Derry (Londonderry)

Guild Hall

Once again the weather has caught up with us and looks set on foiling our plans to cross to Scotland anytime soon.  We shall hide up the river Foyle in Derry (or Londonderry) until we can make our passage – could be waiting for up to 10 days 😦

Derry or Londonderry is part of Northern Ireland – therefore the United Kingdom rather than the Republic of Ireland and what a history it has (unfortunately most of it pretty tragic and riddled with fighting and death).

Lets start with the two names;   The name Derry originates from the old Irish name Daire meaning “oak grove”.   However way back in 1613, the city was granted a Royal Charter by King James I and gained the “London” prefix to reflect the funding of its construction by the London guilds. While the city is more commonly known as Derry,  Londonderry remains the legal name.  So to me it seems you either call it one or the other, and fiercely defend your choice.

Looking out & down from the city walls

Derry is the only remaining completely intact walled city in Ireland and one of the finest examples of a walled city in Europe.  The Walls were built in 1613–1619 as defences for early 17th century settlers from England and Scotland. The Walls, which are approximately 1.6 km in circumference and which vary in height and width between 3.7 and 10.7 metres, are completely intact and form a walkway around the inner city.  A really beautiful walk around on top of the walls, the views however off the wall can be quite confronting as you at different sides of the outer city (who have fought for many many years).

The ‘Siege of Derry‘ ran from 1688 – 1689 and was part of the wider Williamite War waged between the Protestant William of Orange and the Catholic King James II.  The apprentice boys shutting the gates to the city to protect themselves. The siege lasted nearly three and a half months, ending on 30 July 1689 when relief ships bringing an English army sailed down Lough Foyle.  The majority of those who perished during the siege (over 10,000) died due to disease and starvation (no supplies being able to be brought in) rather than from conflict.

Each August the city holds a “Relief of Derry” celebration to comrade the end of the siege and the opening of the gates, we were lucky enough to be in town to watch these parades.  And what a parade it was… Over 150 marching bands containing 12,000 people – it lasted all day, the sounds of drums, pipe whistles, piano accordions and more.  Best views to be had were of course from on top of the city walls.

Unfortunately the hard times for this city didn’t end back in the 16th century with unrest as recent as the 1980’s this time due to the conflict between the IRA and the British, with the city segregated between catholics and protestants.  One of the most notable of these events was the awful 1972 Bloody Sunday event where 26 civil rights protestors were shot dead by the British Battalion.

Whilst we were in Derry one of the most memorable persons from this day a priest named Edward Daly who was photographed waving a blood-stained white handkerchief as he escorts a group carrying a mortally-wounded boy after British troops opened fire on demonstrators died, we were still in town the day of his funeral and the city almost came to a stand still.  All the streets were barricaded off with no car parking allowed anywhere (potential car bombs), and a heavy (extremely heavy) police presence including riot police and riot vehicles.  Fortunately the funeral all went smoothly with no unrest or disorderly behaviour.

The scars from the constant fighting are still visible today along with the visible segregation of the different religious beliefs.  We also joined a walking tour of the city taken by a son of one of those killed during the fighting and learnt of many more sad stories and tales of how people were forced to live.

Walking Tour
The Irish Aussie Flag

One of the highlights of Derry for Phil especially was the Guildhall.  A magnificent building which we were lucky enough to have a tour of with a long serving staff member who told us all about its amazing life.  Over its 120 year history the Guildhall has been destroyed twice – by fire in 1908 and through bomb attacks in 1972. It has 23 stained glass windows telling the story of the city, the Guildhall Clock was designed as a replica of ‘Big Ben’ in London and is the largest of its kind in Ireland.  From 2000 to 2005 the Guildhall was the seat of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry headed by Lord Saville, which was published in June 2010.  The original Guildhall organ was installed in the Main Hall in 1891. The organ is the second largest in county Ulster with the exception of the Mulholland Organ in the Ulster Hall, Belfast.

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