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Shipquay Gate

The Walls of Derry: A Walking Tour Through Centuries of History and Conflict (2024)

Derry, also known as Londonderry, is a city steeped in a rich tapestry of history, culture, and conflict. One of its most iconic features, the Derry Walls, stands as a testament to the city’s resilience and its pivotal role in Northern Ireland’s turbulent past. This article invites you to embark on a walking tour of these storied walls, offering a glimpse into centuries of history and the indomitable spirit of its inhabitants. 

A Brief Overview

The Walls of Derry, an integral part of the city’s skyline, were built between 1613 and 1618. Commissioned by the Honourable The Irish Society, their primary purpose was to serve as defences for settlers from England and Scotland, reflecting the geopolitical tension and colonization efforts of the time. Spanning over a mile in circumference and reaching up to eight meters in height, these massive walls have never been breached, earning Derry the title “The Maiden City.” Over time, they’ve become silent witnesses to an array of sieges, conflicts, and historic resolutions. Their stone façade and towering presence serve as a backdrop to the events that have shaped Northern Ireland’s intricate history. 

Starting Point: Shipquay Gate

Your immersive journey into Derry’s history begins at the Shipquay Gate, one of the original four city gates. Standing at this gate, it’s easy to visualize the vibrancy of the 17th century, as the port area would have been abuzz with activity. Sailors, merchants, and traders, animated in their bartering, would have been a common sight. Exotic goods, intriguing tales, and novel ideas from far-off lands like the Americas and the Far East filtered into the city through this very gate, making it a melting pot of cultures and commerce. 

Roaring Cannon: The Double Bastion

As the cobblestones guide you forward, the Double Bastion awaits. Dominating this fortification is the Roaring Meg Cannon, an emblem of Derry’s unyielding spirit. Named “Roaring Meg” because of the deafening sound it produced when fired, this cannon played a significant role during the 105-day Siege of Derry in 1689. As you gaze upon its imposing structure, consider the immense pressure the city’s inhabitants faced, and how this very cannon was a beacon of hope and resistance during their direst times. 

St. Columb’s Cathedral

A stone’s throw from the walls is the mesmerizing St. Columb’s Cathedral. Constructed between 1628 and 1633, this architectural marvel stands as the oldest building in the city. The cathedral isn’t merely a religious edifice; it’s a treasure trove of history. Within its hallowed walls, you’ll find artefacts from the Siege of Derry, including cannonballs and communion silver. The ornate stained glass windows and intricate woodwork narrate stories of faith, resilience, and the intertwining of religion with the political landscape of the era. 

Royal Bastion and the Plinth

Your next stop, the Royal Bastion, offers panoramic views of the city and the River Foyle. This bastion, strategically placed, was vital for the city’s defence. At its base, the Plinth stands as an open-air museum of artillery. The collection of cannons displayed here, dating from the 17th to the 19th centuries, is both formidable and fascinating. Each piece, whether ornate or austere, whispers tales of skirmishes, strategies, and soldiers who once defended Derry’s honour. 

Bishop’s Gate

As you meander along the path, the grandeur of the Bishop’s Gate welcomes you. Initially constructed in the 1600s, the gate you see today was rebuilt in 1789. Its distinguishing feature is the Star of the Order of St. Patrick, proudly etched into its façade. This emblem, rooted in Ireland’s cultural tapestry, is an ode to the city’s deep religious and cultural significance. Beyond its architectural beauty, the gate also offers insights into the myriad influences and allegiances that shaped Derry’s trajectory. 

Ferryquay Gate

Your footsteps lead you to the iconic Ferryquay Gate, a location that’s pivotal to Derry’s history. On the fateful day of April 18, 1689, this gate witnessed an act of youthful defiance that would forever be etched in history. Thirteen brave apprentices, realizing the gravity of the impending Jacobite threat, took it upon themselves to lock the gates, barring the advancing army’s entry. This bold act has since become the stuff of legends and is celebrated annually as ‘Apprentice Boys Day,’ a day when the local community gathers in both remembrance and pride. 

Butcher’s Gate

The evocatively named Butcher’s Gate beckons next. Deriving its name from the butchers’ guild – the skilled tradesmen who once populated this part of the city – the gate is steeped in tales of courage and confrontation. During the Siege of Derry, it was the site of one of the fiercest attacks, a memory the walls silently safeguard. The architectural scars and the robust structure speak of the resilience of a city under siege and its determination to defend its identity. 

Ending Point: The Peace Bridge

Leaving the historic walls behind, your journey culminates at the modern marvel that is the Peace Bridge. While it might not share the ancient roots of the walls, its significance to Derry’s narrative is paramount. Inaugurated in 2011, this pedestrian and cyclist bridge isn’t just an architectural masterpiece; it’s a beacon of hope. Stretching across the River Foyle, the bridge physically and symbolically connects historically divided communities. It stands as a poignant reminder of Derry’s transformative journey, from tumultuous divisions to aspirations of unity and communal harmony. 

A Living Legacy

To walk the Walls of Derry is to travel through time. These walls, with their rugged stone and whispering winds, are storytellers. They chronicle tales of settlers seeking new beginnings, of soldiers guarding territorial lines, of traders bringing in the world’s wonders, and of peacemakers bridging divided hearts. Every brick and bastion is a testament to Derry’s indomitable spirit, a city that has been challenged repeatedly but refuses to bow. As you complete your tour, you’re left with an enduring realization: Derry isn’t just about historical landmarks; it’s about the undying spirit of its people, who have crafted a legacy of resilience and unity. 

Practical Information 

The Walls of Derry are fully accessible to pedestrians, and there are numerous guided tours available that delve deeper into the stories behind each bastion and gate. Wear comfortable shoes, as the walk is about a mile in length, and allow yourself to be transported through time as you journey through Derry’s rich history. 


The Walls of Derry offer a unique blend of history, architecture, and storytelling. As you walk their expanse, you not only witness the city’s past but also its enduring spirit and hope for a peaceful future. Whether you’re a history enthusiast or a traveller looking for a deeper connection, the walls promise a journey unlike any other.


  • O’Donnell, P. (2018). Derry: Walls that talk. Historical Walks Press.
  • Northern Ireland Tourist Board. (2020). Walled city heritage. NI Travel Guides.
  • Thompson, J. (2017). The Siege of Derry: A city’s resilience. Siege Publications.

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