Derry’s City Walls
Derry’s City Walls are completely intact and form a walkway around the old city centre. Designed by Capt. Edward Doddington of Dungiven, and laid out between 1613 and 1618 under the supervision of the Surveyor of London, Thomas Raven, they are approximately 1.5km / 1 mile in circumference, varying in height and width between 4 and 12 metres, and comprise the largest monument in State care in Northern Ireland.
In the three centuries since their construction, the walls have been adapted to meet the needs of a changing city. Although some stretches are landscaped, the original defensive military purpose of the fortifications is recalled by strategically placed canons (and, at least until very recently, barbed wire barriers erected during the Troubles).
Some of the 24 cannons around the Walls (the largest collection of known provenance in Europe) date from as early as 1590, while others were gifted between 1613 and 1645 by the London Companies, with inscriptions on the barrels such as Mercers, Fishmongers, Grocers, Salters, Merchant Taylors and Vintners.
The Grand Parade is lined with 14 sycamore trees representing the 13 Apprentice Boys who shut the city gates plus another hero of the Great Siege.
The Walker Plinth is all that remains of the Walker Memorial Column, erected in 1826 in honour of the Great Siege hero Governor George Walker and regularly used for the annual burning of an effigy of Robert Lundy until it was blown up by the IRA in 1973. The plinth was restored in 1989 to commemorate the 300th Anniversary of the Great Siege.
Special events have taken place on the Walls, such as the ceremonies held in 1945 to confer the Freedom of the City on Viscount Montgomery of Alamein and Field Marshal Alexander of Tunis; their scrolls were respectively enclosed in silver replicas of the Mountjoy (the ship that broke the Great Siege) and Roaring Meg (the most famous cannon on the Walls).
Derry’s Walls, a historical song commemorating the Great Siege, is often sung in Northern Ireland and Scotland, notably at Rangers FC games.
From the top of the walls there are good views of several historical / architectural landmarks (and many low quality edifices hurriedly constructed to replace structures damaged by bombs in the 1970s), the Bogside with its defiant murals and the Free Derry Monument.
The Tower Museum, housed in O’Doherty’s Tower (first erected in 1615, subsequently reconstructed) on Union Hall Place, hosts regular exhibitions of local, national and international interest, while permanent displays cover The Story of Derry from early monastic times to the present, and the doomed Spanish Armada, specifically La Trinidad Valenciana, wrecked in Kinnagoe Bay in September 1588 and located in 1971.
St Columb’s Cathedral
St Columb’s Cathedral (CoI), designed by William Perrot in the Planter Gothic style and completed in 1633, was the first post-Reformation cathedral to be erected in the British Isles, and is the oldest surviving public building in Derry. It is the seat of the Anglican bishop of the Diocese of Derry & Raphoe, and the city parish church of Templemore.
Altered and remodelled several times over the years, the edifice also suffered several bomb attacks during the 1970s (and was at least until recently surrounded by barbed wire fences and surveillance cameras).
Cathedral porch insciption. (Photo – www.stcolumbscathedral.org)
The Cathedral’s tower acted as Derry’s signalling station during the Great Siege, and a crimson flag of ‘distress’ informed the relief ships beyond the boom on the river that the City had not been taken; the colour crimson is still used by the Apprentice Boys Association, which maintains the Siege Heroes’ Mound in the Cathedral grounds, where a wreath is laid each year as part of the annual Shutting of the Gates Commemorations.
A pedestal in the porch lobby bears a hollow mortar shell fired into the City during the Great Siege, carrying an offer and terms of surrender to the citizens.
The interior, overhung with military banners captured at the end of the Great Siege, was where the great hymns All Things Bright and Beautiful, There is a Green Hill Far Away, and the Christmas carol Once in David’s Royal City, composed by the bishop’s wife, Cecil Frances Humphrey Alexander (1818 – 1895), were first sung.
The cathedral contains the corpulent Earl Bishop‘s rather bizarre pulpit, a magnificent pipe organ (the original casing was said to have been made of wreckage from the Spanish Armada) and a memorial to Valentine Mumbee McMaster (b. 1834 in Trichinopoly, British India), an assistant army surgeon awarded the Victoria Cross for selfless bravery at the Siege of Lucknow during the 1857 Indian Mutiny.
The Cathedral’s Chapter House Museum has a number of interesting exhibits, including the original keys to the city, the locks of the Gates, Governor Walker’s Bible, a portrait of William of Orange, and the Earl Bishop‘s kidney-shaped desk.
The First Derry Presbyterian church, founded in 1690 with a donation from Queen Mary II, was rebuilt in 1777, had it façade remodelled in 1903 and is currently undergoing refurbishment. The interior has fine stained glass depictions of the four Evangelists. A Museum is due to open in the frounds in 2011. (Photo by Mark Busby on www.churches-uk-ireland.org)
“God’s Acre“, the reputed site of Saint Columba‘s original C6th monastery, taken over in the C12th by the Augustinian Order, is bisected by the City Walls; the only remnant of the old Abbey is St Columb’s Well at the bottom of the Bogside’s Fahan Street.
The Teampull Mor (Big church), erected in 1164, was used to store gunpowder and blown apart by a massive explosion in 1568, but is still recalled in the name of the city parish of Templemore.
Sir Henry Docwra recorded that in 1600 he and his troops built lodgings amongst the Abbey ruins, and worshipped in the old church ( the Dubh Regles / black church). This “wee church” was used by Derry’s Presbyterians during the Great Siege, when a mortar shell landing in the churchyard raised five corpses, blowing one over the City Walls.
St Augustine’s church (CoI), an attractive neo-Gothic edifice with an atmospheric churchyard just within the City Walls near Bishop’s Gate, was designed by JG Ferguson and completed in 1872 to replace a “chapel of Ease” dating from c.1760.
The Long Tower / St Columba’s church (RC), overlooking the Bogside just across the City Walls from St Augustine’s, opened in 1788. The first post-Reformation Roman Catholic church to be built in Derry, it was initially financed by public subscriptions from both communities, including a generous gift from the Church of Ireland’s Earl Bishop. It takes its popular name from the Round Tower that once stood near the old Abbey. Although the church was enlarged in 1810 and has been modified several times since then, the beautiful interior remains faithful to its original plan.
The Freemasons’ Hall, an elegant Georgian building on Bishop Street Within, was constructed as the Anglican Bishop’s Palace in 1753, extended in 1800, and remained in episcopal use until 1946; it contains some fine stained glass and interesting items of memorabilia.
The Courthouse, a handsome Greek Revival edifice designed by John Bowden and completed in 1817, has been attacked on numerous occasions, most recently by a dissident Republican car bomb in June 2010.
The Apprentice Boys Memorial Hall, built in 1877 and extended in 1937, exhibits a number of carefully preserved artefacts from the Great Siege and other memorabilia pertaining to the organisation and the Orange Order. A Memorial Garden, opened in 1992, contains the statue of Governor Walker that formerly stood on the Walker Memorial Pillar.
The Diamond, the central square in the original Walled City, was the location of the old Corporation Hall, the Exchange, and the Market House. (Photo by Naru Kenji)
Austins department store, the imposing five storey Edwardian edifice dominating the Diamond, was founded on the same site in 1830, predating Jenners of Edinburgh (1835), Harrods of London (1845) and Macy’s of New York (1855), making it the world’s oldest independent establishment of its kind. The Rooftop Restaurant provides great views.
The War Memorial to locals killed in WWI (755 men and one woman, out of over 4000 volunteers), with its winged statue of Victory flanked by a sailor and a remarkably aggressive soldier, was erected in 1927, and has been frequently vandalised.
Shipquay Street, originally Silver Street, is said to be one of steepest commercial streets in the British Isles, and is lined with interesting Georgian houses, several with unusual stepped entrances.
Guildhall Square, just outside the Shipquay Gate, has been the scene of many historical events, notably a speech by US President Bill Clinton in November 1995, and is used each year for the Hallowe’en Banks of the Foyle Film Festival and the Christmas Lights Switch-On.
The Guildhall is a neo-Gothic / faux Tudor red sandstone edifice designed by JG Ferguson and completed in 1890. (Photo by Northern Counties).
Virtually razed by fire on Easter Sunday 1908, redesigned by MA Robinson and rebuilt in 1912, it was severely damaged by terrorist bombings in 1972, and has since undergone careful restoration.
Headquarters of Derry City Council, it hosts many educational, musical and artistic events throughout the year. The interior contains ornate ceilings, oak panelling, a splendid concert organ and magnificent stained glass depictions of the city’s history.
The Guildhall Tower is crowned by a copper cone topped by a fine weather vane; the clock, based on London’s Big Ben, is the fourth largest in Ireland.
A time capsule discovered in the foundations in October 2010 will undoubtedly shed new light on Derry’s past.
Derry Craft Village, depicting city life in the C17th and C18th, contains shops selling Derry crystal, handwoven cloth and other artesan work, plus a geneological centre.
The Bloody Sunday Centre is a modern museum devoted to the tragic events of 30th January 1972.
The Calgach Centre, a conference facility, houses The Fifth Province, a high tech interpretative centre that uses a variety of dramatic special effects to explore the area’s Celtic heritage.
The Harbour Museum, housed in the old Londonderry Port building on Guildhall Street, has exhibits illustrating Derry’s maritime history.
The Foyle Valley Railway Museum, just outside the City Walls by Craigavon Bridge, tells the story of Derry’s railways.
The Heritage Tower, a remnant of a 1791 gaol demolished in the 1970s, exhibits artefacts and memorabilia dating from WWI to the present day. It was here that Theobald Wolfe Tone was held following his capture at Rathmullen in 1798.
Christchurch (CoI), a neo-gothic building designed by John Ferguson and opened in 1830 as a “free church” by Bishop Knox, was extended in 1881, gutted by fire in the 1990s, and refitted in 2000.
The “Scots” Presbyterian church on Great James St, a handsome neo-classical edifice, was completed in 1837 to a design by Stewart Gordon, who was also responsible for the adjacent manse.
Lumen Christi College, an austerely imposing Victorian complex on Bishop St, was built on the site of the Church of Ireland’s former episcopalian summer palace as St Columb’s College in 1877, and has been extended several times since. It is now a Roman Catholic diocesan Co-educational secondary school. A windmill in the grounds was the scene of fighting during the 1689 Siege. The surrounding walls have a coping of lava from Mount Vesuvius, brought back from his travels by the Earl Bishop. (Photo – www.guardian.co.uk)
The Londonderry Methodist church on Carlisle Road, designed by A Foreman and distinguished by a number of decorative flying buttresses, was erected in 1904 to replace the original church on the East Wall.
Other architecturally interesting religious structures include the Carlisle Rd Presbyterian church, (1879), a Gothic edifice with mock turrets and pinnacles, and Claremont Presbyterian church (1905) on Rock Road, converted for office use but retaining its cavernous doorway, Tudoresque red brick turrets and a war memorial.