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Legenderry - the 2013 European City of Culture

In all honesty, when I saw the name ‘Derry’ on our Irish road trip itinerary, I wasn’t exactly filled with excitement. In fact, I may even go so far as to say I was a little afraid! As a girl growing up in Britain I knew very little about Northern Ireland other than the images that were constantly beamed into our living room of soldiers, explosions and politically charged murals in the background of every IRA related news item. Despite my fears, I was assured the city was no longer dangerous and well worth visiting so it was with an air of cautious intrepidation we arrived in ‘the walled city’.

walledOur first impression of the city was the hotel where we were staying and dropping off our bags. The Everglades Hotel just on the outskirts of the city was luxurious to say the least and knowing I was coming back to the finest suite in the hotel after my Derry day, I was feeling better already! So we arrived in the city and figured what better place to begin that at the Tourist Information office. We were met there by a very knowledgeable walking tour guide who kindly took us on a tour of the city centre, filling in my large knowledge gaps about the cities fascinating recent history. The ancient walls of the city are largely still intact and were occupied by the British army during the troubles. We took a walk almost all the way around which provided a fascinating insight into the layout of this still divided yet largely peaceful city. The city it would seem has been at the centre of a power struggle since it was first occupied as a small port and the fascinating history has been influenced throughout the ages through religion, politics, economics, famine and industry. For anyone interested in any of these, it’s a city well worthy of a visit on these grounds alone.

The city itself is beautiful despite a number of buildings which have been damaged or destroyed over time. The first stop on our walking tour was at St Columb’s Cathedral which dominates the skyline and has stood proudly on this site since 1633. This beautiful building has in itself a rich history and has managed to navigate the religious tensions of the community and become a place of peace and sanctuary which is acceptable and used by the entire community. It houses a number of religious artefacts including items from St Columb himself and items from the 1689 seige of Derry.

CanonsContinuing on our tour we viewed the large cannons – a famous landmark that sit upon the walls looking out across the city. Taking a walk through the artists quarter you get a real sense of the culture and vibrancy of this city. It’s inhabitants have clearly worked incredible hard to shake off the reputation and show the world what a great city of huge and rich historical interest it really is. Our next visit was to the Tower Museum, a fascinating and interactive museum which tells the story of the cities origins as one of Ireland’s earliest settlements and really helps to piece together the various bits of information which you may visit Derry with or pick up along the way.

Memorial HallThe city also houses a number of other museums including the Museum of Free Derry and the Apprentice Boys of Derry Association and Memorial Hall which although impressive from the outside, we sadly were unable to visit this time. Our walking tour ended on the new ‘Peace Bridge’, an impressive structure which sits right across the river Foyle. The bridge gives a new view of the attractive city and is worth wandering across for that alone.

 

 

roadtrainThe final part of our tour was to take a trip on board the new road train, a small vehicle which tours both sides of the city and provides a fascinating and accessible commentary at the same time through their knowledgeable local guides. This train was great as we were able to travel right up to the murals as the guides explained the history of each one and what it represents. Overall the visit to the walled city was an overwhelmingly enjoyable one. For anyone who loves history, culture or has any interest at all in the political struggle over Northern Ireland, I cannot recommend a trip to Derry enough. 2013 couldn’t be a better time to visit. As the city enjoys it’s ‘city of culture’ year, there is a huge calendar of great events which it’s worth having a look at before planning the dates of your trip just to make a visit to this city even better.

Ruth Lancey, January 2013

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