Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Guest Blog: Derry Murals

This is the second of our academic blog posts, taking place in Derry in Northern Ireland. This blog contains the adventures of Brad, Meghann, Elizabeth, and Eva.

Note from Elizabeth: Although I covered some of Derry, this blog gives a deeper look at more of the murals.

We made a trip to Derry, which is located in Northern Ireland and is the site of Bloody Sunday. Derry holds a lot of history regarding "The Troubles" in Ireland.  When the English came over to Northern Ireland to try to force the English culture in the Irish, they developed a plantation in Derry, the second largest city in Northern Ireland, blossoming it into  a mini version of London. That is why the signposts and legal documents record the city  by the proper "English" name, Londonderry. However, many people would not stand for this and continued  to call it Derry. This caused much bloodshed in quarrels over who should rule the city -- the English or the Irish. For decades they fought and many battles took place, such as the Battle of the Bogside, in the very streets that we walked.

The Civil Rights movement in America spread and on January 30, 1972, a Civil Rights march took place. This Sunday in Irish history became known as Bloody Sunday because the unionists fired at the 26 civilians participating in the peaceful civil  rights protest against internment. The  government stated that the unionists were firing at men who were armed with guns or bombs. 

After peace came in 1998, Three artists were chosen to paint the story of the Troubles in Derry. Two of the artists were Catholic and one was Protestant. These Murals were painted on houses along the street in Bogside Derry where the fighting took place. We'll only cover a few that have a particularly interesting story.

Some murals have more back story than others. This one that depicts three young boys running is actually about three specific young men who died during the tensions. One of the boys was shot by a sniper of the enemy army. Another of the boys was killed when an unstable bomb he was transporting exploded in his arms. The last boy was killed by stepping on a land mine that was set by his own side, the IRA. Each of these boys died in terrible ways that only occur during a time of war such as this. The hardest thing about a mural like this is how it depicts such young boys. It is easier to think of men going out and dying in war but the reality is that boys, who are in their teenage years, lost their lives.

Out of all the murals, there were a few that stood out and really touched us. One of these was a mural with a fourteen year old girl, a butterfly, a pile of rubble, and a rifle. The girl was sent out into the school yard by her teacher to grab some stones for a project they were doing. The British soldiers at that time were packing up their gear and leaving Ireland for good. The war had finally come to an end. As they were driving past the school, a soldier decided to kill one last Irish. He shot her in the head. She was killed instantly. The mural originally depicted the girl with the butterfly in grays and the rifle next to her. Four years ago the mural was repainted, now the butterfly is rainbow-colored to symbolize peace and hope. The rifle next to her was repainted so that the rifle was broken symbolizing that the war was over. That Ireland won against the British. It is awful to think that someone killed a little girl just for the fun of it.

Like the previous murals, many of them told a story. It is no different for this one. This Mural depicts a young man standing in the middle of the road which acted as the battlefield. The battles would come in predictable heats. Gunfire would fill the streets and dust rose from the scuffle then when it was time for dinner both sides would retreat and return later. Not so for this young man. He stood there all the time. He would wait for the others to return and would be the first to fire at the enemy. Only his ammo was not bullets, but bricks, rocks, and other rubble scattered over the streets. His shield was a bed spring. Eventually, he was killed when he was run over by the enemy in their trucks.

The final mural, which was also the last one to be painted was not created until after the peace treaty was finally signed in 1998. The artists asked the schoolchildren what they thought should be painted and this is what they decided on. The background starts as drab gray and browns at the bottom and brightens into cheerful colors at the top. This represents the city coming out of darkness into the light. Out of warfare into peace. The outline of the dove is also a representation of peace. It is combined with the silhouette of an oak leaf representing the city of Derry. The proper pronunciation of Derry is Dira which means oak. It was named this because the place where Derry was founded was once an island on the River Foyle with a grove of oak trees.
The Peace Bridge across the River Foyle in Derry
Although after peace was proclaimed, bloodshed stopped, and a Peace Bridge was built across the “divide” between the two cities, there is still a heaviness in the air. As we walked through the streets, we could still feel some tension between the two communities. The hurts that they faced were still too near to be completely healed. There is peace, but it feels like the story isn't over yet.

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