Leaving Dunluce Castle behind us, our driver Fred and tour guide Dave took us to where we would be staying for the night: Derry, or as I now like to call it (Legen)Derry! It is the second largest city in Northern Ireland and as with Belfast, not without a very extensive and turbulent past. Dave told us a few stories as we drove onwards, but we were all so tired that it didn’t really sank in until we actually got a tour of the city!
But first, Derry was the only location on our All Ireland Rocker Tour in which we actually got to stay in a hotel!!! Not to say that the hostels didn’t provide us with lovely accommodation, but having a private room with a private bathroom was heaven, to say the least! We ended up staying at the Travelodge. The room was clean, quiet, and had comfortable beds! Its location was also ideal. It was close to the city centre and as such there were many good food options for the evening.
After we arrived, we had a bit of time before setting out on our walking tour. This walking tour is one of the “Optional” activities that you could add on. If you find yourself in Derry when you do your tour of Ireland and Northern Ireland, we definitely recommend doing the City Tours Walking Tour. It is very affordable, £4, and it provides you with a good background on the city and its history! After dropping off our stuff and resting for a bit in the hotel, we headed downstairs to join our tour!
City Tours provided us with a wonderful tour guide to take us about Derry! Sorcha was brilliant. She was extremely knowledgable and could answer any of our questions! She was also funny and that kept us all the more interested in her stories. After our group got together, Sorcha took us out and we began with a brief history on the name of the city.
We stopped in front of the Guildhall, which was built in 1890, and Sorcha explained to us the history behind Derry’s name. The city’s official name is Londonderry, but as some of you may know, such a name would obviously cause a debate between the Nationalists and Unionists in the city and Northern Ireland. The Nationalists prefer Derry and, of course, the Unionists prefer Londonderry.
“Despite the official name, the city is more usually known as simply Derry, which is an anglicisation of the Irish Daire or Doire, and translates as “oak-grove/oak-wood”. The name derives from the settlement’s earliest references, Daire Calgaich (“oak-grove of Calgach”). The name was changed from Derry in 1613 during the Plantation of Ulster to reflect the establishment of the city by the London guilds.”
I prefer “Legenderry”, as Sorcha said! Less of a debate and more epic of a name for such an important city! After we learned about the name, Sorcha took us up and into the walled city. I won’t go into too much background about Derry seeing as you will definitely have to explore it on your own. But we do want to pique your interest – so you do go and check out Derry!
Derry is the last remaining fully intact walled city in Ireland! It is so very medieval in its construction, seen clearly in both the wall and the plan of the city. It is also the first planned city in Ireland! We didn’t get to venture very far into the walled city itself (sadly) but we did get to walk along the wall and discuss the importance of certain structures and sites. Not to mention that a promenade on the wall offers you some of the best views of the Bogside and beyond the River Foyle!
Sorcha started off by telling us more about the early history of the city with its beginnings as a monastery in the 6th century and then becoming a plantation in the 17th century. The walls were completed by 1619 and had four gates in which to enter and exit.
They were built as a protection mechanism against early 17th century settlers from England and Scotland.
Moving along Sorcha showed us the Saint Augustine’s Church, which is an original site from the time the Monastery was established in Derry. The actual church was built in 1872. It had a beautiful little garden when we were there, with flowers in bloom. Being the architectural geek that I am (being awed by different structures in every city I go) I rather liked this little church with its lovely facade and welcoming nature!
Moving along we came to Walker’s Memorial Plinth. At this site, Sorcha told us, there used to be a giant pillar in memorial to Rev. George Walker. In 1973, during the Troubles, it was destroyed in a bomb explosion, the only part remaining to this day is the base. The spiral initially had 105 steps with a viewing platform from the top. Imagine the amazing view you would get of all of Derry from there!
Sorcha continued to tell us more about the walled city itself and some of its history. From our position on the wall, we could see in the distance the “diamond,” which was the centre of the little city from which you could see all four gates! Sadly, we didn’t get to venture towards it to take pictures but definitely go see it if you get a full day in Derry!
One of my favourite stories which Sorcha told us had to do with Society Street! Being the romantic that I am, of course I would remember how she told us that fashionable bachelors and ladies would promenade this very street in order to garner attention from each other. How very exciting and typical of that time (during the 19th century).
Walking along, we were awed by the views from the wall promenade itself. On the other side of the wall we got a lovely view of the Bogside.
Depending on where you live in the world and your age, you may or may not have heard of the Troubles, in particular the events of 1972 in Derry. The Bogside would become the:
Today, the Bogside looks like a lovely, peaceful place to live. Sorcha took us out of the walled city at this point and down to the Bogside. The views of the wall from below were just as spectacular as the views from above!
Once we descended, we were told a little more about the Troubles that were said to have originated in Derry.
“The conflict which became known as the Troubles is widely regarded as having started in Derry with the Battle of the Bogside. The Civil Rights movement had also been very active in the city. In the early 1970’s, the city was heavily militarised and there was widespread civil unrest. Several districts in the city constructed barricades to control access and prevent the forces of the state from entering.”
Much like Belfast, as a result, the Bogside boasts many murals on buildings showing the major impacts of the Troubles and they make statements both about politics and religion in the area.
They are very stirring images that bring you back to a time when lives were endangered, bombs were still a viable threat and battles were fought in the middle of such a beautiful city. The divide was so obvious – it’s only natural that it be depicted in art, for what happened should never be forgotten.
Our tour was coming to an end as was the story behind Derry’s past and hopeful future.
Sorcha told us a bit more about the Peace Bridge that links the two sides of the city, the Unionist Waterside and the Nationalist Cityside, over the River Foyle. This bridge allows people from both sides of the river cross over – encouraging change, peace, union, integration and reconciliation. It is a symbol that shows the progress that has been made between the two sides in today’s time. It is a beautiful modern symbol of Peace and it will hopefully remain so for future generations to see.
Our tour now being over, we all realized we were famished and couldn’t decide where to eat! Strangely enough, we passed an Italian restaurant as we were finishing the tour…Who would have thought we would be eating Italian food in Northern Ireland and that it would actually turn out to be amazing. The Spaghetti Junction served authentic Italian food and is the first Italian Restaurant in Derry! We definitely recommend going if you are planning on staying in the city. They have a variety of options on the menu and all our meals ended up being delicious!
After finally getting back to the hotel, we decided to take advantage of our luxurious bathroom (only because we had it all to ourselves…) and prepare to go out for the evening.
As we had gotten used to while in Ireland, we were to go to the Pub! (This would prove a very difficult habit to get over once we were back in Vancouver). Peadar O’Donnell’s Bar had a very boisterous setting! Its walls were covered with different flags and very specific decorations that were rather eccentric! Like with many pubs in Ireland, it has late night live music, which had us clapping and singing along with the rest of the pub, and loads of different brews for you to enjoy. 😉 It was filled to the brim with people (there may or may not have been a rugby game on) and it was a weekday! I still find it amazing how socially active people are on any given day of the week!
After a drink or two (or three…), we decided it was high time to go to bed. Our adventures in Derry had come to an end. If I could change anything, it would be the amount of time we had to explore the city. After the tour we really didn’t have much time and I really wanted to see more of the medieval buildings and see more murals. If you do decide to visit Derry, make sure you set aside enough time to explore the city!
Stay tuned for our next post on Day 3 of our Shamrocker All Ireland Rocker Tour!
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