Fun things to do in Derry

  • Che Guevara mural
    Che Guevara mural
    by GeoV
  • 'Bloody Sunday' mural
    'Bloody Sunday' mural
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  • Derry, along the River Foyle
    Derry, along the River Foyle
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Most Viewed Things to Do in Derry

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    War Memorial – On the Diamond

    by wabat Written Dec 12, 2013

    The square at the centre of the walled City of Derry, the point at which the four main streets from the four original city Gates converge, is called the Diamond and is the former location of various civic buildings and a market. In fact, three former town halls were located here. In 1904 a fire in Austin’s Department store on the Diamond (the building behind the war Memorial in picture one attached) also destroyed the town hall from which point the Diamond then hosted a small garden.

    Today on the centre of the Diamond is the City’s World War I Memorial - to 756 citizens killed in the Great War and to 4,000 men and women who volunteered for service. While 756 names are recorded on the Memorial it is now thought that around 1150 people actually lost their lives. Interestingly, almost half of those who lost their life in The Great War were from a Nationalist (Catholic) background – many Catholic’s answered Britain’s call for assistance in WWI. the Memorial now also commemorates those lost in WWII.

    Contrary to urban myth, the War Memorial statues are not rejects from a trial run for a set of statues in Sheffield. The Memorial, paid for by public subscription, was erected in 1927 and was designed by siblings Sydney and Vernon March. The Memorial is of bronze and Portland stone and stands almost forty feet high (14mtrs) and is twenty-seven feet wide (9mtrs).

    The central column features a winged Victory statue (representing the Air-Force) holding high a laurel wreath and has inscribed on it, on brass plaques on each corner, in raised letters the names of the fallen. On pedestals on either side of the Memorial column are two smaller bronze monuments, a soldier representing the Army and a sailor representing the Navy.

    Working models of the figures on the Monument can be seen in St Columb’s Cathedral – though there are subtle differences between the models and the final figures – e.g. on the model the sailor is wearing shoes while on the Memorial he is barefoot.

    The War Memorial (Austin's in background) The War Memorial - Army The War Memorial The Diamond
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    Blue Coat School Visitor Centre

    by wabat Written Dec 9, 2013

    To the rear of First Derry Presbyterian Church is a refurbished Blue Coat School, now home to the The Blue Coat School Visitor Centre. This centre is a small museum on the history of Church, the history of Presbyterians in the city (and beyond) and the role Presbyterians played in the 1689 Siege of Derry.

    In the 1640s organised Presbyterianism commenced in Ulster with many Derry Presbyterians signing the Solemn League and Covenant in1644 protesting at royal interference in church affairs. The formation of the congregation now known as First Derry took place at around the same time.

    Presbyterianism played a major role in the Siege of Derry in 1689 to the extent that following the lifting of the Siege Queen Mary gave a significant donation to the Presbyterians to construct a new meeting-house. By the 1770s the original meeting-house became too small for the numbers attending services and so the current First Derry Presbyterian Church was erected.

    The rich history of Presbyterianism is depicted through a mixture of graphic design, original objects, digital interactives and models together with a recreation of life in the Blue Coat School in the early 19th century.

    When visiting, and I highly recommend you do, visit the museum prior to visiting the church as the museum display continues into the church.

    First Derry in its past has founded five schools throughout the city including the Blue Coat School which was founded in 1773. The 1773 school was extended via the construction in 1820 of a no longer existing girls school adjacent to the church. Both schools were replaced by the First Derry National School in 1894. This later building, now the Verbal Arts Centre, is the rather grand building you can see beside the Roaring Meg cannon at Double Bastion on the southwest corner of the Walls (picture 4).

    The Blue Coat School was funded via a combination of contributions from the Honourable the Irish Society (created by Royal Charter (James I) in 1613 to undertake the Plantation in the North West of Ulster and importantly protect the Planters and a major benefactor of the city ever since), church collections and voluntary contributions. Boys attending the school were educated and clothed and subsequently apprenticed to trades. While at school were members of the church choir.

    In general terms Blue Coat Schools were charity schools, the first of which was founded in England in the 16th century. They are known as "blue coat schools" because of the distinctive blue uniform originally worn by the pupils. The uniform included a blue frock coat, and yellow stockings with white bands.

    Opening Hours - Apr to Sept: Tue-Fri 10am-4pm

    Admission - free but donations to the Church & Visitor Centre maintenance are appreciated.

    Blue Coat School - Visitors Centre Blue Coat School - Visitors Centre - Display Blue Coat School - Visitors Centre - Display First Derry National School - Verbal Arts Centre
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    Raytheon and Derry

    by wabat Written Nov 26, 2013

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    Affixed to the City Walls in Guildhall Square I came across the plaques in the attached photograph.

    The circular plaque, clearly associated with the centre one, brings together two symbols of Derry – the famous 17th century City Walls which are among the best preserved and most complete city walls in Europe and the oak leaf, a much older symbol of Derry, recalling the oak grove that was here when the city was first established and indeed the origin of half the official name of the city. Derry is an Anglicisation of the old Irish Daire or later Irish Doire which means oak-grove or oak-wood. The prefix, London, was added to form Londonderry in the 17th century in recognition of London’s contribution to the development of the city at that time and indeed for a significant time later.

    The centre plaque has a fairly obvious and clear message being a memorial to those of the city and surrounding district who lost their lives in various wars and conflicts.

    The bottom plaque, clearly a later addition, is somewhat more cryptic and indeed completely stumped as to its meaning and significance.

    Having carried out some research I have solved the mystery (perhaps my readers already knew the answer).

    Flowing on from the “resolution” of the Troubles in the early 2000s one of the peace dividends was that various US companies including Raytheon set up business in Northern Ireland. Raytheon was, and indeed still is, a massive US defence contractor and manufacturer of weapons and military equipment including Patriot, Tomahawk, Cruise and Sidewinder missiles.

    Local anti-war activists, over a number of years, engaged in protests against Raytheon operating in Derry. While Raytheon maintained that its Derry operations were limited to software development and that no weapons were ever manufactured here, war and conflict weary protestors were not convinced. In particular, Raytheon repeatedly denied claims that its Derry plant made components for bunker bombs deployed by the Israeli military against civilians in Gaza.

    In 2011 Raytheon finally yielded to years of protests, some of which had caused considerable damage to its plant, and ceased its operations in Derry.

    Given this background the meaning of this memorial’s words becomes obvious.

    “In memory of all those killed by weapon systems produced within this City & District”.

    While there are no clues as to who erected the plaque or when it was erected I assume it was erected by a sympathetic Derry City Council some-time after Raytheon’s departure from the City.

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    First Derry Presbyterian Church

    by wabat Written Nov 23, 2013

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    Presbyterians have resided in the City since around 1642 having arrived during the Plantation of Ulster which began in the early 1600s. By the time of the Siege there was a significant number of Presbyterians in Derry but still they didn’t have a place of worship within the City Walls. During the Siege, like many others in the region, the Presbyterians had moved in behind they city walls either to assist in the defence of the City or to seek safety from Jacobite forces. Within the Walls they worshiped in St Columb’s Cathedral and at some time they actually had St Augustine’s Church“on loan”.

    In recognition of their contribution to the Williamite cause during the 1689 Siege of Derry, Queen Mary, in 1690 made a contribution so that they could build a church of their own.

    First Derry Presbyterian Church was thus built some time after 1690. The original church was demolished and rebuilt in 1780 to accommodate a growing congregation. The foundation stone of the earlier church can be seen above the centre door of the current church, inscribed with the Roman numerals M.D.C.X.C (1690). The current colonnaded frontage was added in 1903.

    The Church suffered severe damage from terrorist activities throughout the Northern Ireland Troubles but managed to continue operating. It was a case of dry rot in the roof trusses that necessitated the church being closed for restoration in 2002.

    Excavations during the refurbishment of the church uncovered human remains within and without the church. The remains were not removed and left to rest in peace. They are thought to date back to the 1689 Siege of Derry and it is even speculated that there may be a mass Siege grave within church grounds.

    Only in 2011 was the church fully restored to the beautiful state that I found it in on my recent visit - a far cry from how the Reverend David Latimer found it when he became minister in 1988 “When I arrived in 1988 there was a wrapping of tall security fencing outside, the windows were covered in protective material and steel shutters were fixed to the doors, it looked very unwelcoming and inside was dark and dismal because no natural light was getting in. It required all this security paraphernalia because it had been targeted repeatedly during the Troubles."

    Photo Five - The motto of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland is "Ardens sed Virens" – "burning but flourishing". It is usually, as it is here in floor tiles,seen alongside the Burning Bush, the church's symbol.

    Combine your vist to the church with a visit to the adjacent Bluecoats School and Museum.

    Opening Hours

    Apr to Sept: Tue-Fri 10am-4pm, Sunday Service 11.30 am

    First Derry Presbyterian Church First Derry Presbyterian Church First Derry Presbyterian Church First Derry Presbyterian Church - Ceiling First Derry Presbyterian Church - Floor Tiles
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    St Augustine’s – A Church of Many Names

    by wabat Written Nov 22, 2013

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    An absolute must see. A real highlight of my visit.

    St. Augustine’s, known as the “Wee Church on the Walls” is built on the site of St Columba’s first monastery in Ireland which was founded in 546AD on “God’s Little Acre” , this site on the oak clad Hill of Derry given to him by his cousin, Aed, King of Cenel Conaill.

    The original church, St Columba not wanting to cut down any trees unnecessarily, was built in a north south direction rather than the more usual east west orientation. Later churches, including St Augustine’s retained this rarer orientation.

    in the 1100s, given the limited site size and the need for a bigger church, a new site was chosen (at the present site of the Catholic Long Tower church) for a larger church which came to be known as ‘Temple Mor’.

    The original "wee church" came to be known as Dubh Regles (or The Black Church). By 1613, the church – by then under the control of the Augustinian Order and in a rather bad state of repair, was refurbished and used during the Plantation of Ulster by the first settlers from England, Wales and Scotland until St Columb’s Cathedral could be built. It was then known as “The Church of God in the Cittie of Derry”. During the Siege of Derry in 1688/89, a cannonball containing the terms for surrender fell in the church graveyard. This hollow cannonball can now be seen in the porch of the nearby St Columb’s Cathedral. The church was used by Scottish Presbyterians during the Siege and until, in recognition of their contribution in holding out against James II, Mary I provided funds to the Presbyterians to build their own church.

    The Church was again rebuilt around 1795 by Bishop Barnard and became “Ye Chapel of Rest" to the Cathedral.

    The present church, St Augustine’s, in a neo-Gothic style to the designs of JG Ferguson was built in whinstone with sandstone dressings in1872. It was consecrated by Bishop Alexander, husband of world famous hymn writer Mrs Cecil Frances Alexander upon whom I have written a separate tip - There is a Green hill in the Creggan.

    While damaged three times in the Troubles, St Augustine’s never closed for worship and today it remains one of the most beautiful churches I have had the pleasure of visiting anywhere in the world. While not architecturally outstanding I find it a most homely and welcoming place - most fitting as a place of worship or reflection - depending on the visitors inclination.

    When inside make sure you:
    • look up at the stunning open timbered ceiling,
    • admire the very beautiful stained glassed windows. Alas VT's limit on the number pictures that can be added per review precludes me sharing my pictures of them here.
    • have a look at the bronze dove resting on a bronze book of verse on the window sill immediately to your rights as you enter the main part of the church – a memory of St Columba the Scribe (the dove being the symbol of both St Columba and Derry).

    Outside have a wander through the historic graveyard and admire the ceramic tiles along the edge of the pathway into the church – something rather unique I think. I certainly have not come across it before.

    On the right of the entry path you can see some pre-Siege graves including a headstone to Thomas Gaw and Elizabeth Montgomry dated 1668. While not marked, one of the last High Kings of Ireland, Muircertach Mac Lochlainn was “honourably” interred here in 1196.

    For those seeking to explore the graveyard in greater detail, pick up a detailed guide from the church before you have a look around it.

    For those unable to visit and indeed for those planning to visit, the church has created a wonderful Ipad/Iphone App available free from the Apple App Store. It contains a wealth of information and many great pictures. Do have a look if you can.

    For some reason I have taken to reciting song and poetry in a number of my Derry reviews. Having come across this absolute gem on St Augustine’s (St Augustine’s Website) it seems appropriate to share it too:-

    S.Augustine's - The Church I Love

    I have been in great Cathedrals
    Up and down our land,
    I have seen their Pomp and Splendour
    And Ritual so grand,
    I have knelt before their Altars
    And in their pews I've prayed,
    I have seen their great Memorials
    As down their aisles I've strayed,
    I have heard their bells a-calling
    The Faithful into Prayer
    Although I've gone and worshipped
    My heart was never there.
    I've heard the sweetest music
    From their organs swell,
    But my heart was in that little Church
    The one I love so well.
    It stands in Londonderry,
    Upon the City Wall,
    Nestling among the trees
    The grandest of them all.
    It has no lofty tower
    It has no steeple tall

    The Altar is not marble
    It's made of wood quite plain,
    Oh! When shall I return for good
    To worship there again?
    To see good Doctor Trimby
    Touch the organ keys,
    And hear the choir a-singing
    The hymns that always please.
    To hear Mr Mac. The Rector,
    On each Sabbath day,
    Lead those lowly Irish folk
    As they kneel and pray.
    To sit among those folk,
    The faces known of old,
    The Scouts, the Cubs, the Rovers,
    I'd give all this world's gold.
    I know I'm one of many
    Who feel like that today,
    As we work and fight for freedom
    In places far away.
    But some day in the future
    We'll all come marching home

    Opening Hours

    March - October: Mon-Sat: 10.30am - 4.30pm. Open Sundays for worship. It even has a small souvenir shop.

    St Augustine's Church St Augustine's Church - Interior St Columba the Scribe St Augustine's Church - Tiled Path St Augustine's Church - Church Yard
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    Heritage Tower – Former Derry Gaol

    by wabat Written Nov 22, 2013

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    This is the last remaining tower of a former gaol, the remainder of which was demolished in 1973. While the original gaol was built in 1791 the towers were an 1824 addition with this one being a hanging tower. This was the City’s third prison and replaced ones at the junction of Bishop Street and the Diamond (1620) and one at Ferryquay Gate (1676).

    The prison’s most famous inmate was Theobald Wolfe Tone, one of the leaders of the failed 1798 United Irishmen rebellion, who was imprisoned here prior to his trail and execution in Dublin. Also held here was, then rebel, Eamon de Valera, later to be President of Southern Ireland.

    The tower now houses a small World War I museum which is only open by appointment – which I didn’t have so I have not seen inside. The tower itself which is accessible from Fountain Estate or viewable from Bishops Gate in the Walls is certainly worth a look if you are in the area.

    Like many things in Ireland the Gaol is the subject of a song - an Irish rebel song – “Derry Gaol”, one of many variants on the song "The Maid Freed from the Gallows" - a centuries-old folk song about a condemned maiden pleading for someone to buy her freedom from the executioner. While there are many different lyrics for “Derry Gaol” they all in one way or another lament the loss of a rebel from Derry Gaol from which it is held few were released alive (somewhat of an exaggeration).

    “But the very first step he put on the gallows
    His blooming colour began to fade,
    With bitter sighing and tender crying,
    “Is there no releasement from Derry gaol?”"

    Derry Gaol - Tower Derry Gaol - Tower Derry Gaol - Tower - The Fountain Entrance Derry Gaol - Tower - Bishop Street
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    The Courthouse

    by wabat Written Nov 21, 2013

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    Despite numerous bombings through the "Troubles" this Greek Revival style building is as beautiful and sturdy looking as the day it was built, some 200 years ago in 1813 - though to be fair there have been a number of refurbishments in the intervening years. Why can’t buildings like this be built to-day? I wonder how many buildings built in 2013 will even exist in 2013 let alone look as good as the day they were built?

    The Courthouse was designed by Dublin architect John Bowden and built in Dungiven white sandstone by builders Henry, Mullins and McMahon on behalf of the Honourable the Irish Society, which, if you have read others of my reviews you will know was established in the early 1600s to support the Plantation of North West Ulster. Other structures in the city built by the Society include the City Walls, St Columb’s Cathedral and the Guildhall. For more detail on the Honourable the Irish Society see my separate tip ” Roaring Meg and other cannons”.

    The facade of the courthouse is modelled on the Athenian temple of Erechtheus the youngest temple on the Acropolis built in around 420BC. On top of the building and to either side of the Royal Coat of Arms are Portland stone statues of justice (with the scales) and peace (with the olive branch).

    The courthouse which held its first court sessions in 1816 remains and active court to this day.

    The Courthouse
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    The Peace Bridge across the Foyle

    by wabat Written Nov 18, 2013

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    The Peace Bridge, a 235m long cycle and foot self anchored suspension bridge across the River Foyle is a recent addition to the city’s landscape.

    London architects, Wilkinson Erye’s design concept was clear in the symbolic as well as the physical nature of the bridge – it stated that the bridge …

    “..will physically and symbolically unite both sides of the river and is conceived as two distinct structural systems that work in harmony. At the middle of the river both systems overlap, boldly interacting to create a single unified crossing - a structural handshake across the Foyle and an embrace in the centre of the river.”

    The bridge was opened on 25 June 2011 and connects Ebrington Square (site of a former military base) in the Waterside with the rest of the city at the Guildhall Square or more specifically the Protestant part of the city with the Catholic part – something that would have been unthinkable less than 20 years ago. Both sides would have been in a race to see which could blow it up first!

    Even more unbelievable and absolutely unthinkable 20 years ago is that it was opened primary funder, EU Commissioner for Regional Policy, Johannes Hahn; accompanied by the First and deputy First Ministers, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness; and the Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny. How times change.

    Peace Bridge
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    There is a Green Hill in the Creggan

    by wabat Written Nov 14, 2013

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    Cecil Frances Alexander (nee Humphreys) was born in Dublin in 1818 and moved to the Derry/Strabane area in 1836. It was here that she began writing both poetry and hymns in the very simplistic style for which she became world famous. In 1850 she married Church of Ireland clergyman, William Alexander, who in 1867 was appointed Bishop of Derry. He later became Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland but this was after his wife’s death in 1895. Cecil Frances Alexander is buried in the City Cemetery where her husband was subsequently interred in 1911. Unfortunately I did not have time to visit the cemetery.

    In 1848 Alexander published "Hymns For Little Children", which included three of the most popular hymns in the English language: "Once in Royal David's City," "All Things Bright and Beautiful" and "There is a Green Hill Far Away."

    Heavily involved in charitable work all of her life, a major part of her income from her hymn and poetry writing went to helping the less fortunate – including the deaf and dumb. She was also involved in the Derry Home for Fallen Women, was a frequent visitor to the sick and poor and, with her sister, she set up the Girls’ Friendly Society in Derry.

    By 1987 nine of Alexander’s hymns appeared in the Church of Ireland Hymnal, including the three referred to above.

    Like John Newton, writer of Amazing Grace, which was inspired by an unexpected visit to Derry (see my separate review Amazing Grace – Newton and the Derry Link) Alexander, also a prolific hymn writer with over 400 to her credit, was likewise inspired and influenced by Derry. The most obvious example of how her time in the City influenced her is found in ”There is a Green Hill Far Away”. The city wall reference in verse one (below) was of course a reference to Derry City’s Walls and the inspiration for the "green hill" was the Creggen Hills, without the city wall, though clearly visible from those Walls (west side - picture 3).

    There is a green hill far away,
    Without a city wall,
    Where the dear Lord was crucified,
    Who died to save us all.

    While permanently living in Derry (1865-1995) Alexander lived in the rather grand looking building then the Bishop's Palace though now a Masonic Lodge building (picture 2). An Ulster History Circle blue plaque affixed to the outside of the building attests to Alexander’s residence. The former Bishop’s Palace is on Bishop Street about 50 metres inside Bishop’s Gate and a short stroll from the Cathedral.

    As I have stated in my St Columb’s Cathedral review there is a small exhibition in the Cathedral to the memory of Cecil Frances Alexander and her work within the Cathedral and the City. Well worth a look (photography not permitted in the Cathedral).

    Cecil Frances Alexander Former Bishop's Palace The Creggan Hills in distance
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    Cathedral Church of St Columb’s

    by wabat Updated Nov 13, 2013

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    This Cathedral is a must see on your visit to Derry as it is inexorably linked with so much the history of this City. Forgive me for the number of links I have inserted in this review to other reviews which provide additional detail or context for this “summary” review.

    St Columb’s Cathedral, in Planter's Gothic style, was built between 1628 and 1633, around 10 years after the City Walls were completed making it the first Cathedral to be erected in the British Isles after the Reformation. It is the oldest building in the City and the mother church of the Church of Ireland Diocese of Derry and Raphoe and the parish church of Templemore. It is dedicated to Saint Columba, the Irish monk who established a Christian settlement in the area in the sixth century.

    Like the City Walls and many other buildings in the City it was built by The Honourable the Irish Society, a London based organisation created by Royal Charter (James I) in 1613 to undertake the Plantation in the North West of Ulster. Further details on the Irish Society can be found in my separate tip “Roaring Meg and other cannons” Just inside the cathedral you will see a tablet recognising the importance of London in the development of the City. It reads:

    “If stones could speak. Then London's praise should sound who built this church and city from the ground”.

    The two guardhouses or watchtowers you can see along the City Walls (one either side of the Cathedral) were added, along with the raised wall, in 1628 to provide added additional protection to the Cathedral which housed cannons on the top of its tower (pre current spire days – this was added in 1821) and which was of great strategic importance to the defence of the City and protection of the Plantation settlers who had recently arrived from England and Scotland.

    The church played a critical role during the 1688-89 Siege of Derry. In addition to being a house of worship for Episcopalians and Presbyterians the Cathedral’s tower served as s signalling station to those outside including relief ships beyond the boom erected on the River Foyle by James II to stop food and other supplies from entering the besieged City. Throughout the siege a crimson flag, signalling distress, was flown from the Cathedral. Following the Siege the colour crimson was adopted as the Commemorative Siege colour and it became the colour of the Apprentice Boys Association.

    Two of the Siege’s key leaders are buried within the Cathedral - Colonel Henry Baker and Captain Michael Browning as are a number of others who died in the Siege. Renovations to the Cathedral in 1861 disturbed a number of bodies and lead to a major outrage within the City and became the motivator for the construction of the Siege Heroes Mound which you can see within the Cathedral grounds. Given the impact of this renovation work and the importance of the Siege Heroes Mound I have written a separate review on it.

    In the entrance hall to the Cathedral you will come across a hollow shell fired into the City on 10 July 1689 by James II's forces encamped outside the Walls. Inside the shell, which landed in the grounds of what is now St Augustine’s Church, was an offer and terms for surrender of the citizens. The offer was rejected.

    Since 1689 the Cathedral has hosted annual thanksgiving services to commemorate the Shutting of the Gates and the Relief of the City.

    Do take time to visit the Cathedral's Chapter House. Among the items on exhibit here are Governor Walker’s Bible (see my separate review on Governor Walker- The Walker Memorial Plinth – Royal Bastion), the 1689 keys and locks of the then four City Gates, various documents relating the Siege of Derry and portraits of William III (William of Orange).

    Also within the Cathedral you will find a small display to the memory of Cecil Frances Alexander, perhaps not well known to readers until I mention that she was a famous hymn writer most famous for writing Once in Royal David's City, All Things Bright and Beautiful and There is a Green Hill Far Away. I have prepared a Separate review on this great hymn writer.

    St Columb’s Cathedral may also have inspired the writing of John Newton’s “Amazing Grace”. Again more about that in a separate review.

    Photographs within the Cathedral are not permitted.

    Entry fee is GBP2 – this is waived if you have taken a Derry City Tours, city walking tour.

    Opening Hours - Mon-Sat 9am-5pm. Sunday Services- All welcome.

    St Columb's Cathedral St Columb's Cathedral St Columb's Cathedral, Watchtower, Heroes Mound St Columb's Cathedral St Columb's Cathedral - Graveyard
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    Amazing Grace – Newton and the Derry Link

    by wabat Written Nov 13, 2013

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    Something to contemplate while you visit St Columb’s Cathedral.

    There are few, if any, better know hymns (and yes, it started out as and is a hymn) in the world then Amazing Grace.

    Ireland is famous for the quality of its poets and writers and many readers will be familiar with Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce and William Butler Yates to name but a few.

    Perhaps it is something in the Irish air that moves people to poetry, song and other forms of artistic expression.

    Amazing Grace was neither written by an Irishman nor was it written in Ireland but there is certainly a very strong argument to mount that the writer was inspired to write the hymn while on a very unexpected visit to Ireland and numerous visits to St Columb’s Cathedral during that visit.

    John Newton who was born in Wapping, London in 1725 was by his own admission a wretch, a cad, a scoundrel and certainly not one that one would ever have expected would become an influential preacher and prolific hymn writer who would pen what is probably the worlds most famous hymn.

    Newton made his name as a North Atlantic slave trader and a foul mouthed one at that. On one particular voyage across the Atlantic in 1748 Newton narrowly escaped death by reaching the Co Donegal shore just in time a most horrific storm. He had also basically run out of food. This close encounter with death marked the beginning of his spiritual journey - “the hour I first believed”- and was to prove the turning point in his life.

    His ship needed extensive repairs and while these were being carried out Newton journeyed to Derry. While there he went out on a shooting expedition with the Lord Mayor and thereon narrowly escaped death for a second time when he accidentally discharged his firearm shooting a hole in his hat which was on his head at the time.

    This second near-death experience convinced Newton that God was watching over him and lead him to spend most of his remaining time in Derry praying in St Columb’s Cathedral where-in he took communion and pledged himself “to be the Lord’s for ever and only His”.

    While he returned to the slave trade for a number of years he eventually gave up ‘this unhappy and disgraceful trade”. Folklore, at least, would have us believe that his giving up of the slave trade was as a result of an epiphany in St Columb’s. He later became a mentor to William Wilberforce in the latters long battle to get anti-slavery legislation through Parliament.

    Newton became a clergyman in 1764 and used his own hymns over the next forty years to illustrate his sermons.

    Newton wrote “Amazing Grace” to illustrate his New Year’s Day sermon in 1773. The words of the hymn refers back to his dramatic rescue from death (not once but twice) and his conversion in Derry – “the hour I first believed”.

    Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
    that saved a wretch like me.
    I once was lost, but now am found,
    Was blind but now I see.

    T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
    And Grace, my fears relieved.
    How precious did that Grace appear
    The hour I first believed.

    John Newton
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    Sally Forth from the Sally Port

    by wabat Updated Nov 12, 2013

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    This is an easy one to miss and I must admit I just happened on it by chance or was it the Sherlock Holmes in me!

    While looking down into the Fountain Estate from the City Walls at Church Bastion (east side) I noticed that there was a path which looked like it was leading in under the Walls. Was there indeed a tunnel there? I had never heard of tunnels within the City and indeed it would be most peculiar if one exited from the Walls – surely it would be a weakness in the defences. I secured a better look a little further on and indeed there was a small entry into the Wall.

    Having now had the chance to do a bit of research I find that this a ‘sally port’ (something I had never heard of before – the things you learn on VT). A sally port is a small secure entrance/ exit in a fortification which could be very easily defended against an enemy entrance. There may have been double doors (a al submarine), circular stairs on the inside, irregular sized steps, etc such that an enemy person (singular as only one could enter at a time given its size) entering didn’t stand a chance. Friendly persons entering/exiting would have been protected be people in the Walls' watchtower - of which there are two on Church Bastion.

    These watchtowers in additions to monitoring the sally port were added fortification for the Cathedral, the tower of which, in its pre-spire days, was used as a lookout and artillery position. You will also notice that the wall along the outside edge of the Walls is higher here than elsewhere along its length, again providing extra protection for the strategically important Cathedral.

    This sally port proved to be of great value during the Siege of Derry on two counts. Firstly, the women would sally forth to get fresh water from a well in the area (the Fountain Estate is named after the well). Clean fresh water within the Walls was a very scare commodity – especially as the siege dragged on. Secondly, the sally port was used by the defenders of the city to launch surprise attacks (or make sallies) on enemy forces which had encamped outside the walls.

    On the matter of tunnels, various studies and indeed a number of excavations and building works have identified that there are indeed tunnels under the City and within the Walls. For example, in 2009 under Pump Street, an underground network of 120m of red-brick and ancient stone tunnels was uncovered. This is one of a number of finds and it is thought that the tunnels date to the very early days when the Walls were constructed or indeed earlier. For whatever reason the relevant government department have come up with all sorts of reasons as to why the tunnels (which they have reluctantly accepted exist) cannot be opened to the public. I wonder what the real reason is!

    At least one theory has it that the sally port about which I have written is linked to a tunnel(s) that leads right into St Columb’s Cathedral.

    Sally Port Higher Wall and Watchtower Watchtower - Church Bastion
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    Siege Heroes Mound

    by wabat Written Nov 12, 2013

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    In the grounds of St Columb’s Cathedral you cannot fail to notice a circular mound with an obelisk monument on top of it. Folklore and many misguided guides will tell you that this is the burial ground of the 13 original apprentice boys or indeed the 6000 – 10000 bodies of those who died in the 1689 Siege of Derry.

    In reality no-one is buried in the mound. I will return to this comment.

    A number, certainly not hundreds or thousands, of those who died in the Siege were buried within St Columb’s Cathedral. Where the remainder are buried remains a matter of some debate.

    In early 1861 significant renovations were carried out inside the cathedral and human bones were uncovered. These bones were “dumped” in the “Strangers Burying Ground” within the churchyard. By May most of the renovations had been completed with the exception of that area where Colonel Henry Baker and Captain Michael Browning were buried. Word spread through the city that the remains of these two Siege heroes were to be discarded with the others. There was outrage at “the disgusting and revolting scenes enacted there” (there being the Cathedral).

    The officers of the Apprentice Boys’ Clubs held a meeting and published an advertisement in the local papers which read;

    “At a meeting of the General Committee of the Apprentice Boys of Derry held on the 14th May, 1861 it was unanimously resolved:- that we have observed, with extreme regret, the heartless conduct of the parties engages in carrying out the changes in the Cathedral, ruthlessly exposing the remains of the illustrious dead interred within its walls, before, during and after the eventful siege of 1688-9 ; and we are surprised to find that no proper effort has been made by the Cathedral Dignitaries to have them decently re-interred in their original resting places”.

    On this intervention the disposed of bones were collected and placed in six coffins, a large deal box and an oaken case and reburied in a vault in the north aisle of the Cathedral.

    The Apprentice Boys gathered the soil which had been removed from the Cathedral and formed it into the mound you see today (situated where the "Strangers Burying Ground" referred to above had been located) and later placed a monument on top of it. This mound is now known as “Siege Heroes Mound”.

    I indicated earlier that no-one is buried in the mound. Undoubtedly there would have been small fragments of human bones not collected for re-burial and these would indeed be buried within the mound.

    As part of the annual Shutting of the Gates commemoration, the Apprentice Boys lay a wreath on the Siege Heroes Mound in memory of all those who died during the Siege and not just the few buried within the Cathedral and its grounds.

    Siege Heroes Mound Siege Heroes Mound Siege Heroes Mound Siege Heroes Mound
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    Grand Parade- Enjoy the Walk

    by wabat Updated Nov 10, 2013

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    This western section of the Derry City's Wall between Double Bastion and Butcher Gate is the widest section of the Wall and is known as Grand Parade. What a great stretch of the Wall it is for those seeking to promenade. It was quite amazing to recall as I stroll along here that these walls are 400 years old and to think about the history under my feet and all around me. In addition to the strategic importance of this section of the Wall it has always been a preferred part of the Wall for a walk or other exercise.

    From this part of the Wall you get excellent views down into the Catholic Bogside area and further afield. I have mentioned in one of my People’s Gallery Mural reviews how great care was exercised in selecting a mural (Death of Innocence) for a gable wall in the Bogside which is in clear view of people looking down from Grande Parade. I imagine that in earlier and indeed more recent times the residents on and below the Wall were not as discerning in what they displayed lest it might cause offense to the other party.

    The view afforded into the Catholic Bogside made this section of the Wall an obvious choice of location for an army base during the Troubles. In fact there were a number of army bases on the Walls during the Troubles – none of which remain to-day.

    In the early 19th century 14 sycamore trees where planted along Grand Parade. If you have read other reviews on this page you will have already surmised that 13 of the trees represented the 13 Apprentice Boys who closed the City Wall’s gates against an advance party of James II on 7 December 1688. The 14th tree commemorated James Morrison who was present at Ferryquay Gate to greet the Jacobites, in the form of the Earl of Antrim’s Redshanks. It is recorded that Morrison shouted “ Bring a Great Gun here” at which the Redshanks fled.

    The sycamore tree was chosen at its fruit resembles a bunch of keys – symbolising the locked gates confronting James’ armies. The last of the original trees was blown down in a gale in 1940 and the ones you see today are replacements.

    Grand Parade Grand Parade View to Bogside from City Wall Peoples Gallery - Death of Innocence
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    The Guildhall

    by wabat Written Nov 9, 2013

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    This very beautiful neo-gothic red sandstone building, renovations of which precluded my entry in 2013, is the City Hall and seat of the Derry City Council. It is very much worth a look.

    While I, for reasons explained on my main Derry page, refer to the city as Derry the official name of the city is Londonderry. In 1984 the city Council changed the name of the Council from Londonderry to Derry City Council. A change in the name of the City would have required a petition to Queen Elizabeth II. Fearing rejection, no such application was, nor has, been made and so it remains that the Derry City Council administer the City of Londonderry.

    At the time the official comment of the majority SDLP group on the city council was that it was not seeking to change the name of the city as it had no intention of "petitioning an English queen to change the name of our Irish city"

    The Guildhall was built in 1890 by The Honourable The Irish Society (see my separate tip – Roaring Meg and other Cannons - for some detail on this Society). The building was named honour of its connection to the City of London and its guilds.

    It has twice been badly damaged, firstly in a fire in 1908 and secondly by a terrorist bomb in 1972 the latter of which severely damaged the building internally.

    The building contains 23 gorgeous stain glass windows many gifted by London livery companies and depicting the story of Derry from the building of the City Walls in 1618 up to the 20th century. The clock is in the design of that on the Palace of Westminster often referred to, inaccurately, as Big Ben. The weather vane on the top of the building represents the Mountjoy which, as I have indicated in my review of the Browning Memorial Tablet affixed to the Wall behind you as your face the Guildhall, was a ship in the flotilla, captained by Michael Browning, a locally born man, which broke the boom on the River Foyle on 28 July 1689 and thus relieved the city from its 105 day siege.

    Of significant historical interest and perhaps embarrassment to nationalists office holders is the fact that the Lord Mayor’s Chain of Office has 13 links, representing the 13 Apprentice Boys of Siege of Derry fame and that the Mayor’s Medallion, worn on ceremonial occasions, was presented to the City by King William III in 1692.

    Shortly after my visit the Guildhall reopened to visitors with opening times of::

    Mon to Fri: 10am – 5.30pm
    Sat: 10am – 5.30pm
    Sun: 10am – 5.30pm

    The Guildhall The Guildhall and Guildhall Square The Guildhall The Guildhall - Clocktower The Guildhall
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