The History of Guildhall
The Guildhall building is located in Derry, County Londonderry, ( see what we did there! ) Northern Ireland, For Sat Nav’s – use the following postcode – BT48 6DQ. The Guildhall is of Derry’s most outstanding landmarks and has been so since the 1800s. An iconic building that has seen many events and witnesses history in the making, Guildhall stands in the centre of the city to this day as a must-see spot for visitors in Derry-Londonderry.
Facts About The Guildhall
It was originally named “Victoria Hall” as it was a prevailing custom at the time to name locations around the British Empire after the current reigning monarch. The current name of the building comes in honour of its connection to the City of London and its guilds.
It serves as a meeting place for the elected members of Derry and Strabane District Council. It is also home to the Derry City Council chamber and the Mayor’s Parlour. There are often events held here – from craft fairs to weddings. Halloween is always special in Derry – and The Guildhall plays an important part of that.
As you cross the entrance to The Guildhall, you’ll find a welcoming note “The Guildhall is one of Derry’s most recognisable landmarks and has been at the heart of city life since 1890.” As you continue down the hall, you’ll have a beautiful view of the majestic painted windows next to tall plaques retelling the history of the building and the region. The Guildhall also contains exhibitions showcasing old books that contain ancient maps and descriptions of the area as well. A maquette also stands detailing what seems to be what the region looked like in old times. The exterior of the building features neo-gothic architectural designs and a majestic clock tower.
The Guildhall includes a large hall where many social and political events have been held over the years, including Halloween carnivals, the Christmas lights switch-on, the Christmas European Market. The square in front of the Guildhall is the main city square in Derry-Londonderry. Making it a focal location in the city, as they are also surrounded by shopping, cultural and touristic areas.
History & Architecture
Originally built by The Honourable The Irish Society in 1890 – this building was destroyed by fire in 1908 and rebuilt in 1912. The red sandstone building is of neo-gothic architecture, with Tudor overtones. The Guildhall contains stunning stained glass windows that portray the history of Derry and were created by a Belfast firm called Campbell’s. It is also said that it has the It has the second largest clock face in the British Isles (next to Big Ben). The building is basically made up of Dumfries sandstone, marble, oak panelling, ornate ceilings and stained glass windows.
Upon entering the building, one encounters a window featuring the Royal Coat of Arms, the Seal of Empire and the symbols of the principal British overseas Dominions, to celebrate imperial unity.
Former mayors and other civic officers also donated windows to be placed in the building, often depicting modern economic developments in the city. Throughout the building, other windows feature the achievements of the three Irish divisions in the British Army.
The most recently placed window in the Guildhall commemorates the victims of Bloody Sunday, 30 January 1972. In the centre, from top to bottom, is a trail of poppies symbolising remembrance for the dead, whose names are written on crosses. The window was commissioned by Derry City Council.
Frank McDonald of the Irish Times commented on the Irish Georgian Society’s Conservation Awards won for the reconstruction of the building, “What impressed the jury (which included myself) about Derry’s Guildhall was not just the internal spatial rearrangement, but also the meticulous work done to the exterior in rebuilding its ornate gable, which had been leaning outwards, as well as complete repointing of the stonework and restoration of the stained glass windows.”
Jury member Dr. Eddie McParland noted, “The recarved stonework was excellent, lots of original details were kept and the original ceiling of the council chamber was revealed.”
Construction of Guildhall
The Guildhall was originally built in the 1600s and was located in the Diamond area of the Walled City. But unfortunately, it was destroyed by fire and its location was turned later on into a city square. The new Guildhall was opened in July 1890 after three years of construction work to complete the building.
On 21 September 1912, the London Times reported on the building’s opening ceremony, declaring that “The Londonderry Guildhall as fine modern building, the chief treasures in which are the stained glass windows presented by the various London Companies that once owned land in Ireland, and have not forgotten the old association”.
Major restorations were done to the building in 2010 by contractors H & J Martin. The cost of the restoration work was estimated at £3M, including the stonework, roofs, windows and stained glass, as well as the clock.
As for the construction work done to the interior of Guildhall, it was estimated to have cost around £5M.
- Nominated in the Visitor and Interpretation Centre’s category of the Association for Heritage Interpretation’s Discover Heritage Awards.
- 2014 Conservation Award from the Irish Georgian Society.
- Regional Award and 2014 Regional Conservation Award from the Royal Institute of British Architects.
- National Stone Award for Repair and Restoration 2014 from the Stone Federation of Great Britain.
Historical Events Affecting Guildhall
- As inner conflicts spread across Northern Ireland during The Troubles, a three-decade conflict between Irish nationalists and unionists, the Guildhall was subjected to several terror attacks. In 1972, the building was severely damaged by two bombs, but it was fortunately restored and reopened in 1977.
- The Guildhall was also used as the location for the Saville inquiry; an official public investigation, into the events of Bloody Sunday.
- On 27 August 1968 over one hundred demonstrators protested against housing conditions at Londonderry Corporation’s monthly meeting by occupying the Guildhall chamber.
- The building also hosted a visit by US President Bill Clinton in 1995.
- In 2010, a time capsule containing newspapers and coins dating back to 1887 has been discovered during the restoration work at the Guildhall in Derry City. The items date back to August 23rd, 1887 when the first foundation stones of Guildhall were built.
- In July 2016 the Guildhall welcomed its one-millionth visitor since the restoration in 2013.
- It is home to the Feis Doire Colmcille; a well-known event which celebrates Irish culture.
- 1980: Premiere of Brian Friel’s classic play, Translations.
Comments from Visitors
With millions of visitors who have passed through this beautiful site, it has already received numerous online reviews.
Such as: “Nice building with free access hosting temporary exhibitions and some permanent items in walking distance from the city centre”.
“This is a beautiful building with so much history attached in the square where a lot of events take place. Close to all”.
“This is a beautiful building both inside and out. Stand back and marvel at the architecture – as it climbs its way into the sky. You are free to look around indoors with certain areas restricted – but again a beautiful building.”
Surrounding Attractions to Check Out in Derry
Another one of the iconic monuments in Derry are the massive city Walls on the bank of the River Foyle. Built between 1614 and 1619, the original Walls are almost perfectly preserved today.
London businessmen who were members of the Irish Society funded the construction of the Walls. The construction began under a Royal Charter issued by King James I, to help control the local Irish rebels. In return, the businessmen were made even more wealthy as they awarded large parcels of land in the region.
The Peace Bridge
The Peace Bridge is a cycle and footbridge bridge across the River Foyle in Derry, Northern Ireland. It was inaugurated on 25 June 2011, connecting Ebrington Square with the rest of the city centre.
The construction of the bridge actually has a political motivation behind it. As it is mainly intended to connect the mostly unionist ‘Waterside’ with the largely nationalist ‘Cityside’, by improving access between these areas.
The construction of the bridge was jointly funded by the Department for Social Development (NI), the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government along with matching funding, totalling £14 million. The 235-meter bridge was designed by Wilkinson Eyre, who also designed the Gateshead Millennium Bridge
The Tower Museum
The award-winning Tower Museum is located within the city’s historic walls at Union Hall Place. Permanent exhibitions at the museum include The Story of Derry exhibition and the Armada Shipwreck – La Trinidad Valencera exhibition. Throughout the year, the museum also hosts a range of temporary exhibitions, featuring interactive techniques to attract visitors.
Here is a video showing the Guildhall Square and a little more of inside The Guildhall itself
Contact Information for The Guildhall –
Email: [email protected]
Tel: (028) 71376510
Have you had a chance to visit The Guildhall? What did you think?
Also, do read up on the Londonderry Air – a song from the region that has travelled the world as Irish people Emigrated.