Work to repair “damage” caused to Derry’s historic walls during the installation of a new lighting scheme was taking place yesterday.
Specialist stonemasons arrived in the city just days after a Stormont Minister suspended the work project on the ancient ramparts.
Environment Minister Alex Attwood issued the directive after a local community organisation voiced concern at “damage” caused to a section of the 400 year old walls during works to illuminate them.
The Holywell Trust claimed the work - which involved slots being cut into the City Walls at East Wall - was “compromising the historic fabric of the ancient ramparts.”
The Holywell Trust had brought the issue to the attention of both the Department of the Environment and Derry City Council at the weekend and lobbied to have ongoing work on Monday suspended.
At the start of the week, Mark Lusby, Project Co-ordinator for the Holywell Trust’s City Walls Heritage Project, insisted the slots being cut into the City Walls at East Wall, facing the Millennium Forum, “compromised” seventeenth century features.
He added: “This section of the City Walls contains a series of embrasures or gun loops. While these had been filled in at some stage, they are still clearly visible, marked out by sandstone blocks at either side of each embrasure.
“The sandstone blocks are often marked by deep cuts which archaeologists believe were caused by soldiers using the sandstone to sharpen their swords. There is a popular belief that such stones where quarried by the builders of the City Walls from the remains of Columba’s monastery.”
He added: “Historic fabric, once lost, cannot be replaced. Even small changes, however well-intentioned, can accumulate and, ultimately, result in the loss of original significance.
“It is particularly sad to see features clearly identified as significant in the City Walls Gazetteer - launched in 2011 by Alex Attwood - being compromised visually and physically.”
Speaking after the Minister’s intervention later in the week, Mr. Lusby commented: “The overall lighting scheme is a good initiative which will increase public safety and access to the City Walls.
“We have thanked the DOE Minister for his personal interest in the heritage of the City Walls. We also asked him to ensure that his officials involve heritage organisations, like the Holywell Trust and the Foyle Civic Trust, in any discussions about the remedial work required.”
Mr. Lusby added: “It is important that everyone involved in future schemes for the City Walls, from designers to contractors, have awareness training on the heritage value of the Walls. Everyone working on the City Walls needs to be a guardian of the historic fabric of the monument.”
Among the many historic monuments in Derry, the City Walls on the west bank of the River Foyle are the most striking and memorable.
Built between 1614 and 1619, the original Walls are almost perfectly preserved today, making Derry one of the finest examples of a walled city in Europe. Using earth, lime and local stone (some from ruined medieval monastery buildings), Peter Benson from London skillfully constructed the thick defensive ramparts and angular artillery bastions following closely the design of Sir Edward Doddington of Dungiven.
Originally there were only four entrances (or Gates) into the walled city - Bishop’s Gate, Shipquay Gate, Ferryquay Gate and Butcher’s Gate - arranged in a cross pattern with the Diamond as its centre. New Gate (1789), Castle Gate (1803) and Magazine Gate (1865) were added later. The original gates were themselves re-built in the 18th and 19th centuries.