A walking tour of Derry’s walls, which have enveloped the city centre for 400 years, comes highly recommended

You can’t mention the winner of the 2013 City of Culture award without being made aware of its complex history of divide. Popularly and historically Derry, but since 1613 officially Londonderry, the name undoubtedly induced palpitations in the City of Culture marketing team, who settled on a tilde between the contentious titles to make Derry~Londonderry the focus of this inaugural year.
A year long series of events began in January with the Sons and Daughters Concert which brought home an eclectic collection of performers including Snow Patrol, Phil Coulter and The Undertones. In the coming months, the city will host the world GAA congress, an Irish language festival, the Fleadh Ceoil, and the Turner Prize alongside many smaller festivals and events, giving Dubliners ample opportunities to make the three-hour trip north for an overnight or weekend stay.
One of the first things you should do is take a walking tour of Derry’s walls, which have enveloped the city centre for 400 years. Martin McCrossan, a local man who first started up the tours over two decades ago, provides an excellent commentary on the city through the ages.
An hour walking the walls will take you from the establishment of the 6th century monastery of Colmcille, through the Siege of Derry and the formation of the Apprentice Boys, to Bloody Sunday and the peace and reconciliation work that eventually followed for the community.
From the vantage point of the walls, you can look out over the collection of murals that have become well-known symbols of sectarianism. Some of the murals have changed over time to reflect the change from violence to peace.
The turbulent history of Derry is one that nobody is afraid to shy away from, let alone attempt to forget. The great split in this community and its subsequent repair is part and parcel of a unique cultural identity; and the walking tours and museums dedicated to what has become known as The Troubles have become some of the most popular attractions for visitors.
Staying at a hotel within the walls of the city is recommended, as so much is accessible on foot. The Tower Hotel is a great central spot as you’ll have everything just a short stroll away.
Derry is full of little streets, arches and alleyways, so there are a lot of nooks and crannies to explore – one of the highlights is the Craft Village, a quiet collection of shops and cafes where you can pick up some unique jewellery or gifts. There’s also a great live music scene in the evenings, with lots of pubs hosting bands. Aside from the Fleadh Ceoil, which is set to make its first border crossing and draw up to 300,000 people to the city in August, there’s also a Hidden Voices festival, and BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend festival on the cards for 2013.
Many of the 2013 City of Culture events are taking place in The Venue, a temporary arena located at Ebrington Square on the banks of the river Foyle, in what was once a British Army base. The symbolic relevance of this is not coincidental.
The Foyle, traditionally a natural border between the Catholic and Protestant communities, can now be crossed on the recently erected Peace Bridge, a massive monument to progress that gently twists and turns across the river.
It’s only when walking on this new ground that the rationale of bridging the name Derry~Londonderry with a tilde becomes obvious. There’s a palpable sense of pride in the city and a whole list of reasons to visit.

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