I'm a freelance writer living on Sydney's north shore. I like tea, books and pop music. If I can combine these into a single activity I'm a happy man.
Published August 18th 2016
A fascinating stroll through Ireland's history
Walking Derry's Walls The walled city of Derry (also known as Londonderry) at the very northwestern tip of Northern Ireland is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places on the island of Ireland. Shunned for many years due to its prominent role in 'The Troubles', the Catholic-Protestant sectarian violence which shook Northern Ireland until the late 1990s, today Derry is one of the most historically fascinating cities in Europe and, best of all, not yet bursting at the seams with tourists.
One of the best introductions to Derry is joining one of Derry City Tours walking tours along the city's most famous and awe-inspiring feature – the 17th-century city walls. Built between 1613 & 1619 the walls remain completely intact, the only example extant in Ireland, and were never breached by an enemy force, giving rise to one of the city's nicknames 'the Maiden City'. Initially built to protect English and Scottish settlers to the city from the native Irish, they now form a pleasant walkway around the heart of the city with a trove of attractions to visit along the way. Here is a quick overview of the top 5 sites to be found along the walls. To book a tour or for more information, visit www.derrycitytours.com and www.ireland.com.
Perched on top of the highest point of the walled city, St Columb's dominates the city skyline. The present structure was built in 1633 and was the first Anglican cathedral to be built in the British Isles after the Reformation. The city walls here were built much higher than elsewhere in the city as protection for the church. The Cathedral houses many historic artefacts from the 1689 Siege of Derry, in which the deposed Catholic King James II attempted to take the city in a bid to reclaim his throne. One of the more unusual relics is a font made out of a Siege cannonball. There are also impressive stained glass windows and a facsimile of the famous Book of Kells. Outside in a corner of the graveyard is the mass grave of those killed in the Siege.
17 London Street. Open all year Monday-Saturday 9am-5pm. Admission free (donations requested)
In the western corner of the walls sits the Double Bastion. Two of the cannons used in the Siege of Derry can be seen here, including the famous Roaring Meg. The bastion also provides a superb viewpoint of the Catholic Bogside district. Notorious for violence during The Troubles, the area is now firmly on the tourist trail due to the remarkable political murals in the area. Many of the most famous can be viewed from the Bastion. The pathway on top of the walls widens at this point and it is claimed this section gave rise to the term 'catwalk'. In the 19th century local gentry who wanted to be seen by the townsfolk would stroll along the path dressed in their finest outfits leading the local wags to term them 'cats'; soon their favourite place to show off had been renamed the 'catwalk'. Just off the catwalk is the pretty St Augustine's church, built in 1872 on the site of a 6th century monastery, plus the First Derry Presbyterian Church, a stunning building dating from 1780 which has been recently renovated and reopened after dry rot necessitated the closing of the building 10 years ago.
St Augustine's Church, Palace Street. Open May to October, Monday- Saturday 10:30am-4:30pm. Admission free
First Derry Presbyterian Church, Upper Magazine Street. Open May to September, 11am-4pm. Admission free, donations requested.
Just off the walls, this newly opened museum features historical artefacts, videos and interactive media and is the perfect place to learn more about the Siege of Derry, one of the defining events in the city's history. The museum has a close connection with the historic Apprentice Boys of Derry, a Protestant fraternal club established in memory of the 13 apprentice boys who closed the city gates against the attacking Catholic army in December 1688. The society's memorial hall, dating to 1877, is connected to the museum and visitors can view some of the fine meeting rooms within the building.
The Siege Museum, 13 Society Street. Open Monday-Saturday 9am-5pm (last admission 4:30pm). Admission £3.
The Siege Museum and historic Apprentice Boys Memorial Hall
Although it may look medieval from the outside, the Tower Museum is a modern building designed to blend in with the historic northern corner of the wall it is tucked into. Set over 5 levels, the museum tells the fascinating story of Derry from prehistory right through to the current day. There is also an exhibition on La Trinidad Valencera, one of the largest ships in the Spanish Armada, which sunk off the nearby Donegal coast and was discovered by divers from Derry in 1971. At the very top of the building on level 5 an open-air platform offers stunning views across the city and River Foyle.
The Tower Museum, Union Hall Place. Open every day 10am-5:30pm. Admission £4 adults, £2 children, £2.40 concession and £9 family.
Sitting just outside the city walls by the River Foyle, Derry's beautiful, neo-Gothic Guildhall dates to 1887, although it has been extensively rebuilt and renovated several times since, in particular after an extensive fire in 1908 and multiple bomb attacks during The Troubles. Resembling a cathedral from the outside (tour guides at the front desk are often asked when the next service is), the building still serves as Derry City Council's chambers and the Mayor's Parlour. Open to the public, inside is a small museum on the history of Derry, fine stained glass windows and an impressive pipe organ. Perhaps the most interesting exhibit is the statue of Queen Victoria in the front reception area. Thrown across the room by a bomb in the 1970s, the three-tonne statue broke into pieces but was skillfully repaired, although the Queen is still missing a hand – it was destroyed in the blast and has never been replaced.
The recently renovated Guildhall Square in front of the building is a focal point for important events in Derry and is a lovely place to while away an hour or so on a warm summers day.
The Guildhall, Guildhall Square. Open every day 10am-5:30pm. Admission free.