Across the sinuous River Foyle
'And now the walls of Derry rise out of history'
The story of Derry is
a long and tumultuous one. Set on a hill on the banks of the Foyle
estuary, strategically close to the open sea, it came under siege and
attack for over a thousand years.
St Columb came out of Donegal to escape the plague 1,400 years ago and
founded his first monastery in the oak grove (Doire in Gaelic), a gift
from his cousin, Prince of Aileach. It was a holy place. The saint said
that 'the angels of God sang in the glades of Derry and every leaf held
You can walk along the great 17th-century walls, about a mile round
and 18 feet thick, which withstood several sieges and even today are
unbroken and complete, with old cannon still pointing their black noses
over the ramparts. The great siege lasted for 105 days.
The modern city preserves the 17th-century layout of four main streets
radiating from the Diamond to four gateways - Bishop's Gate, Ferryquay
Gate, Shipquay Gate and Butcher's Gate. Historic buildings within the
walls include the 1633 Gothic cathedral of St Columb. In the porch is
'If stones could speake then London's prayse should sound Who
built this church and cittie from the grounde.'
At the time of the plantation of Ulster, the City of London sent master-builders
and money to rebuild the ruined medieval town hence the name Londonderry.
Colonel Baker, a governor of the city who died on the 74th day of the
siege, shares a memorial in the cathedral with Captain Browning who was
killed as his ship Mountjoy broke the boom across the river and relieved
the city in July 1689. The chapterhouse displays the keys to the gates
that were shut against James II in December 1688.
The Guildhall, looking much like its counterpart in London, is just
outside the walls. Its stained glass windows illustrate almost every
episode of note in the city's history. The story flows up the staircase
and floods all the chambers with brilliant light.
The main thoroughfare, Shipquay Street, is very steep, with narrow little
streets running off it and a craft village tucked in behind the O'Doherty
tower. From the quay behind the Guildhall hundreds of thousands of Irish
emigrants sailed to a new life in the New World.
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