When we told some Irish friends that we were making a trip to Northern Ireland, and further revealed our interest of getting a better understanding of the thirty years worth of political conflict that plagued the region up until the late 1990s, they scoffed. “I hope that’s not all you’re doing. There is so much more to the area then that.”
Indeed, there is. Our quick visit to Derry was a very pleasant one – we enjoyed strolling through the walled city and spontaneously found ourselves in engaging conversations with locals – the friendliness we immediately felt was impressive and thoroughly enjoyed.
But we still found ourselves drawn to Rossville Street, home to the Battle of the Bogside and Bloody Sunday, two significant events in the thirty year stretch that is referred to as “The Troubles” of Northern Ireland. What once served as a scene of protest, riots, and violence between Catholic nationalists (in favor of re-joining the Republic of Ireland since being split up in 1921) and Protestant unionists (loyal to the United Kingdom), this famed street now displays a permanent memorial of the events in the form of tremendous murals.
Three painters: Tom Kelly, William Kelly and Kevin Hasson are The Bogside Artists, and these are just a few of their amazing pieces that line Rossville Street.
The Civil Rights Mural. From The Bogside Artists website: “It cannot be doubted that Martin Luther King was the most influential figure in the Northern Irish struggle for human rights…”. The Catholic nationalists (living on the “Bogside” of Derry) were continually repressed by the Protestant government that ruled them, even though they were the majority. The voting systems were unequal, and their allotted housing was very poor and overpopulated. This led to the protests and subsequent riots when they were attacked.
Petrol Bomber (representing the Battle of the Bogside).
The Petrol Bomber is just beyond the famous Free Derry sign, painted by a Catholic activist in 1969, on the corner of the Bogside.
Operation Motorman and The Runner
Bernadette – a socialist republican activist who was elected as a Member of Parliament at the age of 21 in 1969.
The Saturday Matinee – a scene common in the early 70s, often on Saturday afternoons.
Bloody Sunday – On January 30th, 1972, 13 males were killed (7 were teenagers) by soldiers of the British Army during a civil rights march. Those killed were completely unarmed (some even shot in the back), and it wasn’t until June, 2010 that an investigation led by a Canadian and an Australian found that the killings were “unjustified and unjustifiable.”
The Peace Mural – although “The Troubles” are debated to have ended in 1998, violence still sporadically erupts along old tension lines.
We had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with the artist Tom Kelly at “The People’s Gallery” – a shop profiling The Bogside Artists work, set up at a corner on Rossville Street where some of the early rioting started. Recently back from displaying work overseas, we were lucky to catch him, and he filled us in on some of the problems the collective artists face in keeping their project alive.
He repeatedly emphasized that the murals are for the people, by the people - that their work would not have even been possible without the generosity of the residents in the Bogside, providing paint and other tools necessary to make it happen. Still, they struggle, with no support from the government to keep the murals fresh and the shop open. He cited the $22M “Peace Bridge”, opened just this June to represent a united Derry, and how even a few of those valuable dollars sent their way could keep this project of the people alive.
This is a story that needs to be told and remembered. Although after a few days in the north talking to different people, one thing is clear: it’s very complicated. There were scads of human rights violations by the loyalists, atrocities committed against the innocent on both sides, and lines drawn so deeply that it is now hard to imagine them ever being dissolved.
More to come in our following post with details of our taxi tour in Belfast.