Derry City Walls
The walls were built during the period 1614-1619 by the Irish Society, a group of English and Scottish settlers. The walls, which are approximately 1.5km in circumference, form a walkway around the inner city and provide a unique promenade to view the layout of the original town. There are seven gates with which to access the interior of the city - four original and three newer ones. The walls vary in width between 12 and 35 feet and are the most complete in Ireland and one of the finest examples in Europe of walled cities. The city claims Europe’s largest collection of cannon whose origins are known precisely. In 2005 the surviving 24 cannon were restored, and under expert supervision and often by hand, craftsmen, cleared the barrels of centuries of rubbish, stripped off layers of paint and corrosion and bathed, sponged and waxed the cannon back to their former glory. During James II’s attempt to gain the crown of England, he attacked Derry in 1689. Just prior to his arrival, a handful of apprentice boys closed the gates to the city, preventing James from entering. James besieged the city for 104 days before a relief army, led by William III, chased him away.
A statue of Governor Walker, who was the governor of Derry at the time, was erected to honor his leadership during the siege. It was placed on a plinth and faced the Catholic areas of Derry. It was a constant reminder to the Catholics of James’ defeat and their subjugation to the loyalist minority. In 1973, the plinth and statue came crashing down after an explosion. With tongue-in-cheek, I mentioned to an older gentlemen I met that there was a rumor that the IRA had something to do with it. His response, “It was no rumor. I remember it well. We had a time that night.” He also mentioned that he has a finger from the statue at home on his mantle.
Co Londonderry - A Land of Contrasts
"Ancient Monuments - Time Travel"
Since the stone age, man has been creating majestic structures that we still marvel at today. You can find them world wide. In County Londonderry, visiting these ancient ruins are, in a sense, like stepping in to a time machine. Whether you are interested in ancient monuments, battlefield sites, re-enactments, Roman and Norman forts and castles, Stately Homes, Country Houses, Historic Cathedrals or Ruined Abbeys, you will find something to explore in Co. Londonderry.
There is Springhill, a 17th century Planter house, which house a phenomenal collection of costumes from the 18th cenntury through the 1930's. It even has a children's area, where children can try on costumes. As with an building this old, it has a resident ghost, as well. St Columb's Cathedral,built in 1628 and consecrated in 1634, is the first Protestant cathedral to be constructed in Europe since the Reformation. The cathedral houses the earliest church bell in Ireland, many relics of the 1688-1689 city siege, and the cathedral's stained glass depict scenes from the siege. Downhill Castle is the late 18th century estate built by the eccentric Earl and Bishop, Frederick Hervey. Estate includes ruins, mausoleum, beautiful gardens and the renowned Mussenden Temple perched on the cliff edge. Hezlett House is a charming 17th century thatched house with an interesting cruck-truss rood construction. One of few pre-18th century Irish Buildings surviving.
There are so many more delightful finds that you will have to find when you take your own trip in the time machine that is County Londonderry.
"Derry, A Walled City, Brimming with Culture"
As I walked along the great 17th-century walls, about a mile round and 18 feet thick, which withstood several sieges and even today are unbroken and complete, I began to get a sense of what the great siege must have been like. As I stood alongside one of the cannons still standing guard, I could almost smell the smoke and hear the sounds of Battle. Siege of Derry celebrations can be seen at Apprentice Boy's Memorial Hall every year.
What is amazing to me is how this modern city has embraced its medieval history and made it an active part of who they have become, including preserving the 17th-century layout of four main streets radiating from the Diamond to four gateways - Bishop's Gate, Ferryquay Gate, Shipquay Gate and Butcher's Gate. The main thoroughfare, Shipquay Street, is very steep, with narrow little streets running off it and a craft village tucked in behind the O'Doherty tower. The chapterhouse displays the keys to the gates that were shut against James II in December 1688. The Guildhall, almost an exact mirror of its counterpart in London, is just outside the walls. Its stained glass windows depict almost every episode of note in the city's history. I stood in awe, as I absorbed all of the stories sparkling in muti-hued tones, like jewels in a treasure chest. From the quay behind the Guildhall hundreds of thousands of Irish emigrants sailed to a new life in the New World.
Festivals are one of the many things for which Derry is noted. The Banks of the Foyle Hallowe'en Carnival sees over forty thousand ghastly dressed ghouls partying way past midnight and is not one to be missed. Big Tickle Comedy Festival in March, City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival in April and Celtic European Festival of the Sea in May/June all will appeal to some adventurous soul Derry is also home to Northern Ireland's largest Film Festival. However, it is not just during these times that music abounds in Derry. You can find music in almost every nook, cranny and pub.
Guided tours of the city are available by bus, cruise boat, taxi or simply on foot. In Tower Museum, you can learn about the city's history; everything from the formation to the politically troubled past is explained in presentations. Harbour Museum allows us to get a feel for the city's maritime affairs. I highly recommend that you take a guided walking tour. I was told that the tour wouldn't be done in the rain, when I booked. They must have meant downpour. My tour occurred on a "soft" day of light drizzling rain and yet, the guide was cheerful, knowledgeable and gracious.