The Derry Walls are the most complete set of town walls in Ireland and the largest ancient monument in Northern Ireland. After the first 2 attempts to establish a settlement in the area failed, in the third attempt companies of London were charged with building and protecting the new settlement in exchange for the surrounding land and resources. Part of this was to build and arm fortifications to protect the new settlement. The walls were then built between 1613 and 1619 by the Honourable the Irish Society and the city was renamed to Londonderry to honour its connection to London.
The walls are around 1.3km in circumference, they vary in external height between 6 & 7.5m, have a width between 4 & 9m and the internal area is 13 hectors. Originally there was 4 gates (Butcher, Bishop’s, Ferryquay and Shipquay) then at later times 3 more gates were added (New - 1798, Castle -1803 and Magazine-1888). The walls cost £11,147, they were designed by Captain Sir Edward Doddington of Dungiven, they were laid under the direction of Thomas Raven a City of London Surveyor, supervised by Sir John Vaughan and Peter Benson a master tiler from London was responsible for the construction.
The effectiveness of the walls was tested during the siege of Londonderry, first when the gates were locked by 13 apprentices to prevent the Earl of Antrim who was loyal to James II from entering the city. Since he did not have the forces with him to attack such a well-fortified city he retreated. Then when James II came himself to claim the city, the city refused and rather than directly attack the walls he choose to put the city under siege. Several attempts to attack the city during the siege were unsuccessful and the walls were never breached giving the city its nickname of the Maiden City. Without the walls these events would likely have been very different and could have changed the outcome of the Williamite war in Ireland.
During the 19th century a group commemorating the apprentice boys that closed the gates was formed that every year march along the walls on the 12th August to commemorate the event. This has been the source of many contentions as it passes the majority catholic area of the Bogside, items being thrown from the walls by marchers and items being thrown from the Bogside at the marchers was what started the Battle of the Bogside in 1969. The walls were closed off for most of the troubles but the IRA still bombed the Walker monument in 1973 that was erected in 1828 in memory of Governor George Walker known as a siege hero.
Today the walls are the biggest tourist attraction of the city, they received 466,000 visitors in 2019. Within the walls are some of the city most prominent attractions such as the Tower Museum and St Columb’s Cathedral and along the walls is one of the best collection of cannons in Europe, 22 cannons line the walls some date from before the walls were even built. A walk on the walls is an essential part of a visit to the city, it offers some of the best views of the city and helps you connect with the history of the city.