This is what our local Londonderry tour guide, Ronan, kept reminding us. We had arrived in Londonderry the night before, after leaving the Giant’s Causeway. Our first order of business on Monday was to meet Ronan for a walking tour of Londonderry, also known as Derry depending on which side of the city wall you live. Ronan himself was pretty interesting. He is the product of a Buddhist, Asian mother and a Protestant, Caucasian father and speaks fluent Gaelic and English with the most wonderful Irish accent. He grew up in Londonderry and, as such, told us that he has a bias regarding the divide between the Unionists and Loyalists. However, he is also a history teacher and was able to present Londonderry’s storied past rather neutrally.
He took us up on the city walls for a walk during which he told us the history of points of interest along the way. It was fascinating to get the perspective of someone who has lived there from the time of the Troubles up to today. We then walked around the Catholic Bogside neighborhood to look at the famous political murals and “Free Derry” sign. The sign is currently undergoing maintenance. It was a sobering experience to know we were walking in the very area where Bloody Sunday occurred, but also uplifting at the same time since, although gritty, it is perfectly safe to walk down the street.
Just like in Belfast, you can tell who lives on which side of the wall just by looking at the flags and artwork. However, as both tour guides pointed out, the two sides have more in common than differences as they are both economically depressed. Ronan told us that his kids mention seeing tourists walking around town, but when he was their age, he would see soldiers and IRA members violently clashing with each other. In this way, he said that us tourists are part of the city’s healing process.