The Guildhall is one of Derry’s most recognisable landmarks and has been at the heart of city life since 1890. It was built in 1887 by ‘The Honourable The Irish Society’ on land reclaimed from the River Foyle at a cost of £19,000 (equivalent to £1.5 million today). The building was named in honour of its connection to the City of London and its guilds. It was officially opened in 1890 as the administrative centre for Londonderry Corporation. 120 years later it still retains its civic function and is home to the Derry City Council chamber and the Mayor’s Parlour. It is the only surviving guildhall still in civic use in Ireland.
Over its 120 year history the Guildhall has been destroyed twice – by fire in 1908 and through bomb attacks in 1972. The grade ‘A’ listed building is important for many reasons – historical, architectural, cultural and political with many stories to tell. For example:
- The building has 65 stained glass windows. Many of these were gifted by the London Companies and represent for example, carpenters, fishmongers, painters, musicians, glaziers and many others.
- The Guildhall Clock was designed as a replica of ‘Big Ben’ in London and was the largest of its kind in Ireland. It has not struck after midnight since 1893, initially to facilitate guests at a nearby hotel.
- A time capsule buried under the building when the foundation stone was laid in 1887 was recently uncovered. It contains local newspapers of the day, coins and a handwritten manuscript which has now been restored.
- From 2000 to 2005 the Guildhall was the seat of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry headed by Lord Saville, which was published in June 2010. The inquiry heard from 900 witnesses, received 2,500 witness statements with evidence amounting to 160 volumes and an estimated 20-30 million words.
The Guildhall is currently undergoing major restoration
. The first phase which is now complete, included external restoration works to the stonework, roof, windows, stained glass and the clock. The second phase includes internal restoration and works to make the building the key arrival and orientation hub for visitors to the City. This will include a Tourist Information Point, an exhibition area, interpretation and tours throughout the building and a cafe with outdoor space onto Harbour Square.
The building closed in December 2011 to facilitate this internal work and will re-open in 2013. During this time Births Death and Marriages will be located at 14-15 Magazine Street adjacent to the Craft Village.
For further details of the restoration and temporary arrangements during closure of the Guildhall click here
including bookings for 2013+.
For a virtual look inside the 2011 Guildhall while it is closed click here