Thursday, April 28, 2016

Diary of a World Traveler

Sligo Day 9: "A girl with no town."

I learned a lot about centuries-old disputes today, from both sides of the conflict. Though Northern Ireland is in a peaceful period most days, there are always inevitably times when an argument will spark or violence is remembered, threatened, or performed. The stories I heard still flow through the blood of everyone living in the city of Derry, and that was palpable while visiting. But despite all this, I would recommend Derry and a visit to these museums as essential to anyone who wants to understand the seriousness of the Troubles in the North.

Before we hit the museums in Derry, the day started out on a lighter note. We visited the grave of W.B. Yeats (1865-1939), which is just outside Sligo town in the shadow of Benbulben. Fans of the poet even say that the magnificent mountain of Benbulben is the true gravestone of the Yeats rests in the Drumcliff Cemetery next to a beautiful church of the same name that has amazing birds on the front door. Unfortunately, it was very cold and about to pour, so we had to speedily see the grave and then get back on the bus before the sleet hit. But I am so glad I got to see one of the best poets I have had the privilege to read and study.

We saw the rain coming across the valley after it swooped down over the mountain, so it was not surprise when it attacked us on the road to Derry not five minutes later. I feel confident in saying that it not only rained, but it poured and sleeted and was extremely windy to boot. The whole bus whistled with the onslaught of weather, but we made it out alive—as we would do for the rest of the day. As we drove the almost two hours from Sligo to Derry, we would pass through countless rain showers, only to come out to sun on the other side. We searched for rainbows after each and were often successful. It had not really made sense why rainbows are often associated with Ireland until we got to Sligo. The constant revolutions between sun and rain cause a rainbow every twenty minutes, it seems. There have been some amazing examples here, where we have a great view of the city from our hotel!

During one of the sunny spells, we drove past the town of Mullaghmore. There is a castle of the same name that sits on the top of a picturesque cliff and looks out onto the beach and ocean, which is apparently very good for surfing. The house has been used as the historical yachting estate of many British families. No one lives there anymore, but it still stands as a structure and can be rented out to anyone. Though it was too far away for a good picture, it looks beautiful even from far away.

In about another hour, we had driven all the way through the beautiful county Donegal and landed in Northern Ireland. There was no announcement, no sign, no customs check. There was really not much to notice at all, other than the road signs switching from Irish to English and the outside road markings switching from yellow dashed to white solid lines. That was it, though. I was astonished that it was that fast and that simple to cross over. The only thing our bus driver told us to do was put on our seatbelts, since they might stop us if we weren’t all wearing them. He also double checked how many of us were on the bus, but none of that would be needed. We passed through without trouble and would later leave just as easily.

Our first stop in Derry was a shopping center to grab some lunch. I immediately went to the ATM to get some pounds, which I used some of but mainly kept on reserve for when we go to England. They come out with Bank of Ulster on them, but otherwise, they are the real deal. Just like that, people have different accents, use different money, and call their stores different things. Crazy.

We went to Starbucks since they have free wifi, and I couldn’t resist a chai latte. It was expensive, but I needed the pick me up that also reminded me of home. Things are still great here, and I would not give up this experience for anything. But the time has come that I feel it’s time to go home soon. Until then, though, this drink was a fantastic way to fool me into thinking I was at home rather than in Northern Ireland.

After the mall, we set out on a walking tour of the city walls. Derry is known as the Walled City—a medieval wall surrounds the center part of the town, which is historically and still heavily Protestant in population. To signify this, the inner part of the city is usually called Londonderry. Outside the walls remains a heavily Catholic population, centered in a neighborhood called the Bogside. We got to see it all from the walls that stand up over both sides and give an amazing view of the whole city. We looked at St. Columb’s Cathedral, where Amazing Grace was apparently composed. We walked through Bishop’s Gate, the tallest point on the wall. And we ended at Double Bastion, which gives a lovely overlook of the Bogside.

The Bogside has many murals that symbolize or commemorate historical events and sentiments. For example, the most recent mural is a rainbow with a dove painted on it, to symbolize the period of relative peace since the Troubles began in the early 70s. The most famous mural is painted on the side of a white traffic hut, reading “You are now entering Free Derry”. Over the years, many people have painted words surrounding these originals, such as “You are now entering care Free Derry”, etc. 

As far as the museums go, I have decided to leave the talking to the people who spend their lives living and working in Derry. I would feel very uneasy trying to summarize my experiences at each, other than each was a valued and enlightening use of my time. The Apprentice Boys museum focused more on history, where the Free Derry museum on the nearer past, but both organizations did an excellent job of being informative and thoughtful and real. I appreciated that immensely. That is what I can say with confidence, so that is all I am going to say at all. The history of the city will otherwise speak for itself.

The day ended there, since we did not have enough time to walk around the Bogside to see the murals. It had started to rain, as well, so we slowly made our way back to the bus. The ride back to town was so pleasant, sunny, and warm that the majority of the bus—including me—fell asleep. We studied, ate dinner, and then went to bed. Things have been piling up more and more. Free time is scarce thing these days. But hopefully we can all power through and make the best of what time we have left here.  

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