Londonderry

Overview

Introduction

Londonderry, Northern Ireland, a very old seaport 65 mi/105 km northwest of Belfast, was founded in AD 546, and so it's been visited by many, many people touring Ireland. Now it's called Londonderry by the Protestants and Derry by the Catholics. You can walk around the top of the old city walls, a circuit of about 1 mi/1.6 km, and visit historic buildings. Another top attraction in the area is the fascinating Giant's Causeway.

The four original gates of medieval Londonderry still stand in welcome, and one of the best ways to see the city is on a guided tour. The Tourist Information Centre at 8 Bishop St. offers an excellent one. Sights include the Gothic St. Columb Cathedral and the Guildhall (beautiful stained-glass windows line the staircase). Behind the Guildhall is the port from which millions of Irish left for North America.

Our favorite attraction is the city's splendid town walls, which stand 20 ft/6 m high and were never breached, not even during the 105-day Siege of Derry in 1688 (the longest siege in British history). You can walk all the way around the top of the ramparts, and historical panels explain the surrounding buildings and features.

Other draws include the Tower Museum (with artifacts from prehistoric times to the present), traditional music in many of the city's pubs, and quaint houses lining narrow streets such as Albert Row and Nailer Row.

One of Ireland's largest Halloween parties occurs in Londonderry. Many Western Halloween traditions originated in Ireland. Trick-or-treating began in Ireland, as did the carving of jack-o'-lanterns. Turnips were used until the Irish began emigrating to the U.S., where pumpkins were more plentiful.

We enjoyed seeing the Earhart Centre in Ballyarnet Natural Park, 3 mi/5 km north of Londonderry, where Amelia Earhart landed after a 1932 trans-Atlantic flight. And if you've ever been curious about the origins of the tune "Danny Boy," visit the town of Limavady, where Jane Ross annotated the notes of the "Londonderry Air" from an itinerant fiddler, whom local tradition names Blind Jimmy McCurry. The words of "Danny Boy" were later put to this tune by Fred Weatherly, an English lawyer and lyricist.

A short drive away, across the Republic of Ireland's border in County Donegal, is the impressive Grianan of Ailech, an ancient round fort set on a hilltop. http://www.derryvisitor.com.

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