Travel Review: Derry, Northern Ireland

Derry City
Derry City

THE secret to peace is simple for a five-year-old. Hot chocolate made with the creamiest Irish milk you can find!

Ruaridh had clearly picked up some of the local blarney when he attempted to convince me that all disagreements could be resolved over a cup of the hot stuff.

Derry City

Derry City

The reason for our indepth debate was as we attempted to unravel the many conflicts which the Northern Irish city of Derry (or Londonderry to give it Sunday name) has endured since the 6th century.

Voted by the travel guide experts from Lonely Planet as “one of the top 10 cities in the world to visit in 2013’’, Derry is currently basking in the warmth of being the UK’s first city of culture.

With slick advertising and the great slogan of “ Let it be LegenDerry’’, this wonderfully compact city is attracting lots of interest and its not hard to see why.

Not only does it have the easy going charm that goes hand in hand with being Irish, its also got pots of history to dive into, a host of attractions to visit and plenty of old style pubs and restaurants for folk to enjoy the craic.

Cheap flights mean Derry is easily accessible from East Lancashire and a short ride soon has you in the hub of town. Ruaridh, his sister Flora (3) and I were based in The Tower Hotel, right inside the city walls. This four-star hotel has 90 luxurious rooms and suites and a top notch restaurant where you can enjoy the traditional Irish breakfast and cuisine using local ingredients.

Close to the hotel is The Tower Museum which gives you a chance to discover “The Story of Derry’’ through an exhibition and films and “An Armada Shipwreck’’ display uncovering the plight of the boat which sank off the Donegal coast in 1588 and was rediscovered by divers from Derry in 1971.

This year also gives Derry the chance to celebrate the 400th anniversary of being Ireland’s only completely walled city.

There are lots of ways to discover the history of the walls, from taking a walking tour with a local expert to pottering around using a guided talk through headphones on hire at the nearby tourist board. Story boards are also dotted along the walls.

Along the route is Saint Columb’s Cathedral, which is the city’s most historic. This beautiful building designed by William Parrot in 1633 was restored in 2011 and is well worth a look.

But perhaps Derry’s most famous contribution to history was Bloody Sunday or the Bogside Massacre as it is sometimes known. On January 30th, 1972, 26 unarmed civil rights protesters and bystanders were shot by British Army soldiers. Thirteen teenagers were killed and a memorial to the dead is still decked with fresh floral tributes today.

Two official inquiries were held, the first, The Widgery Tribunal largely cleared the British soldiers, but in 2010, the Saville report found the deaths were “unjustified and unjustifiable’’ and the event has gone down in history as one of the most significant events in the troubles of Ireland. The guildhall where the inquiry was held is a majestic building and currently being restored.

Three artists, Tom and William Kelly and Kevin Hasson, known as The Bogside Artists have created murals which are painted on walls around the area and tell the story of the troubles, including one of Annette McGavigan, a schoolgirl tragically killed and another of activist Bernadette_Devlin_McAliskey, who fought to free Derry.

Thankfully these times are fimly in the past and Derry has moved on. In 2011 a peace bridge linking the two communities was erected over the River Foyle. This magnificent bridge allows people to move easily around the city and on the Waterside takes you to Ebrington Square. This historic site, a military base during World War I and II, has been transformed into a cultural area for up to 15,000 people.

Nearby is St Columb’s Park, a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, with three adventure playgrounds for the children to enjoy. And having fun is what the Irish like best. The year of culture has been marked with a programme of events which include such highlights as hosting the Turner prize in October.

Ruaridh, Flora and I took part in a special ceili dancing class with renowned teacher Patricia Henderson. Pat has given up her time free of charge to help teach local children the finer points of dancing and it was clear to see that her expertise was being enjoyed by the enthusiasts who attended.

Derry is also not far from the Donegal coast and Giant’s Causeway. And it serves the best hot chocolate ever – so come on, what more reasons do you need to visit?!

Factfile:

For more information on accommodation and attractions, log onto the tourist board via www.derryvisitor.com

A programme of events during the year of culture can be found via www.cityofculture2013.com