Derry City Walls
Although Derry’s famous murals compete for your attention, the best way to begin your travels around the city is with a walk along the 1.5 kilometre historic city walls encircling the old city. Until the mid-1990s, barricades and barbed wire blocked the way, but these have disappeared in a city optimistic about the peace process.
Initially known as Doire, the Tudors tried to conquer the troublesome town for decades. In 1600 they achieved limited success and developed a small settlement in the area. Daire was given city status, the anglicised name of Derry and established as an English trading colony.
Eight years later Sir Cahir O’Doherty led a fiery attack on the colony. The city was almost destroyed and was left vulnerable to plantation. The following year King James I granted land to English and Scottish settlers. The plantations were supported by the London trade guilds and the city’s name was changed again to the contentious Derry.
Building then began on the city’s 2.5 metre high, three metre wide walls, the last such defensive wall built in Europe. In 1688 it became the site of a 105-day siege (the longest in British history) when a group of Apprentice Boys shut Derry’s gates to Catholic troops loyal to King James II. The city’s population swelled from 2,000 to 30,000 as local Protestants fled behind the city walls for protection. Up to one third of them died but they said they would rather eat each other than surrender.
The siege ended when supply ships broke through the barriers on the river. It had delayed Catholic forces advancing for the Battle of the Boyne and contributed to William of Orange’s victory on July 12th 1690. An annual bonfire service on August 12th commemorates the siege and some believe the skeleton on the city crest remembers the event.
The restored medieval O’Doherty Tower along the city wall houses one of the best museums in Ireland and Britain. Spread over three levels, it tells the last 400 years of Derry’s history. Displays include wrecks from the Spanish Armada, tunnels and cellars from the siege and some novel attempts at explaining the Troubles in the North. It is credited as being the first museum to attempt to show the Troubles impartially. The museum is open from 10 to 5, Tuesdays to Saturdays, September to June and Mondays to Saturdays in July and August.
Roe Valley Country Park
South of Limavady, this lovely park stretches for 5 kilometres either side of the River Roe. The salmon and trout fishing in the area are an anglers delight and the park itself is scattered with industrial buildings from the flaxen works in the 17th Century. The park’s visitor’s centre offers a photographic history of local linen manufacturing and there is a small museum in the weaving shed near the main entrance. Other highlights are the scutch mill, Ulster’s first domestic hydroelectric power station developed in 1896 and the guardtowers used to protect the linen as it was bleached in the fields below. As a tribute to Derry’s reputation as a shirt and collar supplier, it continues to present the American president with twelve free shirts every year.
South Derry has several well preserved examples of the Plantation settlements begun in 1595. Just off the A6, Draperstown boasts the Plantation of Ulster Visitor Centre. But it is the wide main street and ornate Georgian houses of Moneymore that give visitors a real impression of a Plantation town layout. Still a strongly Protestant area, the town’s kerbstones are painted blue, white and red during the 12th July season. Nearby Springfield is a good example of a fortified planter’s manor.