adventures (08450 267 507; shamrockeradventures.com) on the Northern Rocker tour, which travels to Derry, Belfast and the Giant’s Causeway. It recently won ‘Best Visitor Experience’ at the Northern Ireland Tourism Awards. Shamrocker also runs three, five and seven day trips throughout Ireland, departing from Dublin.
Related posts: Destination guide: Northern Ireland