Voted 4th in Lonely Planet’s ‘Best in Travel Guide 2013’, Londonderry, also known as Derry, is an ancient yet contemporary city. It was also the worthy recipient of the prestigious title ‘UK City of Culture 2013’.
The rich cultural and architectural heritage is reflected in the city’s names: Derry, from old Irish Doire, a reference to the oak grove where Saint Columba founded a monastery around 546 AD; Londonderry, the name granted during the seventeenth century Plantation of Ulster; and within which you will find ‘The Walled City’, one of Europe’s best preserved walled settlements.
Built to defend the Plantation city from marauding Irish chieftains, the walls were completed in 1618. They proved effective during the Siege of Derry, from 1688-89, when thirteen Apprentice Boys closed the city gates against the Jacobite forces of King James. The Protestant garrison held out for months in appalling conditions, with people reduced to eating cats, dogs and even rats! The siege was lifted when three ships, Mountjoy, Phoenix and Jerusalem broke the boom across the River Foyle and unloaded their precious cargo of food for the starving citizens.
The city played a key role during the Second World War, owing to its strategic position as the Allies’ most westerly naval base. At the war’s height, 20,000 sailors of various nationalities were based at the thriving port, and the city retains historic links with the US Navy to this day.
Over a mile in circumference, standing 26 feet high and 30 feet wide in places, the walls boast twenty-four original cannons standing sentinel, including the mighty Roaring Meg.
Explore some of the many intriguing sights, including Saint Columb’s Cathedral and the beautiful Guildhall.
The Craft Village, now with a glazed canopy, will take you on an evocative journey back to the city in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is also along the route.
Across the city is the elegant Saint Eugene’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, dating from 1873. Or visit Riverwatch, a favourite with families especially at feeding time, when you can see some voracious fish being fed!
If you have an interest in the past, the Tower Museum and Museum of Free Derry reveal different aspects of the city’s economic, social and more contemporary history. Other buildings located around the city walls include the Apprentice Boys Memorial Hall, steeped in history relating to The Siege of 1688-89 and The Apprentice Boys Association.
Be sure to walk across the gleaming new Peace Bridge, which curves majestically across the River Foyle. It connects the renovated Guildhall Square to the spectacular new performance space at Ebrington, which was a key venue during the UK City of Culture celebrations and is also adjacent to the largest public artwork to ever be commissioned in Ireland, ‘Mute Meadows’.
This is a city that just loves to party and enjoys a year-round cycle of festivals, including Ireland’s biggest Hallowe’en carnival. The momentous UK City of Culture win saw Derry~Londonderry play host to events of global significance, including the Turner Prize and All-Ireland Fleadh, as part of a year-long programme of over 1,000 cultural events.
As the city enters one of the most exciting times in its history and opens its doors to the world, there’s never been a better time to visit.