Monday, September 13, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities - and a Break on the Border

Last week I went with hubby Jan for a few days to Donegal and Northern Ireland - he had a conference to attend in Buncrana for Town Councillors so I had plenty of time to explore the area while he was at the sessions and we also had time to sightsee together.

Co. Donegal is a beautiful part of the country and I hadn't been up there for over thirty years, while Jan had never been. Neither of us had been in Northern Ireland as tourists: apart form a perfunctory drive into Co. Fermanagh when I was at an INO (Nurses Union) Conference in Cavan - just to say I'd crossed the border - I'd never been into the North, and Jan had gone to Newry over twenty years ago to sell a car before we returned to Africa. It was a car we'd bought in Wales and it was easier to sell it in the North than to import it into Ireland and incur all that cost only to sell it on.

We drove up to Donegal in a day, took about six hours to get there via Dublin, which was a bit of an indirect route but the best roads. Motorway all the way to Dublin and Drogheda over the lovely new toll bridge over the Boyne (pictured in this post), then normal roads for the rest of the journey.

We stayed in Buncrana, a town on the Inishowen Peninsula which is the most northerly part of Ireland. We didn't make it to the extreme tip at Malin Head but we did get close to it when we went to Doagh Island. The first night we had dinner after checking in to our hotel, the Lake of Shadows, and dropped into the conference venue, the Inishowen Gateway Hotel, to meet some of the delegates. It was an early night for us both after the long drive. Next day Jan went off to the conference and I wandered around Buncrana for the morning - a lovely little town with some nice shops - including the oddest name
ever - Ubiquitous Restaurant!

Across the Border - the city that dare not speak its name

After lunch I went to Derry/Londonderry for a look around the historic walled city. Never has a city had such a controversial name - I still don't know what the official name is as the Catholics would use Derry and the Protestants/Loyalists use Londonderry. So as an uninformed Southerner I would probably be excused whichever name I used, as in mixed (religious) company you end up offending someone regardless. Not being terribly au fait with the current nuances of names, I just kept quiet and drove into the city - about 20 mins from Buncrana - and enjoyed the buzz that comes from being in a foreign country - as Derry is in the UK - and realising if I said that to a Nationalist Republican I would cause major offence as they claim ownership of the North as part of Ireland.

Well, the "North" is on the island of Ireland but as Six Counties of the North remained with the UK after Ireland's Independence in 1922 it has been a flashpoint ever since and 40 years ago the "Troubles" erupted with the loss of over 3,000 lives on both sides of the divide over the next three decades. There's peace now but as there are many unhappy with the Good Friday Agreement and the power-sharing that ensued it is a very tenuous truce - hopefully a lasting one, nonetheless. There's a powerful imagery in the sculpture at the roundabout to the city called Across the Divide - you can see the photo in this post. There's also a link to Lismore - the artist Antony Gormley has a sculpture at the Millenium Forum Theatre modelled on his own form as in the one in Lismore Castle Gardens.

The Walls of Derry
were the scene of the famous Siege of Derry in 1688-89, and in more recent times there are many memorable infamous events, the worst being the Bloody Sunday massacre in 1972 when 13 unarmed protesters were killed by the British troops. That inquiry has just recently ended with the British Prime Minister apologising to the relatives of the victims, which has brought some closure to one of the most divisive and bitter events of the Troubles. There's some tourism now around the Walls and even on the remnants of the Troubles in the Murals that give some colour to the housing estates - they are all highly political and have been retained as a marker of their significance to their communities. I managed to capture some on camera and they give an idea of the sentiments and sometimes persistent "Siege" mentality that persists to this day. This is evident in the dispute that's arisen over the British City of Culture 2013 that Derry's just been awarded - it led to a split in the City Council over the inclusion of the UK in the title.

It's fascinating contemporary and ancient history when you're in the thick of it and I certainly enjoyed my walk around the Walls, unguided apart from all the information points on the Bastions and the various Gates, and absorbing the atmosphere while wondering what tales these walls could tell of all they've witnessed since their birth.

I drove across the Craigavon Bridge - a double-decker bridge across the Foyle River and back over the Foyle Bridge and re-entered the Irish Republic/Ireland at a different border. The only indication that there's a border is in the speed limit signs - Ireland uses Km/hr and the North as the rest of the UK uses Miles/hr. The currency is the other clue that you're in a foreign land - the North is part of the Sterling Pound territory and £ signs abound, as the UK remains resolutely outside the Eurozone and I wrestled with some mental arithmetic to get my € rates converted to £stg. All I do know is that the North's prices are way cheaper than the Republic, even in the same shops - Lidl are said to be much better value in the North and as they are leading cost-cutters in the South that's saying something.

As we saw so much during this trip to the northern shores of the island, I will write a few different blog posts over the next few days, and hope you enjoy reading about what may be already familiar or totally new to you. It's fascinating stuff when you're in the thick of it and I certainly enjoyed my walk around the Walls, unguided apart from all the information points on the Bastions and the various Gates, and absorbing the atmosphere while wondering what tales these walls could tell of all they've witnessed since their birth.

I'll try to do a Picasa Web album for the sidebar!
The photos here include:
  • Various views of and from the Walls,
  • Cannon and plaques from the Walls,
  • The Murals (the famous Free Derry one and a few Loyalist ones)
  • The Boyne Bridge in Drogheda,
  • The Ubiquitous Restaurant in Buncrana,
  • The beautiful Guildhall in Derry,
  • The Maurice Harron Sculpture "Hands Across the Divide"


Ann said...

Sounds like a wonderful trip. I must make a note of this so if I ever get to that part of the country I don't miss anything.

Catherine said...

Thanks Ann - it was indeed a great few days away and felt like a holiday. I've all the photos on Facebook and just added a few more here to give a sense of place. I'm in the process of writing a few more posts on all the rest of the trip and places we visited.
All the best, Catherine

Reader Wil said...

Hi Catherine! Thank you for your visit! I have never been in Ireland, but I have Ireland on my list of countries I want to visit. I must hurry on because I am almost 77. Have a great day!