Derry is the last city in Ireland to be encircled by walls. It is the only city or town in Ireland where the original walls survive intact and, arguably, it must be one of the few places in the world where the ancient walls still performed some of their original defensive purposes until recently.
For thousands of years, since the very beginning of urbanisation, the walled city has stood as a symbol of civilisation - the city delimited and defined against those wilder, perhaps ’barbaric’, forces outside.
With developments in artillery at the close of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance, the idea of defending a city with stout walls became increasingly irrelevant.
Derry’s walls were built between 1613 and 1618 as part of the Plantation of Ulster. Derry is now the last city in Ireland to be thus encircled. It is the only city or town in Ireland where the original walls survive intact and, arguably, it must be one of the few places in the world where the ancient walls still performed some of their original defensive purposes until recently. On several occasions over the past thirty years the security forces have found it necessary to ’raise the height’ of the wall here with additional defences. The walls have provided a useful vantage point and defensive position for the security forces over the course of the Troubles.
Like the legendary painting work on the Forth Bridge in Scotland, there is a permanent team of workmen who repair and conserve the walls continuously, starting on one section as soon as they have finished another. The walls have served as a spectacular promenade, a line of defence, a stage for theatrical presentations, a course for joggers, a gallery for artworks and, at times, as a contested route for marchers and protesters. Most of all they serve as an extraordinary and unique historical monument to a fascinating part of our heritage.