Derry: City of Many Names

The city of Derry – or as it is otherwise known, Londonderry or Daire Calgaich or Derry and Strabane (whew!) – is a city dripping with history. Much of that history is rife with political turmoil, violence, and rivalries. Before I visited Derry, whenever someone mentioned the name, I just thought “the Troubles”. Now, I see the city for what it is today. A vibrant, beautiful, cultural capital of Northern Ireland that gives us the opportunity to learn from our mistakes and enjoy a really good pint. 

My dear friend Danielle and I spent an October weekend in Derry, taking the train up from Belfast. The train ride itself is gorgeous, as the tracks hug the North Atlantic coastline. Ireland will never stop seeming wild, no matter how long I spend there. We arrived in the late afternoon, slightly delayed from a long visit to the St. George’s Market in Belfast, I must admit. Our accommodations were an AirBNB slightly outside the city, in a small neighborhood with the most friendly and gracious host that insisted on driving us to and from the city center every day. 

The Walled City

The city itself is well-known for being the only remaining walled city in Ireland with its historic walls completely intact. Built in the early 17th century to protect early English and Scottish settlers, the walls encompass the city center and are just about one mile long, and you can walk the entire length. From the top of the walls, you can look inwards and see the grid pattern of the streets, creatively named with streets like “Artillery Street”, where the artillery was, and “Magazine Street”, where the magazine was, and “Butcher Street”, where…. You get it. Derry was the first planned city in Ireland, and this grid pattern would be copied again and again. Looking outwards, you can see the Foyle river to the East and the Bogside area to the West. Occasionally, you’ll pass over one of the seven gates, such as Butcher Gate, Castle Gate, or Shipquay Gate. Amazingly, these walls have never been breached, even during the infamous Siege of Derry in 1689, where the people of Derry refused to open their gates to the Catholic King James II for 105 days.

The Guildhall of Derry/Londonderry

Not all of Derry remained unscathed during that siege, however. The 17th century Market House was destroyed, but the new Guildhall was built on the same location in 1890. The striking red-brick structure managed to make it through multiple terrorist attacks during the Troubles, and is now open to visitors. The second floor has a huge open auditorium with soaring wooden beams and stained glass windows, each window portraying a different one of the 13 guilds that contributed to the construction of the building. One end of the auditorium has a stage and massive organ. Several displays in the hall outside reveal some historical artifacts, and there is a video on repeat describing the famous Saville Inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday. The inquiry ended in the exoneration of the victims and admission of guilt by the British government. An exhibition on the first floor detailed the history of the Derry plantation, and how the English settlers used it as a base to build up a population loyal to the British Crown. 

St. Columb’s Cathedral

The walls, now a beautiful historical artifact, may have a history of occupation and oppression of the native peoples, but that’s not to say you still can’t thoroughly enjoy walking their lengths. For sure, there are lots of beautiful buildings to admire from the walls. St. Columb’s Cathedral is one such example. The current building was constructed in the 17th century, and is dedicated to St. Columba, an Irish monk who established a Christian settlement in the area in the 6th Century, and who is now the patron saint of Derry.  St. Augustine, or as it’s otherwise known, the “Wee Church on the Walls”, is another lovely church said to be built on the site of the 6th century monastery. Unfortunately the churches were closed to visitors when we were there, so we just got to admire them from the outside. 


One aspect of Derry we definitely got to admire from the inside were the multitudes of quintessential Irish pubs. It seemed like there was one every few feet, and each one offered live music in the evenings. Danielle and I enjoyed a few pints over the weekend, but we were disappointed that so many museums and tourist sites closed so early while the pubs were open so late. It makes sense, but there was only so much sitting and drinking we wanted to do. It felt like we were just going from meal to meal! On Sunday in particular, we caved and got a traditional Sunday roast. Roasted meat, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, stuffing, gravy, and a suggestion of vegetables left us practically rolling ourselves home. 

Perhaps one of my favorite places in Derry wasn’t particularly touristy, and happened to be mostly closed, but was full of charm nonetheless. The Craft Village within the Walled City is a recreation of an 18th century street and 19th century square, and houses artisanal shops, coffee shops, and cute little balconied apartments. Sunday didn’t find it bumping, per se, but the atmosphere was sweet, and made me nostalgic for simpler times with pedestrian-only streets.

Free Derry Corner, Bogside Murals, and a call for Peace

Unfortunately, one cannot think of Derry/Londonderry without thinking of the darker side of its history. This city was a hotbed of rebellion and violence during the Troubles, and the scars remain to this day. If you look over the walls towards the West, you’ll be looking out over the Bogside. This is the area of Derry that used to be a river, but was drained and now earns its name. This is where the Free Derry Corner is, as well as numerous murals depicting events of the Troubles, propaganda, or calls for peace. There are plaques and monuments listed out those killed, either as victims of clashes with police or wasting away during hunger strikes. It’s a sobering walk down the road, and it’s obvious the sentiments are still strong with freshly-painted graffiti bordering the murals, calling for an independent Ireland. 

Amidst this tension, it’s fitting to end with a sign of hope. The Peace Bridge is a pedestrian-only bridge that crosses over the Foyle river, connecting the Walled City banks with the east. It was built in 2011 in collaboration with the European Union commissioner for Regional Policy, and the intention was to “bridge the gap”, literally and figuratively, between the mainly Unionist west bank with the mainly Nationalist east bank. It is a powerful symbol, and we can only hope that it is a sign of brighter things to come.

What’s a visit to Derry without paying tribute to the Derry Girls? 😉

2 thoughts on “Derry: City of Many Names

Add yours

  1. Thanks again for taking the time to share your adventures of other parts of the world, and of, oh yes, of Ireland. I haven’t been for three or four years, and I will get back next summer!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! I wish we had Craft Villages here, that served apartment-dwellers Sunday roast…and pints. ♥

    Love your photos and all that you’re experiencing!

    God’s blessings, Eleanore

    Liked by 1 person

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