Londonderry Travel Information

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The city of Londonderry lies in the deep valley of the River Foyle, some one hundred and fifty miles northwest of Dublin. The city centre rises on a hill on the western side of the river and is encircled by its splendidly preserved seventeenth-century city walls. Derry is the second city of Northern Ireland and its history is a long and tumultuous one.

What's in a Name?

The English name Derry comes from the Irish Doire, meaning " a place of oaks ". The original settlements at Derry nestled on an island-hill in the river Foyle, which was at that time thickly forested. The monastic settlement founded in the sixth century took the name Doire Colmcille, after its founder St Colmcille (Columba, the founder of Iona). In time, the title Doire was anglicised to Derry. With the plantation of the new colonial settlement at the beginning of the seventeenth century, Derry became Londonderry, in honour of the London merchants who underwrote the expense of this risky enterprise.

Londonderry remains the official name of the city, but the official title of the city council is Derry; and Derry is the more commonly used name. Throughout the Northern Ireland Troubles, the issue became a political one and the people of the city have become accustomed to (and amused by) the fine line over this issue walked by many newspaper and broadcasting organizations: the local BBC radio station, for example, now routinely refers to the city as " Derry-stroke-Londonderry " - and wcities.com has followed the BBC's example! The issue, however, is no longer as fraught as it once was. The tourist authorities now speak of the Maiden City, a coy reference to the fact that the city has never fallen to siege; you may justifiably think that any name is preferable to that.

The Walled City

English and Scottish settlers constructed the walled city of Londonderry at the beginning of the seventeenth century on the instructions of James I. The intention was to place the new city at the heart of the Plantation of Ulster, at that time the only one of Ireland's four provinces not yet fully under English control. The City Walls in the year 2000 are punctuated by seven gates and remain marvellously preserved, while the land they encircle is still the heart of the modern city. A stroll around the open circuit of the walls takes about an hour and affords wide views of the city and its hinterland.

The city was laid out in a grid pattern, subsequently much copied in the colonies of British North America. The passing centuries have witnessed many changes, but this basic grid remains fundamentally unaltered. Four main streets converge on the city's main square, the Diamond, which contains the city Cenotaph and the distinctive facade and copper cupola of Austin's Department Store. Two of these four streets, Shipquay Street and Ferryquay Street, remain the busy shopping streets they have always been; and in a city of hills and sudden views, Shipquay Street is the steepest main street in Ireland. On Bishop Street lies the handsome neo-classical city Courthouse. The fourth street, Butcher Street, is home to a new interpretive centre and (shortly) a new hotel.

Behind these four converging streets lie many beautiful buildings. Most look old and well preserved, but in truth the city centre lay largely in ruins at the end of the 1970s - the result of the euphemistically named " Troubles " - and most of the buildings we now see have been carefully and painstakingly restored. The finest examples of restoration are the facades of Pump Street, Magazine Street and London Street - all names that evoke the city's past. The most unusual and charming example of this careful restoration, however, is probably the Craft Village behind Shipquay Street: this reconstruction of a town street and square is home to small shops and cafes, constructed using the original brick and stone from damaged buildings that once stood on this site. Some very old buildings, thankfully, remain, notably the splendid Cathedral of St Columb (1613) and the small, beautiful Anglican
St Augustine's Church on the city walls. The O'Doherty Tower - fashioned out of brickwork similar to that of the city walls - will in 2001 become part of the new Spanish Armada Museum at Magazine Gate. Close to Shipquay Gate - today the busiest entrance to the walled city - lies the site of the new Civic Theatre and Millennium Square, a glass-roofed cultural and commercial space that will occupy the last major undeveloped space within the circuit of the walls. This impressive complex is due to open in September 2001.

The Bogside

The Bogside lies below the northern stretch of the city walls and is one of the city's more densely populated districts. Its name is distinctive and comes from the period when the hill of Derry was an island in the river Foyle. Through the middle ages, the western arm of the river gradually silted up, leaving marshy land behind; this land became known as the Bogside. This low-lying land was gradually drained and, after the foundation of the colonial city and building of the city walls, it became Derry's first suburb. Catholics were barred from living within the city walls, and so the Bogside has always been a predominantly Catholic district. In modern times, it became a crucible of Catholic discontent: in the period from 1921-1972, when Northern Ireland was governed by successive Unionist administrations, the Bogside had some of the worst housing slums in Europe, and the area witnessed the beginning of the Civil Rights marches, in which Catholics demanded equal rights for their community. The area was also the scene of the shocking events of Bloody Sunday in 1972, when 14 civil rights marchers were killed by British soldiers. Today, the area has been extensively rebuilt, but remains the most politically aware district of the city: the enormous and artistically distinctive murals which adorn the walls of the area, signify this sensitivity. The most eye-catching monument in the Bogside, however, is Free Derry Corner, a gable wall proclaiming You Are Now Entering Free Derry: a testament to the period in the early 1970s when this district of the city was wholly under the control of the IRA.

St Eugene's Cathedral, constructed at the end of the nineteenth century in Gothic revival style, lies on the western edge of the Bogside. At the eastern side, and close to the city walls, is the
Long Tower Church. This building's modest appearance conceals an extraordinarily lavish interior.

Along the River

Close to Shipquay Gate lies the neo-Gothic Guildhall, the largest public building in Londonderry and once the home of the city's government. The interior is lavishly wood-panelled and contains very beautiful stained glass, chronicling the history of the city and its place in the British colonial adventure. Also close to the river is the Harbour Museum, which details the history of the port of Derry, including its role as an emigration port in the nineteenth century and the vital part it played in World War Two. A few minutes' walk is the Foyle Valley Railway, a reconstructed steam railway that travels south along the river to Donegal: this is a great trip for the children and on a fine day affords fine views of the green valley of the Foyle. Between the river and the city walls, meanwhile, lies the district known as the Fountain: this is the last predominantly Protestant area on the western side of the river and contains some fascinating political murals.

A few minutes' stroll north brings you to the Foyle Arts Centre, which has studio space for theatre and dance. Not far from there you can see the rapidly expanding University of Ulster at Magee College. Its hillside campus gives great views of the river and mountains beyond. Two miles north of the city centre is the striking Foyle Bridge, the longest in Ireland and one that has sweeping views of the city and the countryside. Further north - you'll need a car to make the short trip - is the
Amelia Earhart Centre, a museum which commemorates the unexpected arrival of this famous pilot in the city following her celebrated trans-Atlantic flight. The story goes that Earhart radioed her support staff to tell them she had landed in Paris, so impressed was she by the Georgian elegance of Londonderry. (A true story? Of course!)

The Waterside

The Waterside is the name given to that part of Londonderry on the eastern side of the Foyle. This district is only a stroll from the city centre across the Craigavon Bridge. The area is largely residential but is also home to some of the city's most distinctive sights, notably the Workhouse Museum, which details the history of the Irish Famine in the north-west. The political murals in Irish Street are also worth a look: they give an insight into working-class Protestant culture in this predominantly Catholic city. They are especially intriguing if viewed against the context of their counterparts in the Bogside. Splendid views of the city can be had from the hill-top Waterside suburbs, while on the southern edge of the city lies the Prehen Boat House. The excellent City of Derry Golf Club is about a mile from the Waterside. The city's Airport is some eight miles north of the city, near the village of Eglinton; it offers services to London (Stansted), Glasgow, Dublin, Manchester and (in summer) Jersey.

Around Londonderry

Donegal lies only a few minutes' drive west of the city and contains some of Ireland's best-loved and dramatic scenery. The Inishowen peninsula is Ireland's most northerly district and has traditionally been the natural hinterland of Derry. Only a mile or two from the border lies the marvellous ring fort of
Grianan of Aileach, first mentioned in history in the fifth century and used as a temple and fortress for centuries. The structure was extensively rebuilt in the nineteenth century and is the best place to get your bearings: it affords wide views over Derry, Donegal and beyond. Inishowen stretches north of Grianan to Malin Head, and has some of the country's best and most deserted beaches, superb walks and championship golf courses. High points include Kinnagoe Bay, Culdaff Bay, the Gap of Mamore and the Ballyliffin Golf Club. The Inis Eoghain 100 drive circles the peninsula and should be driven at a leisurely pace, with frequent pauses!

East of Londonderry lies the gentler landscape of County Derry in Northern Ireland. The Sperrin Mountains rise in the east of the county and Learmount Forest Park and the wild moors of the Sperrin highlands typify the vivid contrasts of landscape that are such a feature of this region. Equally attractive for the visitor is the marvellous Blue Flag beach at Benone, which stretches for miles along the northern coast of the county; and the nearby pretty plantation town of Limavady. Closer to Londonderry, Ness Woods and its waterfalls are pleasant spots for a ramble on a fine day.

Along the north coast of neighbouring County Antrim runs the so-called Causeway Coast. This is home to the Giant's Causeway, a World Heritage Site and one of the geological wonders of the world. The great geometric columns of rock rise from the shores of the sea a few miles east of the lively resort towns of Portrush and Portstewart, while nearby lie the majestic ruins of Dunluce Castle on its cliff overlooking the Atlantic; and the famous Whiskey Distillery at Bushmills.

Weather

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Avg. High 50° 49° 52° 53° 57° 62° 64° 65° 63° 59° 52° 50°
Avg. Low 32° 32° 34° 38° 41° 46° 50° 50° 47° 42° 38° 34°
Mean 42° 42° 43° 46° 50° 54° 57° 57° 55° 51° 46° 44°
Avg. Precip. 4.5 in 3.0 in 3.4 in 2.2 in 2.3 in 2.6 in 2.8 in 3.6 in 4.0 in 4.7 in 4.5 in 4.1 in

Fahrenheit temperature scale is used.