I claim no prowess in Irish history, in fact up until Wednesday I am ashamed to say I was pretty much completely ignorant to the distribution of land, religion, and nationalism that permeate this little green isle.
Since I planned to come here all of about three weeks ago I didn’t have the luxury of the pre-trip trip. You know, the months leading up to a vacation when you will your departure date to arrive by reading everything about your destination that you can, thus ensuring you will know exactly what to see or omit and how to fit in with the locals. Well I arrived in Ireland thoroughly unprepared, but thankfully I had Shannon and Craig to show me the ropes.
The border between Ireland and Northern Ireland is virtually indiscernible to the untrained eye. During times of unrest, the borders had checkpoints and if you know where to look you can still see hints of them. On the way to and from Letterkenny you cross over it a few times and the only way I could tell if I was in Ireland or Northern Ireland was to check the price of Petrol, if it was in pounds – Northern Ireland, Euros – Ireland.
Craig to his credit did a lot more research about his new home before he moved over and was a huge help in my wrapping my head around the "the toubles"we have all heard about from the not-so-distant past. Letterkenny and Derry (London Derry) are in the heart of the troubled areas of yesterday and the history is so fresh that it is still palpable. While Belfast may have grabbed more headlines, these towns saw their share of conflict and rhetoric, and bare reminders still.
If you are interested in this bit of Irish history then Derry is a fascinating place to go. The city is in Northern Ireland (UK) and was the site of Bloody Sunday in January 1972. The Free Derry area is punctuated by commemorative murals, which memorialize the fallen protesters or draw parallels to opposition leaders or peace activists throughout the world. You can tell which affiliation's neighborhood you are in by the street curbs, they are painted with the country’s colors to denote UK/protestants or Irish/catholics.
The city has plenty of less current history to learn about as well. It was one of the last walled cities to be established in the UK and it remains intact today. You can walk the wall and get great views of the town, Free Derry, Fountain as well as access to the shopping and dining areas of the city center.
We stopped in a small church and were treated to a guided tour by the sweetest woman. Her voice was so comforting, Craig and I agreed that you couldn’t help but want her to read you a bedtime story or War and Peace if she was up for it. The church had been rebuilt several times through the centuries due to decay, and most recently the rectory was rebuilt when an IRA bomb collapsed a nearby column, which fell onto the church.
And just like that it was time for me to leave. I could stay here for a long time and surely will return to tour the whole country and on that trip I will stop at every historical site, or field of yellow flowers polka dotted with white and black sheep, or just so I can ask someone the time, even when I know full well it is 3:33.
“Excuse me, do you have the time?”
“Surely lassy, tis tree tirty tree.”
This place makes me smile.
Perhaps I can best convey this through a link, check this out for your own Irish smile. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCbuRA_D3KU
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