Off limits to the general public for decades during the Troubles, the 17th century walls surrounding the old city of Derry are now a star attraction. The walls are the most complete in the country and a stroll along the one mile walkway offers great views over surrounding neighbourhoods and a perspective on the development of the city beyond its original site.
A very brief history:
The city was granted a royal charter in 1613 and the name anglicised to Londonderry.
King James 1 wanted protection from Irish rebels for settlers from England and Scotland.
Walls were constructed during 1613 -1618 (at the handsome price of £10,757)
The fortifications were never breached, earning the city the title ‘The Maiden City’.
The walkway varies in width from 12ft – 35ft (3.7m – 10.7m). There are lots of information boards and plaques along the route.
There is access from different parts of the old city. There are 7 Gates in total – 4 from the original construction and 3 that were added later.
♫ Why does it always rain on me ♪♪
Bird’s eye view:
The walls actually straddle a hill and so offer great views across nearby neighbourhoods – this is the Bogside…..
A bit further on and there’s a very different landscape – The Fountain Estate is one of the few Protestant communities on the western side of the River Foyle.
Away in the mist is the Brandywell Stadium – home to Derry City FC.
Down there is the Peace Bridge – we’ll have a closer look later….
The walls vary in height, coming down to street level in places, This makes them very much part of the city rather than just a traditional means of containment. There are a few spots where you’d actually forget you are on the walls at all.
If cannons are your thing then you’ll be very happy – there are about 2 dozen on display. Apparently, the city boasts the largest collection of cannons whose precise origins are known – so there you go!! In 2005 they enjoyed a huge restoration project – craftsmen cleaned out the barrels of centuries of rubbish, stripped layers of paint and rust and brought them all back to former glory.
In 1689, up to 30,000 troops and civilians held the walled city against the Catholic forces of King James 11 for 105 days. One of the heroes of this Siege of Derry was Governer George Walker. In 1828, a monument was erected on the wall in his honour – a 100ft column topped with a statue. An internal staircase (105 steps – one for each day of the siege) allowed access to a viewing platform.
Although the walls were closed off to the general public for most of the Troubles, the IRA managed to bomb the monument in 1973. The fact that it faced the Bogside was considered offensive by many nationalists. This section of the wall didn’t reopen until 2010 although the column and statue have never been replaced.
The walls can also be enjoyed – and admired – from the exterior, following the path of the now extinct moat.
Landmarks along the way:
The Guild Hall
This major landmark has been at the heart of city life since 1887. It is particularly famous for its stained glass windows. The clock was modeled on Big Ben. Bombed twice during the Troubles, it underwent major renovation and today you can head inside for a look at the windows or stay and wander through the permanent exhibition on the Ulster Plantation if you’ve time.
St. Columb’s Cathedral
St Columb’s was built in 1633 for the new settlers from England and Scotland. It stands on the highest point in Derry and is the oldest surviving building in the city.
Chapel of St. Augustine
Known locally as the ‘Wee Church on the Walls’, this is thought to be the site of a 6th century monastery.
Apprentice Boys Memorial Hall
In 1688, 13 young apprentice boys managed to seal the gates of the city against James 11. This building has been dedicated to their memory. Today, the Apprentice Boys is a fraternal society with about 80,000 members worldwide. The Hall includes a museum dedicated to the Siege of Derry and meeting rooms for the Orange Order.
First Derry Presbyterian Church
After the Siege of Derry, Queen Mary showed her gratitude towards the Presbyterians for all they sacrificed in defending the city by making a large donation towards their new meeting house. This current Church was opened in 1780 on the site of that original church of 1690.
O’Doherty’s Tower houses the Derry Tower Museum where you can enjoy the audio-visual Story of Derry exhibition.
St Columb’s Hall
Originally built by the local Total Abstinence Society, the hall is now a major event venue in the city.
The Peace Bridge
The River Foyle cuts the city in two and has actually traditionally separated the Nationalist and Unionist communities. Conceived as something to literally bridge the gap, the Peace Bridge was built in 2011. It was feared at first that neither community would actually use the bridge but this symbol of togetherness has proven to be a great success.
Derry Craft Village
Right inside the walls, this is a nice little oasis offering craft shops, coffee shops and restaurants.
These 2 murals in the Craft Village are a lovely nod to the women of Derry. From the late 19th century, Derry became a major shirt making centre – by the 1920’s there were over 40 shirt factories here employing thousands of locals. Most employees were women and there were thousands more working in the industry from their homes. There were still a few hundred employed up until the early 2000’s but the business has been pretty much wiped out by now due to global competition.
And speaking of murals…
We can’t leave Derry without mentioning Derry Girls. Set in the early 1990’s, this comedy follows the lives of 5 teenagers during the Troubles. The mural has become the most Instagram worthy spot in the city and you can join a tour which visits locations from the show.
The walls are not fully wheelchair accessible.
There is free access to the Walls and plenty of information boards en route. There are dozens of guided tour options – many combining the walls with a tour of the Bogside Murals.
Before you go:
If you’re thinking of Visiting Derry and the North West, have a look at these….