On our second day in Derry/Londonderry our plan was to take a guided tour of the city walls. So after an excellent full Irish breakfast at the Amore Guest House we set off in unexpected sunshine into the city.
Derry/Londonderry has the distinction of being the last walled city to be built in Europe and it is one of the most complete with an uninterrupted walk of just about a mile completely enclosing the old city within. It is one of the few cities in Europe that never saw its fortifications breached, withstanding several sieges including one in 1689 which lasted for one hundred and five days, hence the city’s nickname, The Maiden City, three times besieged but never taken.
The tour began at midday so with time to spare we strolled inside the walls and through the centre looking for a mural depicting the characters in the hit TV show “The Derry Girls” where we stopped to take pictures.
A man with a camera approached us and introduced himself as a cameraman from BBC Northern Ireland who was doing a piece about the announcement of a third and final series of the show and asked if he could take a shot of us visiting the mural. With stars in our eyes we naturally we agreed and that is how we appeared later that night on TV on the local news programme.
Next we crossed the Peace Bridge which is a snaking structure that crosses the River Foyle and connects the east and west banks in a symbol of hopeful fraternity and took us to the predominantly Protestant/Unionist side of the city where we were careful to remember to call it Londonderry. Here there were the abandoned British Army barracks which have been gifted to the city by the British Government and where there was a frenzy of building/restoration work.
We had only been there an hour or so but already I knew that I Iiked the place. I was expecting it to be rather more like the cities of Southern Ireland, I thought it might be like Galway or Killarney but it wasn’t. It may not have had street entertainers and brightly coloured buildings but it had a unique identity which made me regret the fact that we weren’t staying a while longer.
Back within the city walls we joined out Tour Guide, a gregarious fellow in a canary yellow hoodie with a lifetime of amusing stories and anecdotes shared in an extravagant narrative and he set off on an entertaining walk around the top of the walls and on the way told the story of the city and how it was now continuing to recover after the Troubles of the late twentieth century.
The walk took us along the battlements, past fortified bastions and over the various gates of the city where carefully restored cannon still posed threateningly at every corner. We passed by St Columb’s Cathedral and came across the Protestant quarter called the Fountain surrounded by brick walls and wire fences in a part of the city where the Protestant Unionists refuse to give in and move outside the walls. Courageous maybe, stubborn certainly but I cannot imagine that it makes for a comfortable life.
It was late afternoon now so we split up to go our separate ways for an hour or so. I choose to visit the Tower Museum which had a useful walk through history of the city and the province. It was here that I learnt of the plantations and the settlement of Ulster by protestant Scots, the displacement of the native Catholics and the possible root cause of the centuries of tension that culminated in the troubles of the 1970s and 80’s, but I sensed a whiff of optimism here and I hope it is a beginning rather than an end.
Back together we visited the City Hall with an alternative but equally informative history of the city. After a stop for a late afternoon Guinness we made our weary way back to the guest house to open a bottle of wine and settle down to watch our anticipated appearance on BBC news. We scraped in there but only just with no more than a two second shot of us posing in front of the Derry Girls mural.
Later we dined out, drank more Guinness and made plans for the following day.