Driving in Northern Ireland has introduced a peculiar Irish sense of humour. In addition to very narrow winding roads, we noted that the authorities have completely done away with speed limit signs both in towns and on the open roads- in their place are a copious number of signs warning of the presence of speed cameras (don't tell me what the limit is but take a photo if I exceed it?). Even the parking requires local knowledge and copying others doesn't work as I think there's some sort of secret handshake involved. I might be getting tickets long after leaving the country.
Our last stop in Northern Ireland had to be Londonderry, second only to Belfast when it came to the violence of 'the troubles'. Even the name of the city (second largest in Northern Ireland) remains a source of friction- the name "Derry" is preferred by nationalists and it is broadly used throughout Northern Ireland's Catholic community, whereas the unionists prefer "Londonderry". We were told that the "London" on most signs would be spraypainted out, but the citizenery must have tired of fighting this fight (or they ran out of spraypaint) as we didn't see any evidence of sign abuse (or, as they would say in Melbourne, "street art").
Londonderry/Derry is the only remaining completely intact walled city in Ireland and one of the finest examples of a walled city in Europe. The Walls, which are approximately 1 mile in circumference and which vary in height and width between 12 and 35 feet, are completely intact and form a walkway around the inner city. Unfortunately the Walls were built during the period 1613–1619 for the early 17th century settlers from England and Scotland with the intent of keeping the Irish out (the "London" was added at this time since the construction was financed by London businesses). What could possibly go wrong with a walled city filled with Unionist Protestants surrounded by Free Ireland Catholics?? Conflict ensued with significant interruptions due to the Irish Potato Famine, and an even bigger conflict by the name of WWII (because it was Europes most western port, the city was a crucial jumping-off point for the shipping convoys that ran between Europe and North America).
On Sunday 30 January 1972, 13 unarmed civilians were shot dead by British paratroopers during a civil rights march in the Bogside area in an event that came to be known as Bloody Sunday. This led to years of violence throughout Northern Ireland but in the late 80's the level of violence in Londonderry/Derry dropped dramatically. Our own brief visit here left us feeling much more optomistic that the negotiated peace is supported by all sides and is much further along than what we had seen in Belfast.
Shortly after leaving Londonderry/Derry, speed limit signs started reappearing so we knew we were back in Ireland proper (still no markers to indicate you're leaving or entering another country). And you couldn't drive too far between towns, churches, pubs, etc., without running into something labelled as St Patrick's fill-in-the-blank.St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland (and the reason thousands of people drink green beer every March 17th) but St. Patrick was not actually Irish, he was Roman- say it ain't so!! And perhaps his most famous accomplishment- clearing Ireland of all snakes- wasn't true either as there never has been any snakes in Ireland (DH claimed to have seen a couple in the Donegal pub we visited). He did give us the superstition of the rare and lucky four leaf clover; St. Patrick compared the more common tri-part leaves shamrock to the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Host Spirit.
St. Patrick's first exposure to Ireland was Donegal where he was taken by Irish pirates. He found his calling and started converting the locals here before taking on the rest of the country. We didn't see any Irish pirates but we could understand why the saint would want to hang out here for a while. It's a beautiful part of the country... and I can say without reservation that I had the best seafood pizza I've ever had in the heart of Donegal.