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A Morning at Clonmacnoise (Ireland)

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We started off early from Galway (which I posted about previously) to visit Clonmacnoise at opening time; staying in a hotel meant that we could check out when we wanted in order to do this. The idea was to stop somewhere along the way to get breakfast, but we did struggle to locate anywhere and had to opt for a roadside services in one of the villages we traveled through and get a pastry. From here, we traveled to the monastery ruins and were the first to arrive; we had to wait for the doors to open. The site at Clonmacnoise contains the ruins of a cathedral, several churches, two round towers, a few high crosses, and a museum with other engravings and inscriptions from graves.


Clonmacnoise is an important early Christianity site. It was founded in 544 by Saint Ciarán and became an extremely important site for religion and everything that went along with it, including education and the arts. Before its Christian roots, it was considered an important place by the Irish and the kings of Tara (Irish kings) are meant to be buried in the area. Today, Clonmacnoise remains as an important pilgrimage site and contains the historical monastery ruins. 


When we arrived, we saw some ruins outside of the monastery site on the approach to the car parking and opposite the parking spaces. This ruin (pictured above) is all that remains of Clonmacnoise Castle. After our walk around outside, we came back to the museum for another look and watched the video in English in order to understand the site. We wanted to get out and see everything before the large tour group prevented us from doing so.


When we entered, we had a quick walk through the museum and then returned to look once again at the items. The high crosses and some original engravings are stored here, and some replicas have been made to be re-sited on the original locations. 


The moss-covered crosses looked pretty, and we had perfect sunny weather for our visit.


We walked around the various ruins of the cathedral and churches. This was once a bustling place.


One of the high crosses sits on the banks of the River Shannon. Those views were perfect.




The doorway to the cathedral is known as "Whispering Arch". We tried to whisper in the doorway to see if the sound would carry inside, but this did not work. Perhaps it was only the "Whispering Arch" when there's a roof on it. The legend mentions that it was used as a confessional.


The round tower in the photogaph below is O'Rourke's Tower, and it was struck by lightning in the middle ages and lost the top of the tower. The high cross replica (Cross of the Scriptures) seen in the museum is in the foreground. It is one of the famous high crosses of Ireland and contains an inscription. (Although they are worn from centuries of weathering, the original crosses have held up much better than the replicas.)



Saint Ciarán died of the plague in 544, and he was buried in the original wooden church that was at the location before the stone structures were built. A small oratory, Temple Ciarán, was built over the spot where the wooden church stood. Many others with affiliation to the monastery also died at this time, but the religious centre grew in later centuries and it became the target of Irish, Viking, and Norman raids. The 12th century saw a decline in the use of the monastery here in favour of one built at Athlone.


The round tower in the photograph above is Temple Finghín & McCarthy's Tower, and the River Shannon looks beautiful in the distance. It dates from the 12th centuries. Another photograph of the oratory where the saint was buried is below. This is a popular pilgrimage place. I'll let the photographs do the 'talking'...








Pope John Paul II visited Clonmacnoise in 1979. A new building was constructed on the site, and the area was filled with people who wanted to see him. There's a plaque at this building to commemorate this event, and there's an offerings area.




The three saints are above the doorway, known as the "whispering arch". The saints are Dominic, Patrick, and Francis.


I also discovered a carving of a face. I think this was on one of the crosses that I found in the cemetary area.


Crosses marked the graves, and I took so many photographs of these crosses with moss on them.


This is a beautiful place to visit, and it's so old and has so much history. The museum is also worth a visit to see the crosses (a must), and a replica of the wooden church. The video is also worth a watch, but the video is rotated in different languages. I would not mind other languages, as long as they all had English subtitles! Unfortunately, everywhere that we went in Ireland, they did not have English subtitles, so we would have to wait for the next English video or just miss out.

An Afternoon in Galway, Ireland

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After the visit to Marble Arch Caves (covered in my post about Ireland's Marble Arch Caves and Belleek Pottery), we had a long drive down to the city of Galway, which was our next stop and the location of our hotel for the night. The drive between the two took about three and a half hours. We were planning at stopping off at a couple of places (Sligo and Castlebar) on the drive down, but we had run out of time and wanted to make the most of the time in Galway. We ended up driving through Sligo but did not stop. At some point, I would like to explore the lakes area to the west and north of Galway.


We arrived in Galway the late afternoon, and after dropping our luggage off at the hotel, we went to explore the town. Galway is a much larger town than Donegal, which I wasn't really aware of when I was planning my road trip. Galway is also a more touristy town, and nearly everything in this town caters to tourism. 


The pubs and shop fronts look picturesque and colourful along the main street, and as the weather was fairly nice (although a little cold and windy) during our visit. A few people were sitting on the tables outside, and we heard Irish music coming form some of the pubs.


We also explored some of the back streets and side streets.


One street had a flower shop on it, and the flowers were beautiful.


Galway is not the most picturesque town to photograph as it's commercialised and busy, but I probably could have taken some better photographs if I'd had longer time. The town was nice enough but had the air of a place to "pass through" and spend money.


When walking up the main street, eventually we came to Eyre Square. There are cannons and artwork in the square. The cannons came from the Crimean War, and there's a statue of John F. Kennedy. The flags along the square represent the names of the fourteen tribes (merchants) of Galway.


Another feature in the square is Browne's doorway, which I photographed detail from (below). The door is dated 1627, and it contains the family's coat of arms and is influenced from Renaissance design. It was moved from Abbeygate Street to its present location.  


On our walk down the street, I stopped off at a bakery just before it shut its doors for the evening. I recognised it from a television programme that I saw earlier in the spring. I bought a strawberry pastry, which was lovely, and we had ice cream from another shop. We had to stop off at a department store to buy new luggage for my parents as their zip/zipper on theirs broke.


After having a quick walk back down the main street, we stopped off for dinner at one of the pubs. 


Galway has a long history. The location along the river was settled as a fishing village, and it was controlled by fourteen tribes (merchant families). It became a walled city in the 1270s. The town became particularly important with trade between Portugal and Spain, but this declined due to Cromwell and the opening of other ports in Ireland. Only small sections of the old walled city's old walls can be seen, and the most attractive piece is the "Spanish Arch" near the harbour.


Other items that I saw in Galway included the Claddagh Ring, a love token. These were being sold to tourists in most places in Galway, and they were more popular here than anywhere else. The symbol is love, loyalty and friendship. It was created in Roman times and was a symbol of engagement. The rings are handed down from mother to daughter. Carvings and signs of this symbol were everywhere. 


One of the sculptures we saw along the main street was of Oscar Wilde and Eduard Vilde, two writers. We also saw an attractive-looking church and some street art and another old building, which has since been converted into a bank. We only had this late afternoon and evening in Galway and felt that we had seen most of the town. We needed to wake early in order to leave for our next destination, Clonmacnoise.

After our visit to Donegal and the castle earlier in the morning, we decided to visit Marble Arch Caves. Marble Arch Caves are show caves located southeast from Donegal. We drove in this direction and also made a stop at Belleek Pottery on the way.


We stopped off at Belleek Pottery to visit the visitor's centre. There's also a museum on site, and if we had had more time, we would have done a tour. We went to the large shop and admired some of the pieces that could be seen in the main area. The porcelain looks so fragile and also so beautiful, and the pieces that are coloured are hand-painted. I absolutely loved the cornflower piece, which I got a detail of below.


The pottery looks beautiful, and the below building is their museum and visitor's centre with the shop.


We got a little lost trying to locate the visitor centre, and the phone reception was not great. We eventually arrived,  but we just missed the tour by a couple of minutes and had to wait for the next one to begin. Marble Arch Caves had one signpost but we struggled to find another one along the way and probably ended up in a detour somewhere.

Marble Arch Caves are located in Culicagh Mountain and were formed from limestone that was created 330 million years ago when the land of Ireland was near the equator and the land covered in tropical seas. The dying organisms fell to the bottom of the sea and formed the limestone.


We had a quick bite to eat at the visitor's centre. When it was time for our tour to begin, we were led out the back and followed a little trail down to the caves. The first part of the journey was by boat in the caves, across an underground river.


The journey by boat took ten minutes. We were loaded into several motorised boats and glided through the caves. Note that the boats do not run if the water levels are too high, but the caves can still be accessed.


After we reached the other side, we continued our tour with the guide. Overall, the tour in the caves takes about seventy-five minutes, and it's a pretty gentle walking tour. We were told the history of the caves. The cave system is one of the largest and its caves were found and explored in the early 1900s.


We were shown different rock formations (stalagtites and stalagmites) and told about them. However, some of these had to be repaired as vandals broke into the cave system before it was due to open and destroyed many of the formations.


We were shown the different colours of the rock formations by the types of chemicals in the stones, and we were shown a waterfall at the end of the journey with water cascading down the cave walls.


After our cave visit, we headed south to Galway. Not far away from the caves and on the main road, we were surrounded by beautiful mountain scenery that we stopped and got photographs of.


Have you been to Marble Arch Caves in Ireland?

We stayed the night at a bed and breakfast with a beautiful river view in Donegal. We arrived in the evening after our visit to Glenveagh Castle, and decided to walk to the town to get dinner. I was looking forward to seeing the town as some of my ancestors came from this area of Ireland. We explored some of the town in the early evening. The following morning, we decided that we would visit the castle and we would have a look at the ruins of Donegal Friary in the town. I was amazed by the beauty of the still lake; apparently dolphins can be seen here at times, but we did not see any.


Our host told us how to access the town. As the tide was out, we could walk down to the river and walk around the edge to the town's harbour. This was the quickest way, but when the tide is in, the walk around from the town centre is longer.


We saw a crab on the stones by the river.


At the back of the bed and breakfast are the ruins of Donegal Friary. It was founded by Franciscan Friars in 1474 and attacked by the English in 1588, only to be taken back four years later. The buildings were repaired, but it was seiged again in 1601 and destroyed. Afterwards, it became a Protestant place of worship, but the friars were still active here.


Some of the walls survive, and some look as though they could collapse at any moment. However, many tombstones are filled in between the ruins of the old friary.


A map is located in the middle of the ruins to give visitors an idea of what each building was used for.


The next day, we admired the views of the river before heading to the town to visit the castle. The tide was still out, so we could walk around the lake again, but we would have to walk the long way on the way back to the bed and breakfast.


I caught a photograph of a bird in the garden by the river.



We popped into some shops and admired Dongeal's diamond (the town centre) before visiting the castle.


Donegal Castle was built by O'Donnell in the late 15th century. The family were known for exporting fish, and their coat of arms in the castle depict fish. In 1592, O'Donnell burned the castle to prevent it falling to the English in a usable state. It was taken by the English, of course, and renovated in the early 1500s. The tower house was renovated in the Tudor style.


The castle was the residence of the O'Donnell family from 1200 to 1601 and built for defense, using the river as protection. Before this and in the 9th and 10th centuries, it was thought to have been used as a Viking fort. Some of the stonework for the castle is thought to have come from the priory.


The cobblestones in the lowest level of the tower house are restored from the 15th century and the barrel-vaulted ceiling in one chamber survived. The cobblestones and vaulted ceiling can be seen in the above photograph.


Inside the tower house, the Tudor style renovation from the 1500s can be seen. The sculpted fireplace is one of the best in Ireland.


We spent approximately 40 minutes looking around the castle, and we decided to head back to our bed and breakfast and be on our way. The next stop would be Belleek Pottery and Marble Arch Caves.

After visiting Inishowen Peninsula, we drove to Glenveagh National Park, located in northwest Ireland in the county of Donegal. We got stuck in bad traffic outside of Letterkenny and then again while driving through Letterkenny, so we were delayed. Our destination was Glenveagh Castle, and getting here required driving through some of Glenveagh National Park. 

Glenveagh Castle

We were rewarded with wonderful views of Glenveagh National Park while we drove along. We had perfect and sunny weather. The area reminded me a little bit of Dartmoor in England with mountains and boulders.


I got several photographs out of the car window. We were all a little tired, though, as we got up very early in order to explore Inishowen.



We finally arrived at the Glenveagh National Park visitor's centre late in the afternoon. The visitor's centre was just about ready to close, and the visitor centre is where the tickets to the castle should be purchased. The walk to the castle from the visitor's centre is 4km (one way), and there is no closer parking. It closes fairly early, and the last bus back is 5:45. I would not have minded walking it, at least one-way, as the views are excellent and we had beautiful weather. Perhaps if we had had more time, we could have walked this. The bus tickets and castle tickets need to be purchased separately, and we boarded the last bus to the castle just in time.


We admired the lovely views over the lake from the bus windows, and after approximately ten minutes, the castle came into view. We got off the bus to start our tour of the castle, which was the last one of the day. A couple of other small groups also joined the tour, so we were not the only ones in the group.


Glenveagh Castle is built on the edge of the lake, and it was constructed in the early 1870s in the Scotish castle style. It was built by John George Adair who had made a fortune in the USA, and he wanted the castle to be grander than Balmoral Castle in Scotland. He used the grounds for hunting deer and was responsible for the beautiful gardens (developed out of the moorland by a specialist gardener from Kew Gardens in England), but Adair was not well-liked and there were many disputes over hunting and land. 


The castle and gardens were left to the Irish nation in the early 1980s by the Henry McIlhenny, who purchased the castle in 1937. A lot of the decoration of the interior of the castle was decided by him. A common theme throughout the castle is a "hunting" theme, and there's many deer antler furnishings. Unfortunately, we were unable to get photographs of the interior of the castle because they were not permitted.


The castle was used as a guesthouse by many Hollywood stars, such as Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, and Marilyn Monroe. We were shown the nice room at the top of the tower where they were likely to have stayed during their visit.

After the castle tour, we had a few minutes to look around the castle's gardens. What was saw was beautiful, and we all wished that we had just spent the time enjoying the gardens instead of entering the castle to do the guided tour.


The gardens were so beautiful. I loved the rhododendrons, which seemed to be everywhere. By the time our tour had finished, the clouds had come overhead and the sun was hidden.


I still managed to get some good photographs of the castle and its lakeside views (over Lough Veagh). In the image below, the swimming pool of the castle is seen. This swimming pool is actually a heated swimming pool, and if I remember correctly about what the tour guide said, I think it is the first of its kind.

Swimming pool at Glenveagh Castle

I walked around the castle walls, taking photographs at different angles and looking for hidden areas in the garden.


One area out the back of the castle contained rows of statues.


Near the front of the castle contained a small trail which opened up into castle grounds, filled with bright and beautiful flowers and exotic trees.


Another garden toward the back of the castle was the vegetable and plant garden for the castle's use. Unfortunately, we did not get too long to look. I would recommend that the gardens be enjoyed above a tour of the interior of the castle. Sure, the interior of the castle was nice to do if time permits. We all wish that we had just stayed and enjoyed the gardens in the beautiful weather.


We made sure that we did not miss the last bus back, as otherwise it would have been a long walk back for us. (To walk 4km, it would take an hour on average.) We enjoyed the lake views on the bus's return journey.


I hope that you have enjoyed these photographs. I must state that this is a castle that will stick with me for some time due to its gardens and lakeside location. The setting is so picturesque; it's a little oasis in moorland.

After our visit to Londonderry, we drove up to the Inishowen Peninsula, north of Londonderry and in the Republic of Ireland. The weather was sunny until we got further into the Peninsula, and then we had clouds and a few drops of rain. Inishowen is the most northern part of Ireland and it has a lot of history and some amazing views. Today's plan was mainly to serve as a road trip and to stop off at a few points along the way, including Mamore Gap, Malin Head, Glenvin Waterfall, and Grianan Aileach.

Driving north on the southern part of Inishowen, near Buncrana

We stopped at the tourist information point in Buncrana first, and I realised that there's actually a bit more to do on the Peninsula than what I read in any of the guide books before arriving. There's a fort (Fort Dunree) and a famine centre with reconstructed houses of the period that seems to be interesting, but we did not visit these. I would be interested in visiting these if I ever do find myself in this part of the world again. 

Coast driving north near Buncrana

The scenery along our drive was beautiful, and we caught glimpses of the sea as it opened into the Atlantic ocean. It was only a pity that the sun was not shining on the peninsula as it was in Derry when we left.

Sheep on a small road

We passed the fort mentioned earlier and followed the navigation toward Mamore Gap, toward Clonmany. These were some narrow dirt roads, and we had the roads to ourselves, at least in places. The roads also contained small flocks of sheep in places!

Amazing Grace Country

Finally, we got closer to the mountains and the Mamore Gap road. A sign along the road read "Thank you for visiting Amazing Grace country." This land is famous for the popular song "Amazing Grace", which is often sung in churches. Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin and even Susan Boyle have sang the popular song.

The song was written by John Newton, who was a foul-mouthed sailor who worked on the ships for a slave-trading company. Newton ridiculed religion. On a trip back from Africa, a storm off the coast of Donegal nearly claimed the lives of everyone on board the ship, and the captain blamed Newton for the storm. The crew had to repair the ship and stay on Inishowen, and the storm incident and near loss of life caused Newton to change his ways. 

Mamore Gap

We drove further along and finally found our way to the top of the mountain with beautiful views of the sea in front of us. Visibility was not perfect, but we could still see and enjoy the views. 

Shrine and St. Eigne's Well

At the top of the mountain are a couple of little ancient shrines and a religious well, known as St. Eigne's Well. These still function as pilgrimage sites today, and the well is visited in August.

Sheep at Mamore Gap

Of course, sheep were on the mountains at Mamore Gap. I watched this mother sheep with her older lamb. They did not want to hang around us. We admired the views for a few moments and got some photgraphs.

Views from Mamore Gap

View of the mountain

After our visit to Mamore Gap, we drove down the mountain to heard toward Clonmany in order to visit Glenvin Waterfall, which is located on the outskirts of the village at Glen House hotel and tearooms.   

Sea views

Glenvin Waterfall is a fifteen-minute walk away on a well-marked and maintained trail through forest land. Sheep also have use of this land, and there are picnic benches near the beginning of the trail. When we arrived, the rain was coming down really hard. We quickly got our umbrellas out of the back of the car and decided to make the best of it. Had it been nicer weather, a picnic here would have been nice. Luckily, the rain ceased toward the end of the trail, and the sun came out a little. The trail followed a small stream and crossed it with bridges at some points.

Trail to Glenvin Waterfall

At the end of the trail, we saw the beautiful waterfall and took several photographs of it. We then had to make the 15-minute walk back, and I got some photographs of the trail and plants as the rain had stopped by this time.

We stopped at the small shop at the guest house when we returned to the car. The lady told us about the weekend's wash-out strawberry festival that she had the previous day. I wished I had asked for some strawberries and scones and clotted cream to take away!

Trail from Glenvin Waterfall

After the waterfall, we drove up the road to Carndonagh to see Carndonagh Cross. This location was one of the main centres of the early church in Donegal and is meant to have been founded by St. Patrick. This St. Patrick's cross has a drawing of Christ on its east side. The two pillars have carved David the Warior and David the Harpist. The crosses may have been constructed in the 7th century.

Carndonagh Cross

After the quick stop at the cross, we drove up the coast to Malin Head. Malin Head is used in daily shipping forecasts. In 1805, the British built watch towers here to guard against invasions from France in the Napoloeonic Wars. Later on, thest towers were used to communicate with ships offshore and Marconi Wireless Company set up a station in the tower. The concrete bunkers here date from World War II.

Bunkers at Malin Head

Sharks and different types of birds can be seen here, but it was extremely windy at Malin Head, and we did not see any bird or sea life. Someone had gone down toward the coast area and had placed a lot of stones around to form different words, which we thought was clever and must have taken some skill.

Malin Head

We just admired the views for a few minutes because it was so windy and a little chilly.

Malin Head

On the drive back out of Malin Head, we stopped in a small antinques shop along the road with views over the sea. 

View from Malin Head

A few of the cottages along this road were much older and looked picturesque. They reminded me of the cottages we saw in the folk village. I think these cottages would be dark inside, though, as there are not many windows. I imagine that they are quite warm inside as they do not have windows on the front side that is facing the sea.

Traditional cottage in Ireland on Malin Head

We stopped at a small cafe on the way out of Malin Head and had a quick lunch of toasted sandwiches before we continued on our journey. It was time to leave Inishowen Peninsula with one last stop off at Grianan Ailigh (Grianan of Aileach), an ancient stone fort on top of a hill at the southern edge of Inishowen. To get there, we had to drive up another large hill, but we were rewarded with excellent views. Of course, the weather just off the main part of the peninsula was sunny and warm. 

View over hills from Grianan of Aileach fort

Grianan Ailligh is an ancient and large stone fort built on a hillside on the southern side of Inishowen, though technically not really on the main part of the peninsula. This fort was probably built around the time of the birth of Christ, and it was probably built here because nearby there is a sacred monument of a Neolithic burial mound (3,000BC). The fort is a very short walk from the car parking, so we walked up to it.

Grianan of Aileach

The walls of Grianan Ailigh are 4.5 meters thick. Two passages exist inside the wall and are 5meters high. An ancient roadway leads to the fort, and earlier forts also existed in this location.

Grianan Ailligh

I found the fortress fascinating. Climbing around the steps and seeing the views from this fortress was fun, and I could see for miles.






The stones are so thick, and I was impressed by the size of this stone above the door and how huge this stone is and how much it must weigh to have been maneouvered into this position.

Grianan Aileach doorway

Just to the south of the fortress is St. Patrick's well. These water features were probably well-regarded before Christianity but then taken over as important places by the early Christains to help the spread their religion.

Grianan Aileach and flowers

On the walk down the hill, I got some photographs of some pretty late spring flowers. After our visit to the hill fort, we got back into the car and headed toward Glenveagh National Park. Unfortunately, the traffic was very bad around on the way to and in the town of Letterkenny, so we were a little bit pushed for time and had to rush our next tour. By this time, the weather was perfect. We had sun, and the temperature was warm. Come back to read my post of Glenveagh Castle.

Days Out: ArcelorMittal Orbit

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The ArcelorMittal Orbit is an 115-metre tall architectual sculpture (tower) that was designed by Anish Kapoor. It is located in London's Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in the Stratford area of east London, and it was built in 2012 for the Olympic games. The sculpture gets its name from the steel company, AcelorMittal, because they funded part of the cost. The sculpture tower closed after the Olympic Games (due to the land around it and temporary buildings being cleared) but reopened in the spring of 2014.

AcelorMittal Orbit

The sculpture is meant to be viewed at different angles. From the ground, each angle of the sculpture looks a little different as the red steel winds its way up the central column. When I first saw a photograph of this, it reminded me of a theme park ride.

ArcelorMittal in Olympic Park 

During the Olympic Games, I could have got tickets for the Orbit as I saw them available, but I did not have tickets to the Olympic Park at the time. Then, tickets to the Olympic park became available, and the Orbit tickets for the same day were no longer available. D'oh!

Top observation area

We arrived at the tower and admired the view of it. While on our way to the lift to the top, we were told about the large steel 'bell' at the bottom of the structure and how it was meant to look 'rusty' and imposing. After admiring the size of it, we took the lift up to the top to the top-most observation deck.


We saw views over the City of London and the Shard.

Olympic Stadium

We saw views of the main Olympic Stadium and could see inside it where construction vehicles and diggers were doing some work. I could imagine what it would be like on top of this sculpture during the Olympic Games and the views inside the stadium. The atmosphere was amazing during the Olympic Games, and the park was so busy. It's now only a shadow of its former glory with empty land and construction vehicles dotted around.  

View of the City

Looking east, we saw new flat developments. The colourful ones were built as accommodation for the athletes but have been sold as flats to Londoners.


The Aquatics Stadium is located just to the north with the large shopping mall, Westfield Stratford, behind it and off to the side.


After spending our time looking around and admiring the view, we decided to leave the tower via the staircase that winds slowly down the sculpture. After each few steps, we were treated to a different soundscape as we descended. The soundscapes included the Orbit under construction at various points in time, a nature reserve, Columbia Road Sunday flower market, Brick Lane's Sunday market, Bow bells, and sounds from Whitechapel Bell Foundry.

Descending the Orbit

I visited ArcelorMittal Orbit on the day that the London Bus charity sculptures for 'Year of the Bus' were on display in the Olympic Park, so I got a photograph of some of these buses on the bridge as I descended the Orbit.

'Year of the Bus' sculptures

I got a final photograph of the Orbit with a hazey January sun in the background.


Have you been to the AcelorMittal Orbit? Were you lucky enough to visit it during the Olympics? Apparently four proposals happened on the top of the tower, and three of these were during the Olympics. This year, you can also absail down the tower.

Londonderry Derry and the City Walls Walk

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After spending the day exploring the Causeway Coast, we continued on our journey to Derry (Londonderry), which is a city in Northern Ireland that's close to the border of the Republic of Ireland. This city was our stop for the evening before continuing on our Ireland road trip. The City Walls and the political Bogside Murals are two of the major sights to see for tourists. There's also a couple of attractive churches and a craft centre and guildhall. The majority of our time in Derry was spent walking the city walls.

A dog stands outside his home near St. Columb's Cathedral

The city walls of Derry are the only remaining intact city walls in Ireland, and they were never breached. The city of Derry's nickname is "The Maiden City" comes from this fact.

Our bed and breakfast for the night was located in this area of Derry, so our city walls journey started here. On the walk to the walls, we looked at the Bogside murals. Bogside is also the part of Derry where the Troubles took place. The area is still a working class area, and with all of the reminders of this sad event, it does bring about a strange feeling.

We entered the wall walk at Butcher's Gate, which used to be the location of a whiskey distillery that shut in 1921 but was once the best-selling whiskey company to the USA market.


We went off the wall briefly to check out the city. The main two streets of Derry are built in a grid and intersect at area is known as "the diamond" (what the Irish call their "town square"). 


On one of the streets up to the diamond, I discovered a building draped in a large patchwork quilt.


After a small diversion, we climbed back onto the walls to continue the wall walk. One of the first gates we came to was Castle Gate. Castle Gate is named after a 15th century castle that used to occupy the same spot. The city of Londonderry survived two sieges without the enemy pentrating its walls, but the city outgrew its walls in the 18th century. Castle Gate was built for increased traffic at that time. It's one of the new gates added to the city walls.

During the Troubles, there was a checkpoint at main gates to the city, and people would be stopped and questioned (or searched) during a visit to the city because there were a lot of bomb scares and protests.


Not far from Castle Gate, before Magazine Gate, is Hangman's Bastion. This bastion got its name because a man nearly killed himself when he became trapped in ropes when he attempted to escape. There were eight bastions around the city walls, and four were large enough to have four cannons.


After arriving around Shipquay Gate/Magazine Gate area, we left the walls and had a look at the Craft Village and the guildhall. The Craft Village and traditional thatched cottage were constructed in the 1980s to give the city pride in their shared history. 

Craft Village

We admired the Guildhall, which is next to Shipquay Gate. During Halloween, the Guildhall home to Ireland's largest Halloween carnival. Live music and fireworks take place, and this would be amazing to visit one year. Halloween is not a big event in England, and I've always enjoyed the holiday. (The university that I graduated with my Bachelor's degree from in the US was known to have the livliest and largest Halloween parties.) 


(The next day, we returned to the Guildhall to go inside it as we had heard that it was beautiful. Unfortunately, a private event was happening in the big room upstairs, so we were unable to enter.)


The next gate that we came to was Shipquay Gate. It was here that we read more about the city walls of Derry. An explosion in the cathedral in 1567 destroyed most of the town, so queen Elizabeth instructed a new fortified town to be built to protect it from local Irish chiefs. Derry became the first planned town, and it was funded by merchant companies in the City of London in return for grants of land in Northern Ireland. The city walls were built between 1614 and 1618 and are 1.5km long and eight meters high. In some places, they are 9 meters wide. Originally, only four gates were constructed and two of these had drawbridges. On the side opposite the bog (Bogside), a dry ditch was dug for added protection.


The names of the gates refer to the city's past. Shipquay Gate was named because boats were tied up there until the 18th century to ferry people across the river. (The street was named Bridge Street after a bridge was built over the river, decommissioning the ferry.)


A little further along the walls is Ferryquay Gate. Ferryquay Gate was built in 1865 on the site of one of four entrances to the city. It had a drawbridge to allow people to cross over the dry moat. In 1688, this gate was locked by the fourteen Apprentice Boys as they waited on city leaders to make up their mind about King James II's proposal to replace a Protestant garrison with Catholics.

Ferryquay Gate

The carved heads above the archways in the gate are of Governor George Walker and Rev James Gordon who urged citizens to refuse James II's troops. After the refusal and the locking of the gates, the city was under siege in 1689. A small boy was able to get through the gate here to relay messages to the outside world about the siege. Times were tough and the city started to run out of food. Food was rationed, and city occupants had to eat rats, mice, and domestic pets to survive. There were also stories of bringing dead horses in from the battle to be eaten.


Further along the walls is Newgate Bastion. The first shot of the siege of 1689 was fired here. Near this gate was Ireland's first covered market and St. Columb's Hall. The Hall was used to practice abstinence from alcohol, housed a school, and hosted pantomime. In 1970, Eurovision Song Contest winner Dana made her first stage appearance in the Hall. The Millennium Forum theatre is also near here, and it was opened in 2001.


After crossing over Newgate, we came to St. Columb's Cathedral and read about its history. The church's tower became a signalling port and lookout post, and a flag was used to be put on top of the spire to signal ships. During the siege, the lead from the spire was used to make bullets.

The cathedral is also said to have inspired the hymn "Amazing Grace" after the writer, a slave-trader who repented his actions, nearly died during a shipwreck off Inoshowen peninsula. Writer of several hymns, Cecil Frances Alexander, worshipped here. 


After returning to the walls from a brief look at St. Columb's, we came to Church Bastion. Two watchtowers were built here, near the cathedral, because the guards complained about having to stand watch in the rain. The bastions became gardens in the 19th century, and most of the towers were demolished. 

A maze of tunnels is under the city to allow soldiers to move around without having to go above ground. One entrance can be seen near here.


Bishop's Gate was the next gate that we came to, and it is the final gate on the walk. This gate crosses over Bishop's Street. Marks of Marks & Spencer opened a market here in 1909.


We came to another bastion, located at the end of the Grand Parade section of the city walls. At Double Bastion is Roaring Meg, the most famous canon. It could take up to 6 men to fire her, and she did see action during the 1689 siege. The force of the shot could make the canon roll back six meters. In the 18th century, a windmill and pleasure gardens were placed on the slopes below with a grove of Spanish chestnut trees and a classical casino.

Roaring Meg

The Grand Parade is the longest and straightest area of the walls, and I thought that it was the most attractive. Fourteen sycamore trees are planted on the walls. They symbolise the thirteen Apprentice Boys and their lookout. The fruit of sycamore looks like a bunch of keys, so they represent the keys to the city.


The Grand Parade was used for exercises and parades during the 18th century, and it was a fashionable to pramenade along it. It was laid out like a garden. A monestary was built here, at the top of the hill, and it was replaced by an abbey in the 13th century. It served as a church until St. Columb's Cathedral was completed in 1633.


St. Augustine's Church is at the other end of the Grand Parade. 


Opposite St. Augustine's is Royal Bastion. One of the soldiers, Robert Lundy, refused to admit additional troops to the city during the siege, and he was considered a traitor and replaced. During the centenary of the shutting of the gates in 1788, a crowd burned an effigy after parading it through the streets. The tradition continues each year at dusk on a Saturday in early December.

Have you visited Derry and walked the city walls? 

Our next stop on the Ireland road trip was Londonderry (Derry). We visited after stopping at Dunluce Castle on Giant's Causeway. This post features the bogside murals of Derry.

Derry's population has a large number of Protestants, and according to signage there, it probably had the largest Catholic discrimination in the northern part of Ireland. In the 1960s, Civil Rights became popular and and citizens of Derry took note of what was happening across the world and started peaceful demonstrations against discrimination. However, the police broke up the peaceful demonstrations with some force.

You are now entering free Derry

After the protests and riots in 1969, the slogan "You are now entering free Derry" was painted on the side of a building. It has become a symbol of resistance. The houses on this street (Lecky Road) were all destroyed in 1975, but this one wall of a house remains with the slogan repainted onto it.


Many of the street art murals in Derry have the political themes and themes of the Troubles. Civil Rights, peace, and war are other themes of the Bogside Murals. (Belfast's murals also focus on these themes as well as religious, famous people, victims of the Troubles, and neutral subjects.) The Bogside Artists (, who created the murals in Derry, refer to their murals as "The People's Gallery".


On July 30, 1972 at 4:00 in the morning, "Free Derry" (Bogside) was invaded by British troops in armoured vehicles. Operation Motorman, as it was called, tore down barricades with bulldozers. The mural artists decided to depict an individual hammering through a wall to represent this, and the title of the work is called "Motorman".







A couple of the murals we noticed had been damaged with paint.


One of the saddest murals we saw was the one below, titled "Death of Innocence". It shows Anette McGavigan, who was shot by a British soldier. She was the 100th victim and one of the first children to be killed during the Troubles. 




We also saw a clay brick face sticking out of the brickwork.  


The Bogside murals and the murals of Belfast are traditionally painted in working class areas of the city. From the Londonderry City walls, you can actually see some of the murals. The area may feel a little daunting with the murals and its sad history, but it was not. We stayed at a bed and breakfast in Bogside and did not have any problems in Londonderry at all. So, let's hope for peace.

Bogside and murals from Londonderry city walls

In my next Ireland post, I will be looking at Londonderry and the City Walls walk. 

Early last autumn, I discovered that London Transport Museum were going to be giving tours of the abandoned Aldwych underground station in January and February, so I rushed to book my tickets. The tours are always sought-after and fill up quickly, and I had been unlucky when I previously tried to book the tour. Something about visiting an abandoned tube station must appeal to quite a lot of people.


I've walked by the red-tiled facade of the closed station at the Aldwych end of the Strand many times. The station opened in 1907 and closed in 1994. Originally, the tube station was called "Strand", but it was renamed to "Aldwych". (Aldwych of course is taken from the two words 'ald" and 'wych', which means 'old village', so this would have been an 'old village' about two miles outside of the original City of London.)


The facade of the old station contains the name "Piccadilly Railway", which gives a clue as to the tube line that served the station, as they were part of individual rail lines then. Aldwych Station was a spur station, and it was served by the Piccadilly Line from Holborn, which is located directly north of Aldwych. The tunnels from the station do join up with the Piccadilly Line at Holborn.

Below is an old map of the tube network when Aldwych Station was in use; Aldwych is located on the dark blue line as a spur. A minute's walk away is Temple station, and Covent Garden and Holborn are also a short walk away.


We were told that the station was built to serve the theatre district of London, but a theatre was torn down in order to open the station. We were led into the station and saw the original green-tiled ticket office.


A row of old-fashioned wooden telephone booths were located along one wall in the ticket hall area. At the back is a newer ticket office, which has been added later but kept in the same style with dark wood and green tiles. The station is used for filming nearly every day. We were told that they are filming "Mr. Selfridge" at the moment. They have filmed "James Bond", "Atonement", "V For Vendetta", "Battle of Britain", and the new "Sherlock Holmes" here.


Ticket barriers were added later on, and they were removed, but the spot where they stood is still visible on the floor. The woman's bathroom also looked like a blast from the past with an old-style washbasin.

The Aldwych underground station project seemed doomed from the beginning; the three lift (elevator) shafts were dug by hand and held two lifts, but only one of them was ever used. The cost to fix the lift was in the low millions, so the station was closed. We were told that only about 450 people per day used the station toward the end of its life, so keeping it open was not worth the cost.


We headed down the winding stairs to check out the platforms. The platforms are only accessible via the stairs as the lifts are no longer in service.


The first stop was to see the lift shafts. We were shown all of the lift shafts, even though most of them were never in operation. 


Next, we headed into one of the tunnels toward the platforms. The lights were switched off to show us how dark the tunnel would get, but we were all surprised when we clearly saw the tunnel light up after the lights were off. Special glow-in-the-dark paint is painted at the bottom of the tunnel, which you can see as a slight yellow colour in the photograph below. This is a safety mechanism to allow people to get out of the tunnel in case of emergencies. Apparently the paint strips can glow for twenty minutes.


There are two platforms, and not all of the station was used. We went to visit one of the platforms, which is currently used for filming "Mr. Selfridge". 


The platform also has an old tube train on it, and they use this for safety exercises. The train is dusty, and there aren't any seats inside it. This platform contains false vintage tube poster, tube signs, and tiles. The tiling was never completed to the end of the platform, so fake sticky 'tiles' were pasted up over the wall to give the illusion during filming.



In the front of the train, I took a peek at the tunnel. This faces south, toward the Thames.


I took close-up photographs of the vintage posters. These are replications used for filming.


The Aldwych underground station sign is a flimsy prop as well.


After viewing the first platform, we headed to the second, and this was the platform that was in use. The "station closed" posters are dotted around the platform as well as posters from the 1970s. Part of the letters forming the station name "STRAND" can be seen in places.


The track has some original insulators dating from when the station first came into use, and the guide said that these insulators are Grade I listed and are the oldest known in the world. They are still in their positions on the rails below where I am stood taking the below photograph.


This platform was used as for tile and glue testing, and you can see paint and colour schemes for the underground tiles for other stations here. 


I got some photographs of the 1970s posters.


We were then shown a tunnel that was in progress of being dug and constructed before the project was pulled. The workers just left their tools and a wheelbarrow inside the tunnel, which we could see.


We also saw one of the exits for this platform, which was never finished.


The last visit on our tour was back up the stairs to visit and walk inside the lifts. We were told that people could pay for their tickets on the lifts in order that the underground did not have to pay for two members of staff: one to control the lift and one to sell tickets. The lift had a desk inside where the staff member would sell the tickets, and the outline of this can be seen in front of the bench in the photograph below. The lifts also had a secret emergency escape, and the ones at Covent Garden station are similar. The wall of the lift can open so that people can transfer from one lift to the other (as there are two lifts in one shaft).


This concluded our tour of Aldwych Station, which was interesting to see. During the tour, we were also told that performances happened on the platform during the war and that this station was used as a shelter with thousands of people occupying the platform.

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