Protecting our ‘quirky’ city

View to St Eugenes Cathedral from Brooke Park.

View to St Eugenes Cathedral from Brooke Park.

  • by Mary Kerrigan Walled City Partnership

‘Derry’s very quirky! Higgledy-piggledy......uphill, downhill, new bits, old bits, new bits made to look like old bits, posh bits, not so posh bits.........and I love the Georgian bits!’ remarked a recent English visitor. By way of explanation she added ‘it’s very much its own place.........in a good way’.

People talk about ‘so and so’ being ‘a bit of a character’. ‘Characters’ break the mould – they’re quirky. Life would be very dull without them. Places are the same – without quirky things they lose character.

Quirkiness helps create jobs. Visitors like places different from their own.

Research commissioned by Tourism Ireland in 2011 discovered Britons no longer think the Irish Republic is different enough to warrant visiting – one reason behind its drop in British tourists. Other research shows visitors to old buildings stay twice as long and spend twice as much.

It seems staying quirky would help our struggling shops and restaurants.

What makes Derry so quirky? Above all the people: honed by grinding poverty for many and wealth for some; turbulent history; remote from European, Irish and British centres of power - famous for their friendliness, warmth and wit. Is that it?

How about the majestic River Foyle? The famous city walls? Cut from Derry’s grey-green schist rock they - and all the other old city walls: Brooke Park; Magee; yard, garden and alley walls – are unique to this place.

Celebrating its four hundredth birthday this year the walled city itself is the first example of true urban planning on this island – unique in the world.

Gaze west from Grand Parade to the patterns made by the Bogside’s roofs, chimneys, and dormer windows - large and small – stepping up and down hilly terraced streets.

Against the sweeping backdrop of the Inishowen Hills this view could be nowhere else. Our iconic Guildhall, gleaming on the riverfront couldn’t be anywhere else.

Add the unique Derry collections of old cast iron street lights; shirt factories, other old buildings; and exceptional new ones like Culturlann; old parks, gardens and graveyards; granite kerbs; and special trees - Rock Road’s spectacular spring blossom Magnolia or Clarendon Street’s magnificent Copper Beech. All combine to make this its own place – quirky - in a good way.

Imagine these things swept away overnight. Imagine nothing but new houses, new shopping centres, and new schools.

It’d just be like anywhere else - nothing special. Arguably Derry’s lost more ‘quirky’ things in the last decade than during thirty years of conflict. If we’re not careful the rest could easily be lost.

Every time an old building, old street light, old railway station, or old granite kerb goes we reveal things about ourselves – we reveal our culture.

Maybe money’s tight and we can’t afford regular upkeep? Maybe we don’t realise looking after the old things would help our economy? Or maybe we just don’t care enough?

For years we’ve had a valid reason - the Troubles. The thing is we’re over a decade on from all that.

The sand’s running through the hourglass on this excuse - fast. We’re all responsible for this place. Each time we lose an old building or street light we can’t bring it back. Derry becomes less quirky.

Look around – what do you see? This is our culture.




Back to the top of the page