Just outside the walled city center, the Bogside was developed in the 19th and early 20th centuries as a home to Catholic workers. By the 1960s, it was overcrowded and rife with poverty and unemployment, making it ripe for revolution. In the late 1960s and 1970s, protests were regular events here as Derry became the center of the Catholic civil rights movement. In 1969, protests morphed into riots, and the "Battle of the Bogside" unfolded over the course of 3 days, while fires burned and rocks were hurled at local police officers. At the end of it, the British government decided to base armed soldiers in Derry to keep the peace. By then, relations between Catholics and the Protestant local government had broken down entirely. The 30,000 residents of the neighborhood declared their area as "Free Derry," independent of British and local government. They painted murals arguing their cause on the walls of their houses and barricaded the soldiers and police out of the area. The Bogside was so dangerous for outsiders that even the military wouldn't go there without armored vehicles. Thus, on a Sunday in January 1972, the civil rights march that attracted 20,000 marchers shouldn't have attracted particular attention, until British troops suddenly opened fire on the marchers, killing 14, in one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles. The soldiers later said they'd been fired upon first, but subsequent investigations found little or no evidence of that. (In 2010, after a 12-year, £200 million inquiry, the British government finally accepted this to be the case and apologized). Relations between soldiers and residents remained very poor for some time. The day of the incident was known as "Bloody Sunday," and it galvanized the IRA into further acts of violence throughout the region. Tensions remained through the 1970s and 1980s, but calmed in the 1990s.
Most of the Bogside has been redeveloped, but the Free Derry corner remains, near a house painted with the mural reading “You Are Now Entering Free Derry.” Since the 1990s, local artists known as the Bogside Artists have painted more murals around the district, similar to those on the Falls Road in Belfast. Though some are overtly political in nature, many depict simple yet powerful messages of peace. This has effectively turned parts of the Bogside into a free art museum, and together the murals have become known as the People’s Gallery.
- Jack Jewers