Tour guide Martin Crossan smiles for the camera. For locals and visitors to the Walled City of Derry-Londonderry, his face is very familiar. Beside him, though, is an even more familiar face: actor Will Ferrell
Will Ferrell felt it, UK singer Susan Boyle felt it, and Irish comedian Tommy Tiernan felt it, too.
For any visitor to Derry-Londonderry, there’s a historic presence. To understand what it’s all about, it’s best to ask Martin.
“The walls of Derry-Londonderry are one of the most unique sets of walls on the island of Ireland. They’re one mile and an eighth around and, amazingly, they’ve never been breached since they were completed.
“You won’t get building like that these days!”
To find the original builders of the walls, you’d have to jog back quite a while into the past – 2013 will mark their 400th anniversary. If the walls could talk...
A sense of history
“Walking the walls you feel a real sense of history,” says Martin. “You can let your mind wander and imagine what it must have been like all that time ago. Opposing armies were brutally besieging the city and people were starving to death to protect their homes.”
Protect it they did, and considering the condition of the walls today, they did a fine job. There was help, though. It came in the shape of stocky little cannons, dappled around the mile or so of the walls. They’re picturesque now, but 400 years ago, when they were used, they would have been more fearsome.
Gates to the city
It isn’t just the cannons that add interest to a walk along the walls, there are also the "gates". As Martin explains, they were named for very practical reasons:
“There are four main gates into the city. Shipquay Gate because that was the gate when you went outside you were at the quay. Butchers Gate named after one of the merchant companies; and Bishops Gate after a local bishop.
“Ferryquay Gate, where our tour meets, is so-called because you’d have to use a ferry not far from here to get across the river.”
Huge canons, tales of war and starvation, clandestine gates and solid chunks of history – Derry-Londonderry IS the walls.
As Martin tells us, he’d like it to stay that way: “The walls of this city are the best asset that the city has here for 400 years and hopefully for many more centuries.”
That said, there’s no time like the present for a visit, is there?