Combining history with hip has never been simple for a city. Funky cafés and great stores don’t always sit comfortably alongside ruined towers and ornate cathedrals. But some cities manage it very well. Cue Derry-Londonderry
It might be a modern metropolis, but Derry-Londonderry is one of the best examples of a still intact, fully walled city in Europe. Canons such as the mighty Roaring Meg overlook the skyline, making sure the city keeps an eye on history at all times.
The incredibly city walls have experienced siege, starvation and violence over their 400-year history. But these days standing on them and looking out over the River Foyle is serenity itself.
Derry-Londonderry likes to mix things up. Down from the historic bulk of the walls is the gleaming, stained glass Peace Bridge. Matched with the Hands Across the Divide peace sculpture standing on the bogside, this is a testament to a city looking forward.
Urban spaces are being transformed – the former parade ground of Ebrington Barracks has been restored as a concert venue – and the UK City of Culture 2013 status signals a glittering future for Northern Ireland’s second biggest city.
Just as in Belfast, Derry-Londonderry’s open arts scene is thriving. On the walls of terraced buildings, murals depicting peace, triumphalism and discord are colourful keys to the city’s persona. The Bogside Artists are some of the men behind the murals. Their tours are bold exposés on the city past and present.
Nowadays, local artists are more likely to be found in cafés than painting the side of a house. Café society thrives with the seriously smooth Sandinos, Cafe Del Mondo and Fiorentini’s. Places that any city worth its cappuccino would be proud to host.
Spooky festival fever
Cobbled streets, 400-year-old walls and a watertight sense of community make Derry-Londonderry an ideal cityscape for festivals. Halloween originated on the island of Ireland, and fireworks, fancy dress and an injection of the eerie bring the holiday back to its original spooky source.
Less fearsome are the city’s music festivals: the annual jazz and big band festival, The Foyle Folk festival and the Walled City Music Festival.
In 2013, when Derry-Londonderry wears the badge of UK City of Culture, the city hosts two firsts: the Fleadh Ceoil, Ireland’s most prestigious festival of traditional music, will set itself outside the Republic of Ireland for the first time in its history; while the prestigious contemporary art Turner Prize will leave England also for the first time in its history. The destination? Ebrington Barracks.
Old meets new in Derry-Londonderry. It wouldn’t be the first time.