We took a short detour through the town of Omagh as I had a morbid curiosity to see where the Omagh bombing took place, this was my only knowledge of the town.
It’s hard to imagine how much hatred people can show to fellow countrymen.
“The Omagh Bombing
On the afternoon of Saturday 15th August 1998, a car bomb exploded in Market Street, Omagh killing 29 people and two unborn children, as well as injuring 370 people. It remains the largest loss of life of any single incident in the history of the Northern Ireland trouble.
A warning, telephoned to a news agency in Belfast at approximately 2.30pm and passed on to the then Royal Ulster Constabulary, referred to a bomb at the Omagh Courthouse. Many of those killed and injured had been moved from the vicinity of the courthouse and into the area where the bomb was situated. At 3.10 pm the car bomb exploded, it had been planted close to the junction of Market Street and the Dublin Road 400 meters further down the road from the courthouse.”
“RIRA (The Real IRA, a splinter group who formed after the IRA entered peace talks) claimed responsibility for the blast that killed and hurt both Protestants and Catholics. Martin McGuinness, the chief negotiator for Sinn Fein, said: "This appalling act was carried out by those opposed to the peace process. It is designed to wreck the process and everyone should work to ensure the peace process continues."
Market Street, Omagh. Looking up towards the courthouse.
It was quite sobering driving through the town and thinking how lucky we are to live in a country without the worry of bombs and the random attacks of dissidents. At least now with the Peace Agreement in place the people of Northern Ireland can live a little more freely and safely.
I wouldn’t say that it was overly apparent where we were, while travelling through Northern Ireland, other than regular Union Jacks flying in the breeze (the official Northern Ireland Flag and recognised by Protestant, Unionist, and Loyalists) usually there are painted red, white and blue road side pavers down the sides of residential streets in the Protestant areas and then occasionally the Tricoloured orange, green & white flag of the Republic of Ireland which is also used by Nationalists and Republicans north and south of the border. The other major thing we notice is the police stations in Northern Ireland, they are surrounded by high fencing, reinforced screens and razor wire with CCTV cameras on every available pole, you couldn’t just walk up to the counter to report a crime. Oh and I forgot, of course the murals, more on them later.
We didn’t see much of the countryside between Omagh and Londonderry as the fog was thick and heavy and the drive very slow going. By late morning we had crossed into County Derry and drove on into the city of Londonderry and found a car park near the town centre. Londonderry, also known as Derry, is the only remaining completely walled city in Ireland and one of the finest examples of walled cities in Europe. The walls were built over 5 years from 1613, they are approximately 1 mile in circumference and form a walkway around the inner city with great views out over the surrounding district. The four original gates to the Walled City are Bishop’s Gate, Ferryquay Gate, Butcher Gate and Shipquay Gate. Three further gates have been added - Magazine Gate, Castle Gate and New Gate. The Walls vary in width between 12 and 35 feet and along the way are 24 restored cannon.
We accessed the wall through Ferryquay Gate and headed clockwise around the wall, it was cold and as you can see by this photo the fog was yet to lift. This is St Columba’s Cathedral built in 1628 and on the within the city walls.
And this was the view on the outer side of the walls just before the church.
An old artillery bastion and the awesome old canon “Roaring Meg” whose discharge was said to be more frightening than the actual damage inflicted on the enemy.
Halfway round and we pass the Royal Bastion and stretching away in a valley beyond the outer wall is the Catholic Bogside district. Here stands the famously provocative wall bearing the Free Derry Mural and declaring that ‘You are now entering Free Derry'.
Beyond the wall at Shipquay Gate is the Guildhall, built in 1887 it has been consumed by fire on three separate occasions. Unfortunately there were major underground works happening on the square in front of the hall so it didn’t look too attractive today either. The building functions as the headquarters of the City Council and it's interior depicts Derry's history through a series of vast stained-glass windows.
We exited the wall just before completing the full circuit and found ourselves in multi-storied shopping complex where we checked out the loos and had a look at the Food Hall. The problem with having a full cooked breakfast is you don’t usually feel like lunch until 2 or 3 o’clock which then means dinner has to be much later as well. We decided to press on and find some lunch when our grumbling tums let us know. By the time be exited the car park and crossed the River Foyle heading north east the fog was lifting and within a few miles there was hardly any to be seen and we had that brilliant sunny and still day we had been looking forward to.
We were taking the Causeway Coastal Route (sold as "one of the world's great road journeys") along the North Antrim coastline and I was hoping to make it to the Giants Causeway by late afternoon. It soon became apparent that we wouldn’t be able to fit all the planned stops in before we made it to Ballycastle where we had a B&B booked. We made the decision to leave the Causeway and the Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge until the morning, it would only mean backtracking by about 12 miles but at least we could take our time and not rush things for the rest of the afternoon. Hindsight would be a wonderful thing……..