Leaving Northern Ireland

On our return to the Republic of Ireland, we made one last stop in Northern Island, to the walled city of Derry, where we visited the Museum of Free Derry for a history lesson.

On January 30,1972, inspired by the civil rights marches and peace protests that occurred in the USA, about 15,000 Catholics staged a march to call attention to the discrimination they were experiencing. British soldiers shot indiscriminately into the crowd, killing 14 unarmed protesters. The day after what became known as Bloody Sunday, 2,000 men joined the IRA, which up until that time had not been very active.

Although attempts were made to portray the peaceful marchers as terrorists, a film crew was there, recorded what actually happened, and smuggled the film out (in their underwear!) to the Republic of Ireland where it was broadcast around the world. Despite the visual evidence to the contrary, the false narrative that some march participants were terrorists persisted until 2016, when an inquiry finally revealed the truth. The result was a long overdue apology by Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron. An excellent video in the Museum shows the huge emotional impact that historic apology had on the people of Derry. Sadly, the guilty soldiers still have not been brought to justice.

While on the Black Cab tour in Belfast, our driver showed us the size of rubber bullets that were used for crowd control. These were fired on Bloody Sunday, and contributed to the injuries many protestors suffered. Can you imagine being hit by one of these?

We couldn’t leave Derry without touring its city walls, and learning about its history, most of which I promptly forgot. Of course, the wall had the requisite cannons, strategically interspersed.

Our border crossing into the Republic of Ireland was seamless. No check points, no guards, no showing of passports, just a change of currency, back to the Euro. Ireland has sworn that it will never have a border dividing it again. Boris Johnson declared the Irish Sea will be the border, but many wonder exactly how that will work post Brexit. No one quite knows.

And now for a little perspective: the population of Northern Ireland is a wee bit under 2 million. The population of The Republic of Ireland is almost 5 million. Compare that to the population on NYC, which is over 8 million, and you can understand why much of this glorious island is comprised of rolling green hills and picturesque landscapes, perfect for raising sheep.

Typical view from my bus window.

Which brings me to the next subject: the Irish Diaspora. We all know that millions of Irish left during the potato famine, but I never knew that many lost their homes when they were evicted.

This beautiful castle was built by John Adair, who evicted 244 of his Irish tenants because he thought raising sheep would be more profitable than allowing his tenants to continue farming. By the way, the Irish became tenants on their own land, after Oliver Cromwell conquered them, and seized their property so he could use the land as payment to his soldiers.

Adair was the first of three owners of Glenveagh. The third, Henry McIlhenny, was an Irish American. His grandfather, John McIlhenny settled in Philadelphia, where he became very wealthy from his invention—the coin operated gas meter. Henry was an art aficionado, who donated his family’s extensive collection to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. His generosity extended to Ireland, when he donated the castle and its gardens as a gift to the nation. It is now a national park.

Touring the grounds of Glenveagh with a naturalist, who demonstrated the depth of the bogs, and explained why the people sacrificed in the bogs were so well preserved.

I had originally planned to write a bit about Donegal, but that will have to wait for a future post, because I have run out of time.