A Trip to Derry

The Peace Bridge in Derry
The Peace Bridge in Derry. Photo credit: Rob Durston and Tourism Northern Ireland

“Ye must think I came up the Foyle in a bubble: You must think I’m stupid’’

A famous line from long suffering Mary Quinn, the matriarch of the fantastically funny television hit sit com Derry Girls, written by local girl Lisa McGee, in a bid to bring some humour to her home city which has had its fair share of troubles over the years.

Lisa’s genius at using comedy to help us understand what it was like living in uncertain times, has helped heal the city and bring in visitors keen to see where their favourite characters live.

And there is no missing school pals Erin Quinn, Michelle Mallon, Orla McCool, Clare Devlin and James Maguire. For in the heart of Derry, or Londonderry as its officially known, stands proudly a huge mural of the grinning gang.

So huge is the programme, that a special exhibition has been set up in The Tower Museum, full of sets, costumes and props. You can take a film location walking trail and themed afternoon tea and food tours are also available as the city keeps the fun vibe going.

It’s only a 50 minute hop from the mainland to the City of Derry Airport, with the Amelia Earhart lounge named after the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean and who chose the city as her number one stop off.

This corner of the North West of Ireland is dubbed The Walled City and squeezed in between where the Wild Atlantic Way meets the Causeway Coastal Route.

Derry Girls mural
Derry Girls mural. Photo credit: Martin McKeown, Visit Derry

There is 400 years crammed of history waiting for you as you stroll along the mighty 17th century walls, home to Europe’s largest collection of cannons.

Built in 1613 by the Irish Society and still owned by the London Livery Companies, the walls are one of the finest examples of their kind in Europe and as you walk along them, you can admire the fine architecture of St Columb’s Cathedral and other former Catholic buildings which have been restored beautifully.

Across the River Foyle, the old military barracks has been transformed to newly opened The Ebrington Hotel and Spa, an impressive sight, especially at night when it is swathed in blue light.

With well-appointed bedrooms decorated with a nod to the city’s history and culinary delights at breakfast and dinner, the hotel has it all. It’s swish and luxurious, with a thermal spa to ease away the aches and pains, but best of all, the staff are so obliging and friendly and make your stay ever so special.

Housed in Ebrington Square, which also has a pub, grill, bakery and soon the addition of a waterside restaurant and a museum, the hotel is reached from the city centre via The Peace Bridge, built in 2011, whose elegant snaking curves tell a story of triumph over adversity, something the city oozes.

There is history everywhere and in the heart of the city is the Guildhall, built in 1890 and best known for its beautiful stained glass and replica Big Ben clock.

The landmark is also where you can see the three peace awards made to John Hume, credited as a being behind many political developments in Northern Ireland.

The Ebrington Hotel bedroom
Stunning bedrooms at The Ebrington Hotel and Spa. Photo credit: Peter Bruce, The Ebrington Hotel

One of the most famous battles was The Siege of Derry in 1689 when for 105 days, up to 30,000 Protestants held the city in the face of the Catholic King James II and 13 apprentices shut the gate to stop the Jacobites taking over.

To celebrate, an apprentice march is held every August through the city and The Siege Museum pays homage to the boys who put their lives at risk for their city, with memorabilia and educational films which tell the tale.

More recent battles which marred the city took place in the Catholic area of Bogside, now famous for its “You are entering free Derry” wall and murals which depict the horrors which went on in 1969 when three days of civil unrest was sparked during an apprentice boys march.

The Catholics clashed with the Royal Ulster police, resulting in the British Army being drafted in and on January 30th, 1972, it all came to a head and 26 unarmed civilians who had been carrying out a peaceful protest about the British policy of internment of suspected Irish Nationalists, were shot, with 14 killed and 13 injured.

The riot led to decades of support for the Irish Republican Army and unrest, until the Good Friday agreement was signed in 1998, recognising Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom until the majority of the people wanted otherwise.

You can take a Bogside History Tour and visit the Museum of Free Derry, both which give an insight into the civil rights era.

The Tower Museum in the heart of the city also traces the history of Derry through an interactive exhibition and uncovers sunken secrets from 1588 where the La Trinidad Valencera was shipwrecked and discovered 400 years later by divers.

City walls overlooking Bogside in Derry
The city walls overlooking Bogside, Derry. Photo credit: Chris Hill, Visit Derry

As well as the Bogside political murals, there are ones in the city centre of The Derry Lama mural, which depicts the friendship between local charity founder Richard Moore and the Dalai Lama. There is also a wall painting of peace activist John Hume.

A ten minute journey finds you in the Republic of Ireland and the stunning countryside of Donegal, where animal lovers can enjoy the wonderful Wild Ireland sanctuary in the Inishowen peninsula. Here everything from brown bears to ferrets are given the opportunity to live in an ancient Celtic rainforest.

And more fun in the outdoors is on the cards at Oakfire Adventures, just outside Derry and in lovely woodland, you can test your nerve with four giant zip wires and a fun tree top challenge.

Foodies are in for a treat in Legenderry as the city is buzzing with culinary greats, ranging from crêpe specials served at the thatched Cottage Craft Gallery and Coffee Shop in the Craft Village, also home to Soda and Starch who dish up the tastiest chowder in town and Browns in Town, for some Michelin inspired dishes and The Sandwich Company, where the queues do justice to the tasty treats.

So as the Derry Girls Michelle would say to Clare: “wise up, it’s happy days here.”

Fact File:

Getting there: Direct flights are available via low cost airlines and www.holidayextras.com can help with airport parking, lounges and transfers.

Things to do and see: Plan your trip with the friendly staff at www.visitderry.com and www.tourismireland.com.

Author Bio:

Rebecca Hay is an experienced travel writer and member of The British Guild of Travel Writers. Follow her adventures with her family on Twitter and Instagram @emojiadventurer and on Facebook via EmojiAdventurers2.

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