I always like walled cities. There’s something about walking right round a town, peering over the walls into little back streets, that gives me a sense of connection with all the people that have gone that way before. Sentries keeping a lookout for unwanted visitors, soldiers firing at advancing armies, and generations of ordinary citizens going about their everyday business.
And the walls of Londonderry are special because they are complete. Even the famous walls of York and Chester have gaps: uniquely among British cities you can walk the mile or so of Londonderry’s walls without a break.
Walking Through History on the Walls of Londonderry
This is the 400th anniversary of Londonderry’s walls, and their are reminders of the city’s history wherever you walk. Pass by the four original gates (and the three that were added later) and look out for the collection of cannons. You can imagine what it must have been like to live here when the city was beseiged during the 17th century, as the Jacobite troops hammered on the gates and tried to break in.
Then there is St Colomb’s Cathedral, the first cathedral to be built in Ireland after the Reformation. This is the oldest building in the city, and in good condition despite the fact that lead was removed from the roof to make bullets during the conflict with King James II.
The “London” was added to Derry’s name in 1613 but both names remain in common use. The town is known as Derry/Londonderry in official documents (so that it is also sometimes known as ‘Stroke City’). But in 2013 it became the UK Capital of Culture, leading to yet another name – Legenderry.
At the church of St Augustine, built on the site where St Columba built his abbey, and with an ancient graveyard beside, I was invited to step inside to watch the Derry Weave. Looms had been set up in the church and I watched as people took it in turns to weave two or three rows on the tapestries that were being created as part of the year of culture.
A small plaque near the Shipquay Gate reads ‘In memory of all those from within the city and district who have lost their lives as a result of war and conflict’. A reminder of the city’s battle-scarred history, from the bloody fight between James II and William III to seize the throne of England to the troubles of the 20th century.
But from here you can look across to the Peace Bridge, opened in 2011, a sign that Derry/Londonderry is finally coming to terms with its turbulent past.