05 Sept 2006 Tuesday - Derry to Sligo

Well, this morning we woke up of course in Derry, sometimes called Londonderry.

In the book, it said that the theme song of Derry is “O Danny Boy,” a song that I believe continues with “the pipes the pipes are calling.” However, it now seems more appropriate for them to use U2's song, “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” because the real “Bloody Sunday” they were writing about took place in the streets of Derry.

After breakfast, Kathy and I drove to the inner city, parked the car in the parking ramp of a shopping mall, and started walking. Kathy was tired and a bit moody because she didn’t sleep well last night due mostly to the small bed. Another part of her bad mood was the constant rain. So far, it has rained every day we’ve been in Ireland. Most days have started out rainy and then it cleared up in the afternoon. Last night it started raining harder and it rained all night long.

She grumbled about trying to find the way out of the mall. Eventually we got our bearings and walked out of the mall and into the streets of the old city, in the rain.

At first, we took photos of the gates

and flowers and such.

They say Derry is the only city in Europe with a complete city wall all the way around.

We walked around to a big church.

Kathy was annoyed that they were charging a hefty fee to get inside and also because there was no one to let us in when it should have been open. Finally, we walked away, while I made a mockery of the whole concept of charging a fee to get inside a church: “I’ve got God Himself locked up inside my church, and you’re not getting in to have an audience with Him unless you pay me!” I’m more inclined to believe they’ve done nothing but lock God outside the church.

So we left and continued walking. We walked along the city gates where we saw a row of cannons lined up.

One of the plaques said that the city was besieged for like 105 days, at which time a ship came in from the river and fortified the city, which broke the siege. The old city had an old-world feel, with big historic buildings

and cool churches. We tried unsuccessfully to get into another church, but it was also closed. In its cemetery, we noticed how moss was growing in the carved lettering on the stones. It was very odd looking.

Next, we walked down the hill to the Bloody Sunday memorial,

which is a shrine with a plaque.

Then we went to the nearby Bloody Sunday Centre, which had information about what took place, what people were killed, and why.

We were shown a long video that explained the sequence of events, and it was pretty depressing. To an impartial observer like myself, it sounds like there were lots of civil rights demonstrations going on in the streets of Derry in the early 1970s and they were getting increasingly violent and big. Then the British government decided to crack down and “make an example” of the demonstrators. They dropped a bunch of paratroopers and they started deliberately shooting demonstrators in the streets. It was cold blooded murder in the streets of Derry. There were, I think, seventeen people killed in all, most of whom were 17-year-old kids, many of whom were shot in the back. One had a bullet pass under both arms, which implied that his arms were up in an act of surrender at the time.

However, as we walked away from the museum, I talked about it with Kathy. I asked her if she noticed that the IRA, the Irish Republican Army, was barely mentioned in the video. Its role was very much down-played. In fact, they were barely mentioned except to say that the people who were shot were not members of the IRA. When I was a child, I remembered hearing news stories about the IRA and their violence, and it was called terrorism. I don’t know anything more about it because I was too young to understand at the time.

Another thing we found odd was that the video never clearly explained to my satisfaction why the people were demonstrating. It sounded like there was a rift between the common people, the majority of whom were Catholics, were severely suppressed and treated unfairly by the government, who favored the Protestants for all the good paying jobs. It sounded like the Catholic people of Derry felt as if they were being discriminated against, so they held marches and rallies and erected illegal barricades in the streets. But it was never made clear: Was this a religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics? Or was the demonstrations regarding separatists who wanted to self-govern rather than be under the control of the British government? Or was it a little bit of each? These things were never really made clear.

I still don’t know why the Republic of Ireland doesn’t cover the whole island and why Ireland is divided into Euros and British Sterling. I remember Sir Paul McCartney, one of my favorite recording artists from long ago, singing a song called “Give Ireland Back to the Irish” and it amazes me that this separation is still there.

Eventually, we walked back to “The Diamond” which is what they call the Town Square here. We took a few photos of a veteran memorial they have there, then we walked back to the shopping mall and back to our car. It was still raining.

We left Derry, but before we left Northern Ireland, we used the last of our Sterling to buy gasoline (petrol) for the car. Soon we were driving back down south, in the rain which never ended.

We drove down to the town of Donegal. I didn’t know much about Donegal, except that my brother Joe’s Irish band, Gaelic Tribe, wrote a song and a CD called “West of Donegal.” There is both ocean and land to the West of Donegal, but we didn’t drive that way.

Because I was hungry, I stopped and parked the car in an interesting lot. We ate at a small upstairs café, and discovered that Donegal Castle, which we wanted to visit, was within walking distance.

So after lunch, we walked to the castle,

paid our fee and toured the castle. It was a pretty cool place, but not a very large castle.

It was pretty well preserved though, with three or more floors intact.

After we left the castle, we walked to a destroyed friary,

which was pretty much leveled except for a few walls

and a fairly big cemetery.

Of course, it was still raining like crazy and we had to keep wiping drops off the lens of our cameras.

Then it was trudging through the rain back to our car–just barely in time before our parking slip ran out–and we were on the road again. We stopped at a small crafters’ village, but we didn’t buy anything.

We continued to drive south until we hit Drumcliffe Monastery,

which is the site where William Butler Yeats is buried. I didn't know he was buried here, so I was pleasantly surprised.

We took a few snaps of the small church there

and and surrounding grounds,

then we visited their little shop. At that point, Kathy bought the “Eyewitness Travel Ireland” book, which is much better than any of the books we brought from the U.S.

Satisfied with our purchase, we got in the car and continued driving south.

It was still raining when we checked into our castle hotel about ten kilometers south of the town of Sligo (pronounced Sly-Go) where we are staying tonight and tomorrow night. This is a very cool place with lots of ornate things around. A very beautiful place indeed.

The property is enormous, beautifully green and very well kept.

Imagine my surprise when I found out we were staying in the “Johnny Cash Suite”

which is a room where the American singer Johnny Cash once stayed (must have been before it was a hotel though).

This is by far the biggest room we've stayed in.

Even the bathroom was big.

We ate a wonderful dinner at the castle,

socialized with some other guests, then went back to the room to strategize about the next days of our trip, deciding where to go and all that. Kathy always likes to have a plan.

I’m tired and it’s late, so I better get to bed. Tomorrow we’re staying at the same castle as well.