More from Derry

Derry is an amazing city. I’ve spent most of the day walking around the place, and now the sun’s going down on my last day here. I’ve circled the walls at least three times today, on top, within, and without, and quartered the old city. I’ve been to museums and cathedrals and murals, and talked to people1 all over the place, and I have to say that I love this city.

The city is scarred, though, by two things in its past: the Siege of Derry in 1689, and the Troubles which centre around Bloody Sunday in 19722. These two events have created a polarized culture that is only recently starting to come together and recognize that they share more similarities than differences.

I am not going to talk too much about the cause, meaning, and issues of the Troubles here; it’s absurd for someone from the Canadian prairies to pretend he’s got even an inkling of understanding about them. But I do need to talk about some of the events, so that my time here makes a little sense. If I get things wrong, I hope those of you with clearer understanding of things will go easy on me. I mean no offence.

The Saddler’s House offers the wonderful kind of breakfast I’m starting to take for granted here in Ireland. They are certainly second to none of the places I’ve stayed, and the smaller size of the operation meant I got to meet some of the other folks staying here, as well3, and Bertie came in to say hello to everyone, as well.

After breakfast, I headed off to the tour that Joan had recommended the previous day, with Martin McCrossan’s City Tours. Our guide was John McNulty, and he was fantastic – though that’s what I’ve come to expect from the tour guides in Ireland. He called the tour the “warts and all” tour, and painted a very vivid picture of Derry’s history, even the dark and terrible bits, while still showing what hope the city has for the future, and the way peace is transforming this troubled area.

After the tour, I spent several hours wandering around to take some looks at the things John had pointed out in passing. Here’s what I saw today.

Protestants are a minority in the city, and still have a bit of a siege mentality. This area is a protestant neighbourhood, as the sign proclaims, and has taken the battle cry from the siege of Derry, “No Surrender,” as their own.
The green fence is called a peace fence, and completely enclosed the West Bank protestant area during the troubles. The tower is the remains of an old jail, which was closed and demolished in the 1960s (I believe) because it was easier to get out of than into.
There are fourteen sycamore trees planted up on the grand parade of the wall, one for each of the thirteen apprentice boys who closed the gates of the city against King James II, and one for their lookout.

Okay. I found out about the Apprentice Boys. Here’s the story.

In 1688, word reached the city that James II was coming to assert catholic rulership. A letter captured from the Jacobites talked about how the protestants of the city would be massacred. While the city leaders debated how to respond to this threat, thirteen apprentice boys ran and locked the gates in the face of the king’s envoys. This led to the Siege of Derry, which began the following April, and lasted 105 days, before ships sent by William of Orange managed to reach the city and relieve the siege.

So, the Apprentice Boys are seen as heroes of Derry. But they’re divisive heroes, because they are representative of a protestant victory, and a catholic defeat. The Apprentice Boys clubs still commemorate their deeds, marching to celebrate the closing of the gates and the relief of the city. In recent years, the celebration has become tied to the Maiden Festival4, and turned into a less-partisan kind of festival.

Though they still burn a giant effigy of Colonel Lundy – who was governor of the city just prior to the siege, and is viewed as the worst kind of traitor for some of his actions – at least they no longer do it dangling over the rooftops of the catholic folk in Bogside. The effigy is, of course, made from thirteen bales of hay, one for each of the Apprentice Boys. Oh, and the TV set you see here has an actor as Lundy trying (and failing most humorously) to justify his actions. This is in the Apprentice Boys Hall, which is open as a museum of the Siege.
Another gem from the Apprentice Boys Hall is this menu recorded by Rev. George Walker, one of the heroes of the siege, of prices for food during that long, hungry action.
Here’s the gate to St. Columb’s Cathedral. It was the first specifically protestant cathedral built in the British Isles after the Reformation.
The interior of St. Columb’s is absolutely beautiful. They charge two pounds for a voucher allowing you to take pictures inside – well worth it.
The pulpit and altar at St. Columb’s.

I also went to see one of the most impressive buildings in the city – the Guildhall.

Here’s a poster of the Guildhall. I think it’s there just to taunt me, because I have a picture of the Guildhall below.
Yup. It’s undergoing restoration. But it’s still open to the public.
The great hall of the Guildhall is extremely impressive. This is the largest organ I have yet seen, and the stained glass shows images of the city through the ages.
Across from the Guildhall is the city wall. Plaques set into it commemorate different things, and the Tower Museum looms over it. The museum was, unfortunately, closed today, so I didn’t get to see inside it.
It was raining pretty good by this time, but I walked up the street and managed to get one good shot of St. Eugene’s Cathedral.
Down a little side street inside the walls is the Craft Village, a little reproduction of the twisty, winding streets and small shops of Victorian Derry.
The Bloody Sunday Memorial in Bogside.
Free Derry in Bogside, with one of the murals of the People’s Gallery. I had hoped to take a guided tour of the murals, but the Bogside Artists Gallery, who run the tours, was all shuttered. So, I was on my own. The Free Derry marker is the gable end of a house – when the house was demolished, they kept the end and the sign that had been painted on it.
Probably the most moving of the murals, this is The Death of Innocence, and commemorates Annette McGavigan, and all those children killed in the Troubles. Originally, the butterfly was painted grey, but the artists added the colours a few years ago to show the progress made towards peace in Northern Ireland.
The last of the Bogside Artist murals – the Peace Dove. A sign of hope.

Derry is a wonderful city. I should have booked more time here5, but I’m off to Belfast tomorrow. If you’re coming to Ireland, though, I recommend a visit here. Despite the war-torn history, the city is welcoming, friendly, and beautiful, and reaching towards a lasting and inclusive peace.


  1. And I have to just interject at this point that, even though I knew that the accent and dialect would be a little different in Northern Ireland, I am startled at how much different – and more Scottish to my ear – it is here. We just don’t get that kind of variation in Canada. []
  2. Though the roots stretch farther back than that, and the effects reach forward to this day. []
  3. Including someone wearing a Miskatonic University shirt, which warmed my betentacled heart. []
  4. Among its other names, Derry/Londonderry is also called the Maiden City, because after three sieges, it’s walls were still unbreached. []
  5. Of course, I could easily have spent more time in every place I’ve been on this trip. []