St. Patrick's Day in Northern Ireland

Published: April 11th 2012
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Traditional Irish Breakfast!Traditional Irish Breakfast!Traditional Irish Breakfast!

Don't ask us what it all is though....
Today was the reason for our trip to Northern Ireland: to celebrate St. Paddy's Day in Irish style. We wanted to come to Derry for this occasion primarily because flights were cheaper than going to Dublin (we thought some of Mike's friends from school would join us, but they bailed), but also because we thought there would be less tourists and more of an authentic St Patrick's Day experience. Apparently the celebration of St Patrick's Day has been suppressed in the north more recently because of The Troubles, but the last few years it has been getting popular again. How could they pass up the opportunity to have a huge party?

Before the festivities got underway, we wanted to explore the city of Derry (also known as Londonderry). The reason behind Londonderry is because of the former close ties between London and Derry. In fact, It's a pretty small place, which is why we figured only one day would suffice. We started by walking on top of the walls that surround the old part of the city. We were on the opposite side of the river, so we walked across the peace bridge which joins the south bank and the north bank, the divide between Protestant and Catholic areas. The bridge is windy and is symbolic of the turbulent past, but that they are starting to bridge their differences and come together in this modern times. Derry was the site of Bloody Sunday, which occurred in 1972 when the British Army shot 26 unarmed human rights protesters and bystanders. This event exacerbated the divide between people in Northern Ireland that were nationalists (those that supported the separation of Northern Ireland from the UK), and unionists (those who wished to remain part of the UK). This divide was also a result of religious conflicts, where the nationalists tended to be Catholic and the Unionists tended to be protestant. This period of tension between these two groups (for almost 30 years) is referred to as "The Troubles", and this brought about much violence in Northern Ireland.

To this day, there is still some tension evident in the city. For one, the former name of the city, Londonderry, came from the close ties between London and Derry. In fact, the original name of the city was Derry (anglisized from Doire) , and was renamed Londonderry during the 1600s because of investment in the city by London companies (e.g. the money built the town walls). The name debate began during The Troubles and still continues to this day, with unionists using Londonderry, and nationalists using Derry. In this way, how one says the name of the city is indicative of their political interests, and you can imagine that can still be a cause of problems. Also, we knew that what you drank in the pub could have religious/political connotations, so we were careful to only drink the classics: Guinness and Smithwicks for Mike, and wine for Elysia. Because there is still some hatred toward london and the UK, we were also told not to tell people that we are living in London, because t could stir up some negative attention (especially from people drinking on St. Paddy's day). Luckily because we're Canadian, there's no need to say anything about London. We did find people in Derry were very eager to discuss a bit of politics with us, giving us a recap on the situation. Although there is still some tension between the two groups, the culture and happiness of the people is now beginning to rebound.

Anyways, back to the events of the day. After we finished walking around the perimeter of the walls, looking over at the banks of the river and seeing some of the murals that were painted during The Troubles, we headed to the Tower museum to learn more about their history. Luckily for us, for St. Paddy's Day it only cost us a pound to get in! Here is where we first experienced the friendliness of the Irish people: as soon as we walked into the museum, one of the security guards was eager to show us around a bit and share stories about our countries. We couldn't shake him for 45 minutes!

When we finally finished with the museum, the festivities had begun. People flocked into the main square wearing green, some with funny hats and paraphernalia. We walked around sampling regional food from the different tents set up, and we stood and watched some of the live music. To our surprise, we seemed to be surrounded by families with small children. There were no people our age to be seen (unless they had kids)! It was still a fun atmosphere though and it was a beautiful, albeit cold, day. Eventually we ended up at
Oh oh, Mike, Don't get too close!!Oh oh, Mike, Don't get too close!!Oh oh, Mike, Don't get too close!!

This is one of the cannons that sat upon Derry's city walls. It would have been used in sieges against King James II during the 17th century.
the parade with all the little kiddies, but we really enjoyed it. It was short, but there were some spectacular costumes. We were a bit disappointed that we didn't really hear much traditional Irish music (there was only one or two bands), but we were really impressed that the parade really did instill a sense of community in you. There was an abundance of children taking part in it, and you can tell that it was something they were proud of!

After the parade, the fun really began. We wanted to find people closer to our age (without kids) so we hit the pubs. There was one street full of pubs and, of course, it was packed at 3pm with people our age! (No wonder there was no one outside that was our age!) We squeezed ourselves into one pub (apparently a hot touristy pub called Peader O'Donnell's - pronounced 'Padder'😉 and I mean really squeezed: They couldn't have possibly packed one more person in it. After one drink, and constantly spilling it as people squeezed by, we decided to hit the next pub up the street. People were friendly in the pubs, but aside from some superficial conversations,
On the walls looking into the cityOn the walls looking into the cityOn the walls looking into the city

Note Elysia is wearing the festive green!
it was impossible to really meet anyone, so we just decided to have our own fun and do a pub crawl up the street. We made it to three places (Mike insisted on getting more than 1 drink in a few places, especially since an England-Ireland rugby game was on and he wanted to cheer alongside the Irish).

On our way uphill to the next pub (this was about 6pm) we saw a guy with a Vancouver Canucks jersey. Thinking that it's a great conversation starter to find a fellow Canadian, we went to say hello. The guy turns out to have been born in Canada (Chilliwack) but has lived almost his whole life in Ireland. He was with two irish friends, and after chatting for awhile, they invited us to go to a more local bar with them, so we headed to pub number 4 with some new friends! After a few drinks at the "locals bar" we lost two of the new friends because they had had too much to drink, but the Canadian guy remained and we headed back to his residence at the local university to hang out some more. (He was doing his master's
"The Troubles" murals at the Bogside"The Troubles" murals at the Bogside"The Troubles" murals at the Bogside

The Bogside was a poor Catholic neighboorhood just outside the walls of Derry. It is now famously associated with The Troubles, as the place where Bloody Sunday and the Battle of the Bogside took place. To reflect the troubled times, murals were erected by local artists.
degree in psychology and was our age.)

In the end, we had a great and very "authentic" St. Patrick's Day in Ireland!

Additional photos below
Photos: 25, Displayed: 25


The surrounding cityThe surrounding city
The surrounding city

Its not really that pretty... but the cannons are cool!
They're still getting set up for the festivities!They're still getting set up for the festivities!
They're still getting set up for the festivities!

This is where thousands of people will gather later on in the day to celebrate and listen to music.
A green cookie!A green cookie!
A green cookie!

After we bought it, we found out it was baked by an American. Talk about authentic.

Community members were playing beautiful irish music in the main event square
A sea of greenA sea of green
A sea of green

The average age of the crowd here is approximately 10 years old.... a bit skewed because of the parents.
St. Paddy's Day Parade 1St. Paddy's Day Parade 1
St. Paddy's Day Parade 1

This giant lobster kept attacking the crowd!
St. Paddy's Day Parade 2St. Paddy's Day Parade 2
St. Paddy's Day Parade 2

Amelia Earhart landed her plane in Derry after she flew across the Atlantic. This plane signifies how proud they are that she landed there.
St. Paddy's Day Parade 4St. Paddy's Day Parade 4
St. Paddy's Day Parade 4

Beautiful costumes. There is a real sense of involvedness in the community!
St. Paddy's Day Parade 6St. Paddy's Day Parade 6
St. Paddy's Day Parade 6

They even got the dogs from the shelter involved in the parade!
Pub stop #1Pub stop #1
Pub stop #1

This pub was so packed that you couldn't possibly squeeze one more person in! Hard to avoid people's big heads from getting into the photo.
Pub stop #2Pub stop #2
Pub stop #2

The pub was also incredibly busy, just not as much as the first.

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