For our second “break” of the summer we left Festina at Coleraine , 5 miles or so up the river Bann. This is the heart of the “Ulster plantation”, started way back in Tudor times , that continues to cause division to this day. Perhaps more famous is the nearby city of Londonderry , a bye word in the 70s and eighties for being a war zone between Catholic and Protestant para military groups. To our surprise , everyone in (Protestant) Coleraine seemed really proud of “Derry”, both for  the fact that it is a unique and attractive walled city and that the Troubles have been put behind them. In fact they were surprised that we hadn’t been there to see for ourselves what a great place it was .
So we went.
It wasn’t without a few misgivings however, not least for the fact that our visit coincided with the public holiday to celebrate protestant King Williams victory over Catholic king James -a day when the various Orange lodges take to the streets all over the province.
We took a train early in the morning and in Coleraine saw the Orange lodge hanging flags all along the route march . Many of the houses along the route sported Union flags . There were no marches that we could see in Derry itself ( perhaps this would be just too inflammatory)  and  we duly explored the pleasant little city with its historically important intact walls.

To the west of the town lies the Bogside stat, scene of the  Bloody Sunday massacre and familiar to me from grim television reports from the Troubles. There it lies under the walls , still with the murals depicting the conflicts of yesteryear, the pub roofs daubed with “IRA “ , but more happily, newer murals depicting peaceful scenes with the hashtag “DERRYHAPPY”. I was astonished how small this infamous area was.

The city was buzzing and friendly, the museums fascinating and determinedly giving a balanced view of the troubles , from Tudor times to the present. The complexity of the issues over the years gives modern day Syria a run for its money with Irish catholics and Scottish presbyterians fighting each other , then joining sides to fight the English who themselves fought against each other (Roundhead and Cavalier) : all swapping side with bewildering rapidity and taking it in turns to behave apallingly. Now everyone we spoke to t00k great pride in the fact that peace enabled the city to become the first city of culture in the UK and attract a considerable flow of international tourists. Reading the local newspaper however, it was clear that under the surface the tensions bubbled on as evidenced by minor acts of provocation from both sections of the community. The locals assured us that less than 2% of either side wish to cause a problem- whilst the vast majority are just mighty relieved the Troubles are behind them , and crossing their fingers that they will remain so. Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EEC and there are fears that a reinstatement of a physical border with the Republic might inflame the situation once more.
We had a great day , learnt a lot and came away hoping fervently that the peace and prosperity that we could so obviously see will continue.

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