Derry, Ireland -- You can get a good crash course in modern Irish history by visiting Londonderry/Derry (or as it should be renamed, Slash City).
Derry was Northern Ireland's Rubicon, so to speak. Three days in August, 1969, have gone down in history as the Battle of the Bogside. It was here that the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) attempted to force a Protestant Apprentice Boys' parade through the Catholic neighbourhood of Bogside. The citizens of the area struck back, rioting to prevent the parade. After three days, the British Army was called in to restore order.
Stand on the grassy hill at the Free Derry corner of Rossvale Street and face north. Looming up on the side of a house is a beautifully executed monochrome mural of a masked boy holding a petrol bomb while soldiers march past a burning house. The RUC used CS gas during the Battle of Bogside, and the petrol bomber attempts to protect his neighbourhood.
Turn slightly to your right. The next mural depicts a young woman holding a megaphone to her mouth. This is Bernadette McAliskey (née Devlin), a founding member of the People's Democracy Party who was elected to Parliament for Mid-Ulster. She took part in the Battle of Bogside and was arrested and spent four months in jail for "taking part in, and inciting a riot." She was just 22 years old at the time. In the early 70s, she visited the U.S. and was given the keys to New York City. She gave them to the Black Panthers.
At Bernadette's feet is a woman in an apron, banging a trash can lid. The women and children would bang the tops of trash cans to warn the Republicans of an impending British Army raid.
Behind the woman, boys hurl objects out toward the viewer, creating a sense that you're about to enter this battle. Behind them is the Free Derry Gable, which states, "You are now entering Free Derry," reminding the viewer that to the people of the area this was more than just a physical place - it was a battle for equality.
Step off the grassy hill and walk south. You'll happen upon a mural of a young man, bleeding, being carried past a soldier, while a priest waves a white handkerchief. There's a large crowd of protestors behind them. The only splash of colour is the blood on the trampled civil rights banner that the soldier is standing on. This is a depiction of 1972's Bloody Sunday (yes, it's more than just a U2 song), when the British Army opened fire on a civil rights march.
The bleeding teen is Jackie Duddy, who died from his wounds. The priest is Father Daly, (later the Bishop of Derry), who was fired upon as he tried to give Duddy Last Rites.
Further south is a startling mural. Painted in the colours of life - red and hues of orange - it commemorates the 14 people shot dead on Bloody Sunday. Their faces float suspended in time, young and smiling, surrounded by oak leaves, symbolizing the city of Derry.
The next is of a starvation-stricken man, monochrome, painted on a blood-red back ground. He's wearing a blanket pulled tight over his shoulders. Behind him is a skeletal woman. The painting recalls the events of the hunger strike by prisoners in the Maze prison who declared themselves political prisoners.
This particular depiction is of Raymond McCartney, a Derry man, who survived the hunger strike. Ten were not so lucky, the most famous of whom was Bobby Sands.
The subsequent two paintings are my favourites. They're again not in colour. One is called Operation Motorman, after the British operation to re-gain control of the IRA-controlled areas of the North. The mural shows the back of a British soldier who's swinging a mallet to break down a door.
The next mural is of a young person, back to the viewer as he/she faces down a tank, rock tucked behind his/her back. This one is called Saturday Matinee, because of the frequency of the riots that happened on Saturdays.
If you backtrack north, a wall painting of a smiling girl in a school uniform stares down at you.
Behind her is an upside-down machine gun, an unfinished butterfly and a completely destroyed building. This is Annette McGavigan. She was shot in her street by a British soldier on September 6, 1971. She was only 14 years old. The gun symbolizes the futility of war; the butterfly will not be finished until there is a lasting peace in the North.